Sinampalukan and other tamarind delights

Published September 24, 2020, 4:00 AM

by Sol Vanzi

How do you want your sampalok served?

Sinigang is, without a doubt, the most popular soupy main dish in Filipino homes because of its versatility. It can be cooked with pork, beef, chicken, fish, or prawns, and incorporate many kinds of vegetables and root crops. Basically, it is a boiled stew flavored with a souring agent, often mashed unripe fruit or tender young leaves. Of the dozen or so souring ingredients, the most widely used is tamarind.

The tamarind tree produces bean-like pods filled with seeds surrounded by a fibrous pulp. The pulp of the young fruit is green and sour. When ripe, it turns brown and can be preserved without further processing. In Cavite, peeled ripe tamarind fruit was patted into golf ball sized spheres called tipe sold in public markets. Ripe tamarind is the last resort for sinigang; it turns the broth an unappetizing shade of brown. In other Asian countries, however, ripe tamarind is the standard ingredient.


Tamarind (tamarindus indica) has been a mainstay in Filipino homes and gardens for centuries. Spaniards documented natives eating tamarind when they first “discovered” the islands. 

Culinary historian Felice Prudente Sta. Maria writes that in 1567 tamarind saplings were entrusted from Cebu to a ship captain for the Spanish King, to be planted in Mexico to provide a source for the profitable ingredient. By 1573, they were fruiting, suggesting that Mexico’s first tamarind trees came from our shores. It is known to have originated in Africa from where the plant migrated to the Indian subcontinent. 


Throughout the Philippines, tamarind flowers, leaves, and fruit are used in salads, dips, main courses, and desserts. But the most popular tamarind-flavored dish is sinigang


Unlike other souring agents, tamarind is suitable for any kind of sinigang. Kamias, while perfect for fish and other seafood, is considered by some to be too mild for meats. 

Because of its availability in many forms year-round, tamarind became the most popular sinigang ingredient and the first instant sinigang mix to reach the market. Many loosely use the term sinampalukan when referring to any sinigang flavored with any part of sampalok.  

Old folks insist that sinampalukan refers only to sinigang prepared with tender young tamarind leaves. All others should be called sinigang sa sampalok.


My grandmother’s sinampalukan used old hens or fighting cocks which lost in their last duel. They are sautéed, not simply boiled until tender like other sinigang.


She started by mashing together sliced onions and ripe tomatoes, which were then cooked in a little oil with garlic and smashed ginger. Once veggies were wilted, chopped tamarind shoots were stirred in and cooked until fragrant. The chicken pieces were added and stir-fried over high heat until meat browned a bit. Water was added, heat was reduced, and the sinigang was simmered until tender.

Last steps were the addition of vegetables and adjusting saltiness and acidity. Often, it meant adding mashed boiled tamarind pulp or sliced green mango.

Old folks insist that sinampalukan refers only to sinigang prepared with tender young tamarind leaves. All others should be called sinigang sa sampalok.


Grandma made tamarindo for dessert and to spread on a pandesal for breakfast. First step was to mash ripe tamarind pulp in water, then strain the mash to remove impurities.

Using a large thick pan, the strained pulp was mixed with sugar and stirred over low heat until jam-like in consistency. The process took hours.

Another sweet treat involved soaking peeled ripe tamarind, seeds and all, in thick syrup and drying the result under the sun. The end product was a sweet-sour candy-like snack much like some treats now sold in Bangkok.