SINIGANG (Sour-Flavored Soupy Dish)

I am not a linguist… just someone who is curious about the source of food names.  On the subject of Philippine dishes, I note that the letters “in” are inserted into a verb to signify the action of said verb on a certain ingredient to make a dish.

Take for example, sinigang.  The verb is sigang, and sinigang denotes that something was sigang-ed, as in sinigang na baboy (pork sinigang).

Other examples:

Pinirito, from prito (fry), indicates that something was prito-ed, as in piniritong manok (fried chicken).
Kinilaw, from kilaw (marinate in citrus), indicates that something was kilaw-ed, as in kinilaw na isda.

Sinaing, from saing (boiled), indicates that something was saing-ed, as in sinaing na tuligan (steamed tuna).

Back to sinigang:  I haven’t found the exact meaning of the verb sigang, but the term sinigang is defined as a Philippine soup or stew marked by a sour flavor.
An examination of the cuisine of Indonesia has revealed those peoples’ penchant for soups prepared with souring agents — also used in the Philippines —  including sampalok (tamarind), bayabas (guavas), kamias (bilimbi, cucumber tree), among others.

An Indonesian blogger writes about the source of their sinigang:

The origin of this Indonesian vegetable tamarind soup
known as sayur asam can be traced to Sundanese people
of West Java, Banten and Jakarta region.

Modern private supermarkets, and even vegetable vendors in public open-air markets, have made it easier for us to make sinigang.  They have packaged the multiple ingredients required to compose the dish; and when the souring agent is missing, one can drop a little cube of flavor concentrate to get the sour broth going.
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Ternate, MANGO, and the Paisley Connection

I played tourist last week and decided to check out a place which has been in my curiosity radar for a long time. Ternate (in Cavite province), when I was very young, seemed so far, so very “over there” in the mists of time and the waters off Manila Bay.

Map of Cavite showing the location of Ternate

This municipality takes its name from a place in the Spice Islands of 16th century fame. It was then  populated by Indonesian-Portuguese peoples who volunteered to help the Spanish ward off a rumored Chinese invasion of Manila. The threat never materialized, but the volunteers decided to stay. And so there’s a corner of Luzon where people speak Chavacano: part Portuguese, part Indonesian, part Malay, part Spanish, part Tagalog.


Driving down the streets of this beach town, I noted scores of mango trees and some breadfruit trees. I surmised that some of the mangoes on the roadside stands along the way from Manila must have come from Ternate.

The mango is native to Southeast Asia. Its English name came from the Portuguese manga, which is from the Tamil manga.

This esteemed fruit, said to rival the peach in flavor and texture, is the national fruit of both India and the Philippines. Its shape also figures in a perennially fashionable pattern called paisley.  Note the similarities:

The mango quality needed to be

Vector paisley pattern set 03

Paisley Pattern for Free

The characteristic design known as paisley has been used since the 2nd century in Iran.  Trade contacts brought the pattern to India, where artists modified it to better reflect the shape of their favorite fruit, the mango.
The British East India Company, a trading organization founded during the heyday of the spice trade, brought many products from the Orient to Europe, among them wool shawls from Kashmir.  The shawls were a big hit and in high demand.  To cut down the price, centers for the manufacture of shawls were set up, notably one in Paisley, Scotland.
After a while, the Kashmir shawls began to be called Paisley shawls.  Still much later, the design began to be identified as paisley.

TURON de Banana

Fusion cuisine has received much publicity in recent years, as restaurant operators try to blend the culinary traditions of various immigrant groups. There’s Tex-Mex, obviously a blend of Texan and Mexican. Pacific Rim cuisine combines specialties from various island nations in the great blue yonder. California fusion cuisine is inspired by food brought in by immigrants from Italy, France, Mexico, the Philippines, and other places.

I went to Berkeley, CA one weekend morning to purchase an electronic item that a graduating student wanted to unload before seeking job prospects on the East coast. We got to talking about food, and she asked if I knew how to make banana lumpia.

I was taken by surprise; never heard the term before. Visualizing the two words, I quickly recognized what she was asking about: the turon !

