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Sisig 101

By Sol Vanzi

Angeles City, which officially claims to be the birthplace of sizzling sisig, has taken steps to legislate the recipe for the Filipino dish that is currently the hottest topic in culinary circles, thanks to a generous endorsement by award-winning celebrity TV host and culinary guru Anthony Bourdain.

Ordinance No. 405, Series of 2017 which clearly states “Sisig Babu is an Intangible Heritage of Angeles” contains programs and policies that will safeguard the original recipe and preparation of sizzling sisig. The LGU is also bidding for inclusion in this year’s UNESCO Creativity City for Gastronomy.

But can one legislate a recipe, particularly for a dish first popularized 40 or so years ago by a food stall beside the railroad tracks? What if I ignite my sisig with a jigger of, gin, rum, or lambanog, and call it flaming sisig? Can I copyright the name of the dish? Will that prevent others from copying it?

Debatable Origin 

And speaking of copying, the Ilocanos, whose centuries-old dish, dinakdakan, is very obviously the inspiration for sisig, have admirably kept their silence. Dinakdakan, just like sisig, is composed of parboiled pork head and fresh liver, broiled and sliced to bite-size pieces, and seasoned with vinegar. And like the early sisig versions, cooked pig brain is smashed and added at the last minute to hold the pieces together in a creamy richness.

Dinakdakan, photo courtesy of missghrazie.

Pig’s head is the first part of the hog that’s served from the body by the butcher. In the barrios, during feasts, it is allocated to be fed to friends and relatives who have come to help prepare the food. It is boiled, broiled, sliced, and served with a minimum of fuzz and with ordinary ingredients. The boiled skull is split and the cooked brain is scooped up and mixed in. Sometimes, some spleen and heart are broiled and added to provide texture and counter the rich pork fat.

Supply and Demand 

Sisig’s popularity proved to be a blessing for meat importers who have cornered the supply of boneless pig head, which butchers call mask or mascara. In First World countries, pig’s head is classified as offal and has practically no market value at all. When first imported into the Philippines, it was dirt cheap at P30 per kilo in Divisoria. To increase their profit, enterprising vendors boiled and chopped deboned pig head and sold them as sisig for twice the price of raw pig head.

Today, the price of pig parts for sisig has skyrocketed in Philippine supermarkets and wet markets, despite the fact that world prices for pork offal have remained steady.

More sectors are now cashing in on the sisig craze. Trimmings from exporters of boneless bangus are re-packaged as bangus sisig, a healthy alternative. A Pasig high-end restaurant has created sizzling steak and oyster sisig. Poultry producers are pushing frozen ready-to-cook pre-seasoned chicken sisig. Anything chopped and served on a sizzling metal plate is now sisig.

A sisig variation in Malolos using mushroom as the main ingredient, served with fried rice and egg. Photo lifted from wikipedia.

Mama Sita’s Sisig Mix takes out the guess work and hassle, and has become the brand’s hottest product. Just add to chopped meat and toss.

My Ilocano friends just smile, shake their heads, and go with the flow. In their minds, they will always call sisig tinadtad (chopped) na dinakdakan.

Basic Sisig Recipe

In a large pot, combine pig’s head, whole peppercorn, smashed garlic, sliced onions, and soy sauce with enough water to cover the pork. Simmer for 20 minutes. Broil the pork and set aside. Broil and chop some pig liver, add to chopped head. Season with calamansi, vineger, soy sauce, chili sauce, salt, and pepper.

For variety, add chopped onions, green pepper, chili pepper, and hot sauce. Serve on a red hot metal plate, which will produce a lot of steam and sizzle. Break an egg to top the sisig. Mix everything together and serve. The red-hot metal plate will keep the sisig hot and cool the egg. Canned liver spread and mayonnaise are added mostly by the young and adventurous.

Don’t be surprised if everybody soon will lay claim to fusionized sisig shawarma, sisig tacos, sisig pizza, and sisig pasta.

The original article was first published in Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.

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