by PHNO Chief Editor & Food Writer Sol Jose Vanzi - Where ever in the world they find themselves in, the first thing Filipinos do at after sitting down for a meal is prepare the sawsawan. Breakfast, lunch and dinner would not be complete without it. One for every dish.

No Filipino dining table is complete without sawsawan, that ubiquitous Pinoy food accompaniment which translates loosely, very loosely, to the English dip. Because that’s what we do: we dip our viands into the sawsawan, a word which is rooted in the Tagalog verb sawsaw, to dip.

It is therefore not unusual for Filipino dinner tables to have ten or more little bowls of liquids and chopped vegetables squeezed skillfully between main plates of main courses or viands.


The three most basic are soy sauce, patis (fermented fish sauce) and vinegar. Depending on a family’s regional origins, there could also be bagoong Balayan (boneless fermented salted anchovies in recycled UFC ketchup bottles), bagoong alamang (fermented salted baby shrimps), fresh hot chili, balo-balo (fermented cooked rice with shrimp or freshwater fish) or ginamos (fermented salted mixed fish).


Grilled and Fried fish or meats go well with calamansi squeezed into a saucer or patis, although many swear by chili vinegar. Ilocanos, of course, prefer bagoong Balayan with calamansi. I myself always prepare a mixture of vinegar and patis, with chili peppers on the side.

Suka’t toyo (vinegar and soy sauce) with crushed garlic is specifically for fried tofu, with or without cubed boiled pig head. The dish is called Tokwa’t Baboy, with the sauce presumed to be the standard nationwide. A few beerhouse habitués add chili and black pepper for more zing.

Chili vinegar is a must for Okoy (vegetables fritters) and fried Lumpia. (spring rolls).

Ginamos is eaten all over the Visayas and some parts of Bicol with boiled camote, cassava or green saba bananas. I love it with boiled Gaw-ay, a purple tuber popular in Leyte.

When tomatoes are in season, they are crushed and mashed by hand with either salt, patis or fish bagoong and eaten with any viand that has no gravy, like fried or grilled fish and meats, langonisa, tocino, adobo, tuyo, daing, tinapa.


My Bacoor-born grandmother, a very good cook, spoiled me and the rest of the huge family (6 children and 30 grandchildren) with simple but nutritious meals rich in texture and flavors. To this day, I continue to prepare the various sawsawan learned from years of helping her in the market and the kitchen.

Sinapaw o halabos na alamang at kamias – When kamias was in season, my Lola Tina steamed small bowls of fresh alamang (baby shrimp) atop the sinaing (steamed rice) before the rice fully cooked. At meal time, the steamed alamang was mixed with thinly sliced fresh kamias and served with fried or grilled food. Alternatively, the slightly salted fresh alamang was stirred without oil over high heat in a kawali (wok or frying pan) until dry.

Steamed manggang hilaw - When kamias was not in season. Lola steamed or boiled whole green mangoes and mixed the cooked mashed pulp with shrimp bagoong or cooked alamang. Steamed green mango is also good with patis, but not with fish bagoong.

Sinapaw na sampalok at alamang o bagoong – Green tamarind was boiled or steamed atop cooking rice, then mashed with a little water and strained. The thick green liquid was stirred into steamed alamang or shrimp bagoong.

Tinadtad na manggang hilaw, kamatis, sibuyas at bagoong – Fresh green mango was peeled, the flesh chopped and mixed with minced tomatoes, native onions and cooked shrimp bagoong. This relish, which I make about twice a week, is so good I often skip the main ulam (main course) and have just the sawsawan with rice.

Bagoong na isda with lasona (young shallots with leaves) and mashed native tomatoes – My grandma, Florentina Crisostomo Crisologo, definitely had Ilocano blood. She salted her own bagoong na dilis, which she fermented a very long time in banga (huge clay jars). She often mashed ripe native tomatoes with sliced lasona (sibuyas Tagalog or shallots with leaves) in a small bowl with her own bagoong. The tomatoes provided the acidity and there was no need for calamansi or vinegar.


Among today’s Pinoys, the leading dip is UFC ketsup, favored by the young with French fries, fried chicken, lechon manok, lumpiang Shanghai, embutido, prito and inihaw.

Next is mayonnaise, used for raw vegetables, tempura and calamares.

Thousand Island , made by mixing mayonnaise and ketsup, is a very close third. It also ranks as the favorite salad dressing.

Yogurt with garlic, introduced to Pinoys with the Shawarma, has a growing following. Healthy, light, tangy and slightly spicy, this is predicted to be the next ketsup.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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