Turon (Banana Spring Rolls)
Turon (Banana Spring Rolls)

Isn’t that a clever way of naming a not-so-familiar food item, by invoking the name of a more famous cousin, the lumpia ? For, indeed, the turon and the lumpia are similar products; the difference lies in what’s inside.   The lumpia that people are familiar with contains vegetables and ground meats; banana lumpia contains slices of banana…

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preferably the “vegetable” variety called saba,
shown here as photographed at a roadside fruit stand
along the highway to Tagytay.


Here is some clarification regarding the terms turon and turron.   I venture the theory that the turon discussed above is so-called mainly because it is crunchy Its  full name  should be  turon de banana, to distinguish it from other Philippine turons, discussed below.
Crunchiness is an essential characteristic of real turron candy, which is made with honey, sugar, egg whites, and assorted nuts.  Its name is based on the Latin word torrere, meaning “to toast.”  The toasted ingredients are the nuts, which contribute t the crunchiness of the final product.  Philippine candies called turon de casuy / de mani / de pili, etc.) are more in keeping with this turron idea.The local nut called pili is sometimes ground up and mixed with honey or sugar to create masapan.
Masapan is similar to the Goan (India) mazpon, and both can be traced to the European marzipan, made with almond paste and sugar or honey.  This product is not crunchy.


I had champurado for breakfast during my recent vacation in Manila. It was soooo good!

Reminded me of “those days,” when life was simpler.  Back then, we received mail through postal delivery and were contacted by telephone when the matter was “more urgent.”  There were no e-mails or text messages to check daily, or hourly, heaven forbid!  Life was slower; one could linger over breakfast, savoring warm spoonsful of champorado – chocolate-flavored glutinous rice, seasoned with sugar and evaporated milk, each mouthful counter-pointed by a morsel of salty fish, fried to a crisp.

My breakfast of champurado, seasoned just-so with sugar and evaporated milk.
and complemented by fried salted dilis (anchovies).
The fish were filleted before drying:  ka-runch and yum!

Champurrado, the genuine article, is a Mexican drink that came with the galleon trade between Acapulco and Manila. Basically, it is a mixture of corn flour and water or milk, which is then seasoned with vanilla.  They had it for breakfast as well, on the eastern shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Variations include the addition of ground nuts, orange zest, and egg… whatever appeals to thicken the drink. Needless to say, the Mexicans probably threw in chocolate some times.

Since our staple food is rice, locals modified it and made a meal out of the preparation through the addition of a contrasting taste in the form of fried salted fish.

BAYAWAK (Monitor Lizard) Tastes Like Chickin’

We heard it often enough.

People in Louisiana, along the Gulf of Mexico, eat alligator meat and say, “It tastes like chikin'”

An adventurous eater who has partaken on snake meat says essentially the same. “There is no fat and it is extremely lean and tender. Tastes like chicken, only better! After trying snake, you’ll surely be back for more.”

Here’s my semi-personal experience on this subject.  A couple of years ago, my brother Louie bought a bayawak (monitor lizard) from a hunter coming out of the Sierra Madre Mountains of Luzon. He e-mailed me a picture of it, see.   Notice the reputed long neck, the powerful tail, the fearsome limbs.

Far out! I’d say.  Amazing that a dinosaur-like creature still moves in our world of computers and smartphones and virtual reality.

Do you know why they are called monitor lizards? Go on, take a guess…

Well, since you seem to have given up, I’ll tell you.  They’re called monitor lizards because they like to stand on their hind legs and look around… to monitor their surroundings, ha-ha-ha !



Tatoo artist Frank Ibanez, Jr. of Manila
has created this custom design showing
a Philippine lizard (bayawak,tuko),
Philippine waves, and a Philippine sun.
Tattoo was done in 10 hours

Known as bayawak in the Philippines, they are called biawak in Malaysia and some parts of Indonesia, binjawak / minjawak in Java.

And what is the end of Louie’s encounter with the monitor lizard?  I don’t want to visualize how he slaughtered the huge, poor thing, but the summary report I received was, “It tasted like chicken.”

Finally, here’s a 16th century account by Antonio Pigafetta, historian of the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan:

       In this island of Gatighan are a kind of birds called Barbastigly
      (Venetian word for flying fox or large bats genus Pteropus
      that feeds on fruits),  who are as large as eagles. Of which we killed
       a single one, because it was late,  which we ate, and it had the taste of a fowl.

