The History of Sisig, The Philippine’s Favorite Comfort Food

Medha Imam: This sizzling,
crispy dish made up of leftover
pig parts is one of the Philippines’
most beloved dishes. It’s called sisig. OK, let’s do it, all right. My name is Medha,
and we’re heading out to Maharlika in the East
Village to learn a bit more about Filipino cuisine. Today, we’re going to try
out what Anthony Bourdain claims to be the gateway
of Filipino food. Raf Ignacio: In the
Philippines, whenever we hear that sizzling plate of
sisig coming to the table, everybody’s faces light up. Medha: That’s Raf Ignacio, the host of New York
City’s Filipino Food Crawl. Hey, Raf, how you doing?
Raf: Hey, Medha. Medha: He was kind enough
to join me at Maharlika, where I’m going to try
sisig for the first time. Nicole Ponseca: If we trace
back to the origin of sisig, we’d be surprised to know
it’s probably even vegan and didn’t have
anything to do with pork. Medha: In its original form,
sisig was actually a salad made up of various
vegetables and fruits that were tossed together
with a vinegar paste and was made to
be very sour. Nicole: It included
souring fruits, like mango or pineapple,
and the most sour version. Medha: There are many
theories as to how and why sisig came to be. But the most popular notion
was that under the US occupation of the Philippines in the
late 1800s, American naval forces would
throw out leftover pig parts and the Filipinos would
save the discarded heads and eventually made
a dish out of it. Nicole: Filipinos, we’re
very resourceful, and we’re not wasteful. So the idea of throwing
away pig heads just seemed completely, probably
absurd to my ancestors, or the cocineras, of yesteryears. Medha: Up until the late 1960s, the pig parts in sisig
were simply boiled and soaked in vinegar. Then came Aling Lucing. A Filipino barbecue owner from Pampanga, Lucing invented the modern sisig: a thrice-cooked dish that is
boiled, grilled, and fried. Nicole: The best version
I’ve ever had is at Aling Lucing in Pampanga, and we try to mimic that version. Raf: Some restaurants
serve it with chicken, some serve it with tofu,
some serve it with squid, but what remains the same
is the style of cooking. So, you boil it, you grill
it, and then you fry it. Medha: Now you can get sisig
anywhere, even in canned form. To see just how Maharlika makes
the signature Filipino dish, I’m meeting up with Raf, who
has a wealth of knowledge about the cuisine and
the Filipino staple. Raf: Filipinos tend to be very
private with their cooking. Because these recipes
remained at home, each recipe is also very specialized, and there’s no one way
to cook adobo, or there’s no one way to cook sisig, and I think that’s what makes Filipino cuisine very exciting. So, today we’re going to try sisig. It’s one of my favorite dishes. I grew up eating it, and I’m so excited for
you to try it out. Medha: I’m super excited. Raf: Let’s go see how it’s made. Medha: Let’s do it! Nicole: So, sisig begins
with your pig head. You have your pig ears, your snout, your cheek, and belly,
and you want to boil that. You wanna do a slow boil
over a long period of time. After you boil it, you’re
gonna put it on the grill, and then you’re gonna
get a char mark, you’re gonna get some color, and then you’re gonna infuse
that with that smokiness that only a grill can do. Medha: Once cooled down,
the pig parts are sliced and diced and placed
into a deep fryer. They’re sautéed with garlic, onions, vinegar, and chicken liver. Nicole: I want you guys
to taste it in this form. Raf: OK. Nicole: So, this already has the liver, this has already been
cooked three times. Raf: It’s so delicious. Nicole: Yeah. And what do you think
about the texture? Raf: Oh, definitely lots of cartilage. Nicole: Yeah. Raf: You can taste some chewiness. Nicole: Yeah. Raf: There’s chewiness in it. Nicole: Yeah, so it’s
actually really fun to eat, especially with beer. Sisig is a beer drinker’s food. Medha: The dish is served
on a sizzling plate and finished off with
one final topping: a freshly cracked egg. [sizzling] So, I’m gonna eat the fish sisig, and you’re eating the
traditional pork sisig? Raf: Pork sisig, yes. Medha: Awesome, let’s go
ahead and get started. Raf: When the sizzling plate comes, you get your spoon and
mash the egg and make sure to mix
everything together. Medha: Yeah? Raf: And, yeah, let’s go. Medha: OK, let’s do it. All right. Wow, it smells so good. Raf: How is it? Medha: It’s so good. It’s so flavorful. And you can taste,
like, that sourness that Nicole was speaking of as well. And it’s still sizzling hot ’cause it just came out of the pan. Raf: So delicious. Medha: If you’ve never
had sisig before, I would explain it as, it has a tangy taste, like, very tangy. But it’s good, and it’s
paired well with the spices. Nicole: What I want
people to know is sisig is a great example of the layers
of flavors in Filipino food. It’s not inherently sweet and
it’s not inherently spicy, but it is filled with layers of umami. Doesn’t matter where you go, the thread that pulls all
Filipino food together is sourness. Medha: This was my first
taste of Filipino cuisine in general, and just
after tasting the sisig, I am so much more interested in just learning more
about Filipino food, especially because I’m
a lover of garlic rice, I’m a lover of tangy,
acidic type of foods, and this literally filled
my belly, and it’s so good. Raf: For me, it brings me home, and it’s a great dish
to share with a friend. It’s a great dish to
bring people together. Nicole: I just did
a sisig body roll.

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