More on Sinigang

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Cooling in hot climes, soothing for those under the weather, low in calories but high in healing for the sick, tastily filling for the healthy, greatly varied as to ingredients, quickly cooked and easily increased, suitable for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in between, sinigang must be surely the Filipino dish for all seasons.

The broth is flavored but the myriad sour notes in the Philippine landscape: tamarind pods, or leaves and tendrils; kamias (Averrhoa bijimbi); batuan; santol; guavas; green pineapples; green mangoes; green sineguelas; calamansi; tomatoes - any sour leaf, fruit or flower - but not usually something as obvious as vinegar.

It is built around meat or seafood; thus sinigang na baboy (usually bony parts); sinigang na isda (anything from tilapia to luxurious mameng; shellfish (river and marine shrimps; pond-grown tiger prawns).

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The accompanying vegetables, which complete the meal in a pot (soup, entrée and vegetables), vary according to what is customary, in season, or available in the backyard garden: string beans, kangkong, camote tops, eggplant, singkamas, radishes, okra, mustard greens, and more, singly or in combination.

Variations are individual and regional. Sinigang na bangus sa santol, as served in Pagsanjan, Laguna, is pink and pristine, no vegetables at all, just santol seeds and pulp, sweetly sour. Sinigang sa kandule served in Angono, Rizal, has the sea catfish (Arius manilensis) in a broth flavored with miso (soybean mash), complemented by mustard greens, and served with balaw-balaw, a relish of burong hipon. They also make what they call barutak, a poor man's sinigang of ayungin flavored with shrimp-head juice.

Sinigang na baboy is soured with alibangbang leaves and green pineapple, and served with a sawsawan of bagoong alamang, chopped tomatoes, onions, wansoy and chicharon. A Laguna housewife's secret was to cook her sinigang na baboy in rice washing, and to stir and aerate the broth continuously.  

In San Francisco, California, in June 2000, the Sarangani Bay Prime Bangus booth won passerby, tasters, and buyers with a Sinigang na bangus sa miso that started many nostalgia trips, its sourness triggering memories of home.

A restaurant here in the Philippines, Lasap, offers many sinigang choices; pork, wild boar, lechon (yes, already roasted) ulang (crayfish), chicken, salmon head, salmon belly (brought over in containers from the US, where they are not generally sold or eaten), lapu-lapu and maya-maya heads and/or bodies and, when it is available, hamachi head from Japan. Each meat cut or fish variety has a different texture and taste and must be soured differently; sharply, or mildly, perhaps chili-hot as well, sometimes in a kind of rounded sourness. Variations on a theme of flavor.

In Cebu, the breakfast soup is tinowa, a gently, tomato-soured sinigang. A small Quezon City restaurant unexpectedly uses calamansi and cabbages, for a unique and pleasant version. Once in Pampanga, they improvised a sinigang after a visit to the Dumaguete marke, in which went tanguingue heads, lechon chunks, green siniguelas, rice washing, pechay, puso ng saging is created.

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Remember as well the expatriate version, soured with sinigang mix in packets, where Filipinos live, but sampaloc and kamias do not.

Sinigang has analogues in all Southeast Asian countries, and is flexible as to ingredients, sourness, combinations, and budget. Yet it is beyond compare, each manifestation unique, a harmonious sourness sliding down one's throat, soothing the stomach, pleasing the palate, awakening memories of green fields, blue seas, and the comfort of home.