Making tusok-tusok the fish balls

Published June 21, 2018, 12:05 AM


By Sol Vanzi

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In the Philippines, the rich and famous had always set the standards for fashion, music, art, and cuisine. Just look at the dishes prepared for special occasions—they are pang-bisita (for visitors), especially prepared for honored guests, use the best meat cuts and expensive upland vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, and mushrooms.

The hippie movement changed this: the rich started wearing working men’s denim jeans and women’s stiff, hair-sprayed hairdos were replaced by free-flowing tresses. By the 1980s, rich young girls wearing uniforms of exclusive Catholic schools were curious enough about how the other people lived to try street food, which their parents had warned was unsanitary. Among themselves, the colegialas whispered exciting adventures such as “making tusok-tusok the fish balls” and other forbidden delights.


The political and social upheaval collectively referred to as the EDSA Revolution threw everyone together in more ways than one. Suddenly, it was not only acceptable to eat street food, it was fashionable. The masa (masses) welcomed the sosyal into their world, where IUDs are chicken intestines, helmets are chicken heads, adidas are chicken feet, and betamax are grilled cubes of animal blood.

Fish balls, kikiam, and chicken balls started appearing in supermarket freezers, enabling moms to serve these previously verboten snacks at home, much to the delight of their kids. Fish ball food carts became the hottest franchises.

Kwek-kwek, a bright orange deep-fried and battered hardboiled egg, is one of the most recent additions to the poor man’s sidewalk menu. The eggs could be from chicken, duck, or quail. They are hard boiled, peeled, dipped in a thick orange-tinted flour batter, then deep-fried. Some vendors offer kwek-kwek with rice or a protein-rich cheap meal.


Chopped pig ears and snout served on a sizzling hot plate was popularized by beer joints along the railroad tracks in Angeles City. Then along came Anthony Bourdain praising sisig to high heavens. And the rest is history.

Meat processors quickly got into the act and made available, ready-to-sizzle sisig in supermarkets everywhere. Mama Sita introduced Sisig Mix in convenient packs, eliminating guesswork.

In no time at all, sisig jumped in status from a mere pulutan to a favorite family main course, with as many recipe versions as there are cooks.


Our latest sisig adventure took us to the Newport Mall near NAIA Terminal 3, where the ritziest high-end shops are patronized by people who do not even glance at price tags. Pedro N Coi was easy to spot, with a yellow Sarao jeepney parked at its entrance, alongside gaily painted batibot steel chairs.

The walls held some dishes on the menu and a few humorous sayings often found inside passenger jeepneys in Metro Manila. My favorite is “God knows hudas not pay” referring to passengers who jump off the moving jeepney without paying for the ride. “Basta driver, sweet lover” is another, hinting at drivers’ reputations for maintaining several families.


Pedro N Coi serves mainly Filipino dishes, sometimes given a slight tweak. Their “Pata Kang Kare-Kare Ka” is crispy pata with a side serving of tripe kare-kare and vegetables. Really two dishes in one, in a version that’s slightly sweet, probably from using a local brand of peanut butter and not ground roasted peanuts like grandmas did.

“Talong Ranger” had two large grilled eggplants stuffed with ground meat and topped with crisp fried onions. Their Sizzling Sisig-Aw topped with an egg needed the crunch of pig ears.

Dessert servings were large enough to be shared by three hungry diners. “Turonton Gutierrez” was a plate of crisp turon stuffed with haleyang ube and langka, served with large scoops of nut-studded ice cream. Halo-halo was a special baked Alaska in a giant goblet. Finely shaved ice in a second bowl made it easy to concoct personalized halo-halo in individual glasses.

Pedro N Coi deserves another visit. We have not yet scratched the surface and would like to see this restaurant succeed. We can all use a dose of Filipino humor.