Sinigang, a top candidate for national dish, is served at least once a week in many households all over the country. It is popular because one can make sinigang with almost anything—beef, pork, chicken, fish, and prawns.
Another reason for sinigang’s popularity is the fact that with today’s ready mixes, one merely has to boil water and add an envelope of sinigang mix to prepare the dish. But that is not cooking and definitely not the way our grandmothers would approve.
Here are some sinigang tips I learned from my own Lola Tina seven decades ago.
Rice water for broth
Grandma’s generation always saved the rinse water from rice and used it as liquid when cooking viands. The rice water provided a certain thickness and depth to the broth.
Sliced ripe tomatoes and onions are mashed together by hand in a bowl before adding to the boiling rice water. This step squeezes the flavors out and blends them with everything else in the pot immediately.
A big mistake by modern cooks is boiling meats in plain water until tender before adding other flavorings. The result is tender meat that is flavored only on the surface and not to the bone. Grandma simmered the meat in rice water with salt, mashed onions and tomatoes until tender, mixing in the rest of the vegetables only after the meat was tender. The result was a richly flavored combination of meat, broth, and vegetables.
Sigang sa Miso
Miso is a protein-rich by-product of tofu used in cooking fish sinigang sa miso. To make the dish, miso has to be sautéed with garlic, ginger, onions, and tomatoes to produce a thick, cloudy broth. Mashed boiled green mango or tamarind is added as souring agent. Many make the mistake of skipping the sauté step, producing a dish that lacks the subtle sweetness of caramelized onions and tomatoes. By the way, old folks never used meat with miso.
Sinampalukan is a dish that is traditionally soured with chopped young tamarind leaves. The chopped leaves are mashed with coarse salt, onions, and tomatoes before the mixture is stir-fried with chicken, beef, or pork. Green mango and young tamarind fruit are added later to achieve desired level of sourness. Sinampalukan rarely uses seafood.
No kamias with meat
Lola Tina used kamias only for seafood sinigang, never with meat. Her explanation was that the acidity of kamias was “too mild” for meat. Thus, her meat sinigang used only green mango and tamarind.
The right vegetables
Dozens of what are considered native vegetables are often added to sinigang: eggplants, sitaw (string beans), radish, gabi (taro), okra, and various leaves like pechay, mustasa (mustard), kangkong, and camote tops. But Lola Tina had rules like no gabi with seafood, and no gabi with okra.
Lola Tina used kamias only for seafood sinigang, never with meat. Her explanation was that the acidity of kamias was ‘too mild’ for meat. She also had rules like no gabi with seafood, and no gabi with okra.
Dips and sauces
When serving sinigang, the table is not complete without various sawsawan (dips) and sauces. Always present is patis (fish sauce), which is sometimes spiked with fresh siling labuyo, although many prefer sautéed bagoong alamang. Regional preferences are bagoong balayan (salted anchovies) and sisi (salted rock oysters).
What leftovers? We never have any.
P.S. Sinigang sa Bayabas and Sinigang sa Batuan were not tackled in this article because they were not part of the columnist’s family menu.