SOL JOSE VANZI: 'SINIGANG', JUST THE WAY YOU LIKE IT

Millions of homesick Filipinos around the world cook two dishes that remind them of home: adobo (chicken or pork) and sinigang. Adobo could be prepared anywhere, anytime; all its ingredients are available in all countries: vinegar, garlic, salt, black pepper. But sinigang was nearly impossible to reproduce outside the Philippines until 1981, when the mother-daughter team of Teresita “Mama Sita” Reyes and Clarita Reyes-Lapuz collaborated to produce and market the country’s first sinigang powdered mix in easy-to-store packets. Originally developed to benefit overseas Filipinos, the sinigang sa sampalok mix became an instant hit in the Philippines, where millions of modern housewives and career women have grown up without acquiring their mothers’ culinary skills. Realizing this, Clarita went on to produce other instant mixes for traditional Filipino dishes: kare-kare, menudo, pancit canton, tinola, kaldereta, lumpiang shanghai, pancit palabok, and sisig among others. To date, Mama Sita has 72 such products, all aimed at making kitchen work a breeze. That their sinigang variants are the most popular indicates the special place in every Filipino’s heart for what many feel should be the Philippines’ national soup. PHOTO -Sinigang na tiyan ng bangus READ MORE...


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Sinigang, just the way you like it


by Sol Vanzi

MANILA, JUNE 16, 2014 (BULLETIN) by Sol Vanzi - Millions of homesick Filipinos around the world cook two dishes that remind them of home: adobo (chicken or pork) and sinigang. Adobo could be prepared anywhere, anytime; all its ingredients are available in all countries: vinegar, garlic, salt, black pepper. But sinigang was nearly impossible to reproduce outside the Philippines until 1981, when the mother-daughter team of Teresita “Mama Sita” Reyes and Clarita Reyes-Lapuz collaborated to produce and market the country’s first sinigang powdered mix in easy-to-store packets.

Originally developed to benefit overseas Filipinos, the sinigang sa sampalok mix became an instant hit in the Philippines, where millions of modern housewives and career women have grown up without acquiring their mothers’ culinary skills. Realizing this, Clarita went on to produce other instant mixes for traditional Filipino dishes: kare-kare, menudo, pancit canton, tinola, kaldereta, lumpiang shanghai, pancit palabok, and sisig among others.

To date, Mama Sita has 72 such products, all aimed at making kitchen work a breeze. That their sinigang variants are the most popular indicates the special place in every Filipino’s heart for what many feel should be the Philippines’ national soup.


sinigang na tiyan ng bangus
(Images from The Aristocrat)

PREPARING OLD-STYLE SINIGANG

Because I raised my kids to cook sinigang the old-fashioned way, one of them once tested a girlfriend who offered to help in the kitchen. I gave her all the ingredients for sinigang and left her in the kitchen all by herself. She came out confused after 15 minutes, asking where the sinigang mix was. My son told her we don’t use mix in our food; everything is prepared from scratch. I did not see her again; my son moved on and married an excellent cook.

Sinigang with fish or shrimp is the easiest dish to prepare. Start by mashing together sliced ripe tomatoes and onions, which are then dropped into boiling water, to simmer with the souring agent of choice; kamias, green mango, or green tamarind are the ones usually available in the public markets.

After about five minutes, the souring agent is taken out, mashed, and set aside. Vegetables are added to the boiling stock: sitaw (green beans), sliced eggplants, okra, sliced radish, and sigarilyas (winged bean). When the veggies are nearly done, add the mashed and strained souring agent and season the soup with salt. Slide in the fish or shrimps, and top the soup with green leafy vegetables such as kangkong, young leaves of radish, or pechay.


sinigang na baka

Some cooks prefer to add long green chili peppers to spice up the broth. At serving time, these cooked peppers are usually mashed in the fish sauce (patis) that serves as dip for the sinigang and the plain rice.

Native Cavitenos love sinampalukan: old stewing hen or rooster cooked sinigang-style with very tender tamarind shoots for souring agent. The method for preparing sinampalukan is very different from ordinary sinigang.

One starts by sautéing garlic, onion, ginger, and ripe tomatoes in a little oil until limp. Over high heat, the sliced chicken is added and quickly stir-fried in a method called sankutsa, until the meat turns opaque. Add the tamarind leaves that have been chopped fine and mashed with coarse salt. Continue stir-frying for five minutes, then add water or chicken stock. Simmer over low heat until meat is almost tender, then add vegetables and cook until done. Season with salt if necessary. If the soup is not sour enough, compensate with cook, strained tamarind or green mango.

The best part for making sinigang are pig tail, ribs, neck, and backbone. For beef, one may use shank, brisket or short ribs. Cook just like sinampalukan, starting with sautéed onions, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes. Stir in meat cuts and cook, mixing often, without liquid to render some of the fat. Add water to level with the meat, and lower heat to simmer for 30 minutes (for pork) to one hour (for beef) or until tender.

Add vegetables and cook until almost done, then stir in strained coked green mango or tamarind to desired sourness. Season with salt.


sinigang na hipon

A simpler, but less tasty method involves simmering the meat in water and a little salt until tender, then adding onions, tomatoes, and vegetables. Lastly, the souring agent is tired in. In my opinion, this simple method produces sinigang that tastes like boiled meat dipped in sour stock, with the sinigang flavor not penetrating the meat. None of the “sarap to the bones” effect achieved by the sautéed version.

Sinigang sa miso is a perfect way to use leftover fried fish. In this version, the gravy is thick and not clear, serving almost like a sauce over the fried fish instead of as a broth.

Saute garlic, onions, ginger, and tomatoes until cooked. Add miso and stir-fry until simmering. Ad a little broth and enough souring agent to taste. Stir in mustard leaves and fried fish. Cover and let simmer a few minutes before serving.

In some parts of the country, sinigang is cooked with ingredients not normally associated with savory dishes. Ripe guava is the main feature of sinigang sa bayabas, usually reserved for freshwater fish like bangus (milkfish) or kanduli (catfish). The sour leaves of the alagaw and siniguelas trees are also used in a few towns, where locals slice the young leaves and mash them to induce the juices to come out. Visayans have a wild fruit, called batuan, so sour it is used for sinigang and a rare variant of kinilaw.

During busy days, my sudden urge for sinigang is easily satisfied by a visit to my next-door neighbor, the Aristocrat Restaurant, which cooks all kinds of sinigang to order 24/7.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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