In the Philippines, lechon, adobo, bistek, and sinigang are all contenders for the title of national dish. Another one worthy of the appellation, but isn’t getting as much local backing, is sisig. Bro, last year, the late Anthony Bourdain said “it can win the hearts and minds of the world as a whole” and the New York Times acknowledged it as “arguably the best pork dish on earth.” Sikat man sa ibang bansa, anong alam natin sa sisig?
The word was first encountered in the Kapampangan dictionary Vocabulario de la Lengua Pampanga made by Augustinian friar Diego Bergaño in 1732. Back then, pa-healthy mga tao kaya it was a salad; a mix of green guava or papaya dressed with salt, pepper, garlic and vinegar. The term actually means “to snack on something sour.” That’s why ang legit na sisig dapat maasim. It was originally consumed to avoid morning sickness, or nausea for expectant mothers so they can sustain nourishment in the first trimester of their pregnancy. Later, Sisig Babi or what we now call pork sisig came into play since pork ears and tail were believed to aid in the bone development of an unborn child.
No one knows exactly who invented this manyaman a putahe (delicious food), but the official proponent is Lucina Lagman Cunanan A.K.A. Aling Lucing of Angeles. In 1974, her restaurant, bearing her nickname, established Angeles as the Sisig Capital of the Philippines. That time, Aling Lucing would get free discarded pig heads from the abattoir in Clark, the former US airbase. She turned these into her trademark version using boiled cheeks instead of ears. Dito na ’to sumikat bilang pulutan, man.
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While Aling Lucing popularized the dish, she only adapted it from her neighbor Bapang Kadok or Ricardo Dinio of Barangay Agapito del Rosario. Some say the sisig queen revised the recipe when Bapang Kadok changed religion. (Pinagbawalan sa pamilya ang baboy.) Other records show it was after he died. Meanwhile, it was the brother of current Angeles Mayor Edgardo Pamintuan, Benedicto Pamintuan, who offered sisig as ulam and thought of serving it on a sizzling plate in 1970.
The Kapampangan dish is so highly valued in Angeles that they made Ordinance No. 405, Series of 2017, declaring it an intangible cultural heritage of the city. The law also tells the history of sisig, and calls for the protection of its original recipe.
Under section 5 of the statute: the original recipe of authentic sizzling sisig, the basic formula that conforms to Kapampangan taste, is made out of boiled then grilled chopped pig ears or cheeks, together with chopped onions or shallots; red hot chili peppers, vinegar, calamansi juice, salt, pepper, and minced grilled chicken liver (optional).
At present, there are lots of varieties which add eggs, ox brains, chicharon (pork cracklings), pork or chicken liver, and mayonnaise. Local chefs have also experimented with ingredients other than pork such as chicken, squid, tuna, and tofu. Keep in mind, adding egg or even brains to the pork dish is taboo for the residents of Pampanga. Serving a Kapampangan any type of sisig other than the original recipe is an insult for them.