Beyond sisig, batchoy, and bulalo

Published April 15, 2021, 6:00 PM

by Sol Vanzi

Such rich and varied choices—if you only know where to look

LUZON REPRESENT Filipino-style beef bone marrow soup, Bulalo

Because it is National Food Month, we should all try to venture out of familiar recipes and menus and try to know more about our country’s rich and diverse culinary heritage.

Sisig, undoubtedly the country’s most popular pulutan, is fiercely protected by citizens and officials of Angeles City, where it was introduced in a barbecue stand by the railroad tracks in the 1970s. The local government even wants to legislate its recipe and specify allowable ingredients.

But some Ilocanos dismiss sisig as nothing more than a chopped version of their very own dish—dinakdakan. Both use pig’s head and liver, boiled then grilled. Both are seasoned with vinegar, onions, garlic, and chili. The only difference is dinakdakan uses bite-size pieces while sisig’s meat is all chopped. Dinakdakan has been around for many generations while sisig appeared only after Martial Law was declared.

Batchoy, Iloilo’s pride, is different from the batchoy cooked in Luzon kitchens. Ilongos prefer miki noodles while miswa is used by majority elsewhere. Iloilo cooks add hot chili and several types of meat; Tagalogs rely on garlic, ginger, pork liver, and spleen. Also very prominent is the layer of crunchy pork chicharon atop the steaming bowl of Visayan batchoy.

TAUSUG STEW Tiyula Itum (Photo by Jacob Maentz)

To get rid of a hangover, Luzon men turn to bulalo, a meaty beef soup featuring bone marrow and vegetables. In Visayas and Mindanao, the go-to cure is balbacoa, which stars collagen-rich oxtail, cow skin, and feet. Simmered for up to seven hours, the gelatinous stew is richly flavored with turmeric, star anise, leeks, chili, and salted black beans (tausi).

Of particular interest is tyula itum, a black beef stew flavored with burnt coconut meat, enriched with such herbs and spices as galangal, lemongrass, leeks, chili, turmeric, garlic, and fresh coconut cream.

Mindanao’s Muslim cuisine is finally getting some long overdue attention in local and international media. Of particular interest is tyula itum, a black beef stew flavored with burnt coconut meat, enriched with such herbs and spices as galangal, lemongrass, leeks, chili, turmeric, garlic, and fresh coconut cream. This dish was introduced to the Manila-based foreign press community by my late friend Nelly Sindayen, Siasi-born Time Magazine correspondent.

ILOILO’s PRIDE Popoy’s batchoy (Photo by Jules Vivas)

At Nelly’s dinner parties, rice was seldom served. Instead, we had pyuto, the traditional starch on Siasi Island. The fluffy steamed grated cassava is healthier than rice and grows better on the island. She let me take home leftover pyuto, which needed only to be stirred in an ungreased pan over medium heat to become shanglag, a Muslim version of sinangag.

Grilled and raw marinated tuna remain the most popular dishes among tourists visiting Mindanao. So big is the demand that there are now outfits offering cooked frozen tuna belly and jaw (panga) for air shipping to Manila.

Recent developments also indicate rising interest in Muslim Mindanao cuisine. Recipes have been included in cookbooks and tyula itum is now a regular item on five-star hotel menus and buffet spreads.

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