It’s more fun in the Philippines, especially with their iconic dish, Sisig
Sisig is one of my all-time favourite Filipino dishes. This article will give some exposure to how different the same dish can be in the Philippines and other international locations. The difference is quite exceptional as you will see from the photos, and that difference can happen in a few 100 metres, let alone between villages, cities, islands and so on. Even just the Kapampangan province still retains a wide variety of Sisig recipes, which change from city to city and even from family to family. It really is the most amazing Sisig, the multi-personality Filipino dish.
Why sisig is popular in Pampanga?
Sisig is originally a dish from the 17th Century. I kid you not. It got its first mention in a Kapampangan (one of the main languages in the Philippines, also known as Austronesian) dictionary. Apparently it was Augustinian friar Diego Bergao, in his ‘Vocabulary of the Kapampangan Language in Spanish and Dictionary of Spanish Language in Kapampangan’, who first recorded the word “Sisig” in 1732.
“Salad, incorporating green papaya, or green guava” is what Bergao describes as Sisig, which is served with a dressing of salt, pepper, garlic, and vinegar. It is still a common practice to dip green mangoes in vinegar and consume them as mannisig manga. When marinating fish and meats, such as pork, in sour liquids such as vinegar or lemon juice, salt, pepper, and other spices are added to the mix.
Where did sisig originated in the Philippines?
It has its roots in the Pampanga region on the island of Luzon, and is a mainstay of Kapampangan cuisine. The local government of Angeles, Pampanga, recognized sizzling Sisig Babi (also known as “pork sisig”) to be a tangible part of the city’s heritage. An interesting name association of Babi, is that in Bali, Indonesia, they also have very iconic local pork dishe called Babi. Namely Babi Guling. There is one very famous hawker-style Babi Guling stall in Bali that was frequented by Mr Anthony Bourdain, and I followed in his footsteps and devoured the menu during one trip there. Mr Bourdain also said in a CNN Philippines interview back in 2017 that he thought Sisig was about to storm the world. His prediction was true, as there are now lots of great places to try it.
What is Sisig made of?
It’s usually made from chicken liver, pork belly and various bits of a pig head, such as snout, ears, cheeks, jowl and so on. Then you normally season it with calamansi (a local small lime-like sour fruit), onions, chilli peppers, top it with a raw egg and then serve on a sizzling cast-iron platter. The word Sisig, literally means to snack on something sour and salad.
Rumour has it that the pig’s head used in the dish originated from surplus meat from Clark Air Base in Angeles City’s commissaries. During the American Occupation of Luzon and Visayas, the U.S. Air Force personnel stationed there did not use pig heads in their meals. Hey presto, why waste it, right?
The ‘modern’ version of Sisig was invented by Lucia Cunanan, who is popularly known as Aling Lucing AKA the Sisig Queen. What a great title to hold. Aling Lucing became famous for her grilled pig’s ears and cheeks, a recipe she got from Ricardo “Bapang Kadok” Dinio, the stall owner next door. Restaurant owner of Sugay’s, Benedict Pamintuan, came up with the idea of serving Sisig on a sizzling platter so that the hog fat wouldn’t get cold and develop into lard when it was served at the restaurant.
What is special about Sisig?
It is possible to make Sisig recipes in a variety of various ways, depending not only on who is cooking it but also on the materials that are on hand. Even though pork Sisig is more well-known, there is also a dish made with green mussels. This dish goes by the name “bilat.” Other varieties can be made with lechon (which is an entire roasted pig), fish, crocodile, python, frog, or even ostrich. Fried rice and an egg accompany a mushroom Sisig in Malolos, Philippines.
Tofu Sisig, Squid Sisig, Tuna Sisig, and Chicken Sisig are just some of the foods that have been the subject of experimentation of Sisig recipes by chefs, particularly those working in the Philippines. Today, there are a variety of Sisig recipe options. There is a wide range of primary ingredients to choose from. It includes everything from the traditional pig’s face to a lighter seafood dish. In addition to the ones listed above, there are many others such as squid, tuna, bangus, and even tahong.
Are you starting to get the picture about the versatility of this Sisig dish?
Sisig can be enjoyed as a main dish and is best eaten a cup of warm white rice on the side. Sisig is synonymous to ‘pulutan’, which is a term used to describe food pairings with beer or any alcoholic beverage. Believe me, Sisig and an icy cold San Miguel Pilsen is a match made in heaven. Try eating and drinking that with your toes sunk in some white sand on a Filipino beach, and you really will transcend to a heavenly foodie place.
What amazes me about Sisig is that I have never had one that is the same, there are son many Sisig recipe combinations its unreal. Not once. Some are wetter than others, some are dry, some have fried pork, others do not, some have liver and ears, and some do not and so on. Every chef, cook, restaurant, family, region, village has their own style and recipe. It really is such a versatile dish and I love it for that. You could eat this three times a day and still have variety. Sisig gets my vote as one of the most incredibly versatile and adaptable foods!
