Is sawsawan a dip, a sauce, a salad, or all of the above?

Published September 16, 2021, 12:00 PM

by Sol Vanzi


SABAW O SAWSAW? KBL or Kamatis, Bagoong, Lasona (Pinoy Heritage)

A Filipino dining table is typically crowded with bottles, jars, bowls, and saucers of various condiments taken with or added to cooked food while eating. To the horror of many chefs, some Pinoy diners sprinkle or pour patis over their viands even before taking a bite. It seems that many among us cannot live without our favorite sawsawan, which make even the humblest meal a feast.

IT TAKES ALL KINDS – Chopped green mango mixed with cooked bagoong alamang is often served as both sawsawan and salad. In the absence of bagoong, some prefer patis.

Sliced kamias fruit topped with bagoong is another salad/relish eaten with fried or grilled fish.

But nothing beats the popularity of grilled crisp hito (catfish) on a bed of buro (fermented rice) wrapped in fresh mustard leaves. Purists take the buro raw, others sauté buro with onions and tomatoes.

TOYOMANSI – So widespread it is now a word, toyomansi is a mixture of calamansi juice and soy sauce, which is often spiked with siling labuyo, and goes well with everything from fried fish to sinigang. Some purists, however, prefer the old fashioned patis with calamansi combination. Adding to this melee is another old-fashioned combo of suka’t toyo (vinegar and soy sauce), the classic sauce for fried tokwa’t baboy (tofu and boiled pork).   

DIP IT REAL Toyomansi

KBL IN THE NORTH – Long before KBL stood for the Marcos political party Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, it had stood for Kamatis, Bagoong, Lasona (tomato, fermented fish, native onion), which has always been present at Ilocano tables for as long as anyone can remember.

CAVITE SPECIAL – Very young tamarind fruit is steamed or boiled in Cavite to squeeze out its tart thick juices, which are carefully mashed with steamed bagoong alamang. Since tamarind is a very seasonal fruit, this dip is highly treasured and truly memorable whenever available.

MISO-ENRICHED – Old folks sauté garlic, onion, and tomatoes until mushy and add miso for texture and flavor. This side dish extends the number of servings of a simple fried fish meal.

EGGPLANTS GALORE – Whole eggplants are broiled until the skins are black. When peeled, the eggplant flesh is mashed with fresh chopped garlic, sliced onions, vinegar, salt, and black pepper. This relish is almost similar to a Middle Eastern appetizer, served often especially in summer when eggplants are cheap.

MIX AND MATCH Ilocos’ Poque Poque

In Ilocos, the mashed mixture is folded into scrambled eggs and called Poque Poque.

PADAS — Very tiny rabbit fish, salted and fermented in rum bottles, is served with vinegar and calamansi or tomatoes. Unlike bagoong dilis (anchovy), padas is consumed while the salted fish is still firm. Like anchovy, fresh padas fish is eaten raw in the form of kilawin.

SISI — Very small rock oysters, called sisi, are salted and sold in flat rum bottles. The finished product is also called sisi, which is produced mainly in Eastern Visayas but very popular nationwide. The small oysters are manually extracted at low tide from sharp rocks and boulders by women who collect, sort, clean, salt, and package the oysters in their seaside homes to augment their fishermen-husbands’ meager income. It takes several hours under the sun to gather thousands of oysters to fill up a bottle.