There are some basic steps to preparing a classic Sisig. Usually the pork belly and pig ears are boiled for about an hour until soft. Then chargrilled to brown and slightly crisp, to add massive umami flavours and to develop a nice crunchy texture. Chop that meat mix up and set aside. You can sauté some ginger and garlic with red onion, and then add the chicken liver and cook through. Toss in the chopped pork meat and mix well. Add the spices and seasonings in the end.
The dish can be served on a metal platter if desired. Alternatively, a standard plate can be used to serve this dish. Sometimes a raw egg and some finely chopped Spring onion are thrown on top for the customer to mix through and allow the egg to cook on the hot skillet.
Making my own Sisig Recipe!
I had a crack at making my very own Sisig recipe, using what I had available at the time. Luncheon meat and corned beef are great substitutes for the pork face and chicken livers. You could even try this first as your Sisig training wheels, before moving on to the more hard-core classic version. I’ll share a Sisig recipe later, but first let’s have a look at a few Sisig recipe varieties we have consumed on our travels.
First up is this fiery little number from a tiny little hawker-style stall in the capital city of Bohol, Tagbilaran, the Philippines. Fiesta Bol-anon Cuisine in Galleria Shopping Centre. This is a belter, off the charts good. Jowl, ears, liver, crispy skin bits. It came sizzling like it was on fire. Check out those chillies. This was not the only thing on fire, as I found out in the toilet later. I had this with Filipino native sauce, usually white vinegar, soy, chilli, and calamansi. This was eaten whilst sitting with family, overlooking the sea, full of locals chatting away, and of course with an icy cold San Miguel Pilsen. Yes, this is heaven!
Next up we are off to The Bellevue Resort, on Panglao Island, Bohol, the Philippines. This is yet another sublime version of Sisig, but so very different to the above. Maybe this is tailored a little more to the Western palate with roast pork belly and crackling in there, with not so much pig ear and liver. Anyway, it is still a really good Sisig, because you get a super-crunchy version with lots of fatty bits. Yummo. A must try if you happen to stay at the hotel. Again, we dined on this Sisig overlooking blue topaz seas and white sandy beaches. It doesn’t get much better.
All washed down with some icy cold Pilsen. Can it get any better? I challenge you! To sit on talcum powder beaches, with topaz seas in front of you, boats skipping over those seas, happy families with you, and sublime food hitting your mouth. This is a food experience in paradise.
Now we’re off to Panglao Island, the Philippines and Café Racer’s Sisig. It was a really good one too. Yeah, this gets very high marks on the Sisig League Table!!! There’s a thought… a Global League Table for Sisig, in honour of Anthony Bourdain… Coming to a blog near you soon!!! To the Sisig at Café Racer though. Have a look how fundamentally different it looks to both preceding Sisigs. Like, it is completely different in look, texture and taste.
Next stop is The BBC, AKA Bohol Beach Club, again on Panglao Island, the Philippines. This place is very exclusive, as in you can’t just rock up here for lunch, you can’t use the beach unless staying at the hotel, and so on. The food was really very good. I loved the Bulalo, another iconic Filipino dish usually served as a soup, but here they served it on a hot skillet. WOW!!! Sisig here is clearly revered because you even get your own guy cooking it at the tableside. A very nice touch BBC.
Sad to say though BBC’s Sisig was not so good. I had to return the first one to ask them to cook it and crisp the pork more. It was just so ‘wet’ as you can see from the picture. They sent a brand new one and pretty much did the same, again table-side. It was gooey and slimy. Seems that is their style of Sisig here at Bohol Beach Club. Not my favourite at all.
Then we come to a version created at the very first hotel I ever stayed at in the Philippines. This hotel happens to serve some of the best food I have eaten in the Philippines. Their Sisig does not disappoint either. It’s a stunner. Nicely spicy this one with some kicking bird’s eye chilli in there. Crispy fat lumps too as you can see from the photo. Yeah, this one is top drawer and should be something you must try if dining at The Amorita Resort on Panglao Island, the Philippines. Oh yeah, of course it is mandatory that you have an icy cold Pilsen with this.
Sisig in Singapore
Now we’re off to Singapore and Gerry’s Grill. Touted as the best Filipino food in Singapore Gerry’s Grill is a cracking Filipino family restaurant just off Orchard Road on Cuppage. You really do feel like you have been transported to the Philippines due to the food, the crew, the decor and even the smells from the kitchen.
No airs or graces, it is just damned good Filipino food in an excellent family-focused setting. Check out that photo of their Sisig. It is completely different looking from anything shared so far, even having some pork floss popped on top there. This gets a ‘not bad’ rating from me. Sadly not close to those others we have had in the Philippines. Not so spicy, not so textural and certainly not so umami in the flavour department. Perhaps Gerry’s is serving up a tourist version, it being Singapore. I’ll have to try Gerry’s in the Philippines and do a side by side comparison. Next trip.
Now we start slipping into the complete parallel plating ideology of this cracking dish. I had a few key reasons to visit restaurant Alegria this day in Singapore. One big reason was that I spotted this on the website sharing the menu. Sisig– Pork Belly, Dinakdakan Sauce, Onions, Purple Yam Tortillas. Just wonderful!!! Now that is a parallel Sisig universe offering. Check out that plating. No sizzlin’ skillet here, oh no. It’s Filipino and Mexican fusion. Back that to that dish versatility. What can’t you do with a Sisig?
Alegria Singapore offers Filipino fusion food offerings with Mexican and Latin American influences. How could I not come and explore a place that is serving Sisig Tacos? The last time I had those was at one of our favourite restaurants, in our 2nd home of Bohol, The Philippines. The name Alegria is derived from the Portuguese word for “joy” or “happiness” which perfectly captures the essence of this place because it really is joyous, bright, and brilliant – just like that Sisig. WOW!!!.
Sisig Philippines Beach Style
Back to the Philippines now and the Hennan Resort in Panglao, Bohol. The pool bar here has a really interesting version of this iconic dish, again down to some crazy plating. They call it Sisig in a Beggar’s Purse. Little deep-fried lumpia wrappers contain the super-savoury Sisig in handy finger-food bites. Ideal for when lazing on the beach or round the pool. This gets served with the all important spicy Tuba vinegar. Now there lies another begging introduction. What’s Tuba?
This is just such a good version. They create the Sisig in the classic style, then load it into Lumpia wrappers and then deep-fry it until the Lumpia is crispy. Tied up with a little Spring onion to make the ‘purse’. Take a bite and boom, umami savoury Sisig and then take a dip in the vinegar and you hit a whole new level of deliciousness. An absolute cracking version of the iconic Sisig. Genius. How incredible does this Sisig look plated up?
And finally, here is my very own Sisig recipe for Sizzlin’ Corned Beef Sisig. It’s sort of a more ‘acceptable’ Western palate version with no pig ears, lips, snout and the like. Just Bully Beef. It’s a textural thing for Westerners I find. So, eating a pure Sisig and crunching down on the cartilage of a pig ear is sometimes frowned upon. So here is a tuned down version, that I still call sizzlin’ sisig, just Sizzlin’ Corned Beef Sisig. Again, see the adaptability of Sisig.
Corned Beef Sisig Recipe
This Sisig Recipe will easily serve 4;
- 2 roughly chopped small red onions
- 2 finely chopped chilli padi
- 3 finely chopped garlic cloves
- 1 tin of corned beef, cut into cubes
- 2 eggs
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 5 or so Calamansi (simply slice through the tops of each lime to about 3⁄4 of the way through to allow you to squeeze the juice with no pips)
- 3 thinly sliced Spring onion tops, the green bit basically
- 1 handful of deep-fried pork scratchings
Heat a pan and add some olive oil and get that to smoking. In with the garlic, onions and chilli and fry them off until they soften.
Add in the corned beef and cook that until the meat is browned, and might start to crust a little – that’s what you want. Add in the soy sauce and you are finished. Have a sizzling platter in the oven heating whilst you are cooking to get to piping hot. Serve the Sisig sizzling away on that, crack the eggs on top, stirring them in table-side with a squeeze or three of Calamansi. Sprinkle over the spring onion tops, the deep-fried pork rinds and serve on the sizzlin’ platter with the calamansi. Check out that beauty. But, it is nothing like pure version of Sisig in the Philippines. I have served this to my Filipino family and it gets a massive thumbs up. There we go. Sisig is yet again versatile in its style, ingredients and serving.
So there you have it, Corned Beef Sisig, the Filipino dish from the 17th Century. One of my all-time favourite food dishes from The Philippines. Sisig, the multi-personality Filipino dish. This would absolutely be on my death-row cuisine list as my must-eat last-eat before I depart this mortal coil. Maybe not the one from The BBC though, that just did not float my boat.
It’s such a simple dish, but complex in the same breath. I have eaten tonnes of this and every single version has been different. It’s just brilliant. I really like the cheapest and more traditional versions myself. But I have tried so many now I really am off the training wheels.
This Sizzling Corned Beef Sisig recipe can be served both as an appetizer at a celebration and as a hefty main course at dinner. It’s hard to stop eating this flavourful dish because of the succulent pork combined with the sour, savoury, and spicy flavours. It is so very addictive. It is so very versatile. It is a food of legend. We hope you liked this humble Sisig recipe.