SUKA, PATIS, and TOYO: Our Dipping Sauces

I’ll tell you quickly what these three are: vinegar, fish sauce, and soy sauce.  They are among the secret ingredients that make Asian dishes uniquely tasty.


Suka has been produced in our islands for centuries; in fact, Antonio Pigafetta (Magellan’s historian) wrote a detailed account of how Cebuanos made vinegar by fermenting coconut water.


We get our word suka from the Indonesian cuka (the c is pronounced as ch, thus chuka).


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Bottles of locally produced vinegar sold at a roadside in Tanay, Rizal.  May 2014.


Patis:  Our source for this word is the Malay / Indonesian term  petis udang, shrimp paste.   Shrimp paste is also called bagoong in the Philippines.

Bagoong / fish paste is made by storing fresh fish and/or shrimp with salt until it ferments.  When the fish and/or shrimp is completely processed, a clear liquid rises above the fermented solids; this is the fish sauce, the patis.

Toyo:  This is soy sauce, in general; it originated in China in the 2nd century and spread to many parts of Asia.

Chinese soy sauces are called jiàng yóu in Mandarin, jeong yau in Cantonese.   In Japan, however, it has been called shoyu since the 7th century, when it was introduced to the country by Buddhist monks.*   It is possible that our word toyo came from the Japanese, with whom we traded since before the arrival of the Spaniards.

Rafael Alunan writes in “The Philippines Before Magellan:”
Early Spanish documents reveal that, apart from Chinese junks, large trade ships from Borneo, Thailand  and Japan dropped anchor in the coastal ports of Manila, Mindoro, Pangasinan, Cebu, Jolo and Cotabato.   Filipino traders had significant knowledge of and presence at other Southeast Asian trade ports  such as Melaka, Borneo, Ternate (Moluccas) and Myanmar.**

* Source:  Wikipedia

KAMATIS (Tomato): I Guess We Didn’t Hear It Right

Can you imagine spaghetti without tomato sauce? 

How about pork or chicken afritada without the red-tinged sarsa?…

Indigenous peoples enjoyed tomato salsa, seasoned with chili peppers, looong before the Spanish conquistadores found the land, people, and cuisine of Mesoamerica.  The fruit was called xtomatl in the Aztec language. 

The plant product was probably brought to our shores via the Acapulco-Manila galleon trade beginning in the 16th century.  Spaniards called it tomate / tomates.  To us, however, there is no distinction between singular and plural; we just call it kamatis

Horticulturalists over the centuries have developed many types of tomatoes to suit different purposes.  Readers are probably familiar with Roma tomatoes for making sauces, cherry tomatoes for tossing into salads, beefsteak tomatoes for slicing and layering with hamburgers, and so on.

Tomatoes grown at Puyallup, WA 2007

SAMALAMIG To Beat the Heat

Let’s practice saying it: SAMA-LAMIG.  SAMA-LAMIG… SAMA-LAMIG!

That is how street vendors say it in Manila and environs, accented on the second syllable.  Language purists will say it’s pronounced wrong, because the adjective malamig, meaning “cold,” is accented on the last syllable.  However, the vendors’ way of  chanting the name of their products has taken precedence, in the spirit of  whoever screams the loudest wins, ha-ha-ha.

Actually, the complete statement is  Dito, sa malamig! Sa malamig, or “Here, for a cold drink!  For a cold drink!”

It’s an important – and convenient, and inexpensive, and delicious – way of hydration, having a glass of samalamig


During my recent two-week vacation in Antipolo City, a part of metro Manila,  the days were consistently hot.  Even during out-of-town trips, which took me to interesting towns  along Laguna de Bai; around Lake Taal; beside the Manila Bay shoreline to Ternate, Cavite; and down the South Luzon Expressway to the battlefields of the Bataan peninsula, which is enveloped by Manila Bay, I felt  h-o-t .

Here is a record from the website

Max Daytime Temperature (°C)   34°C (93°F) in May
Min Night-time Temperature (°C)   25°C (77°F) in May
Hours of Sunshine (Daily)   7 Hours per day in May
Hours of Daylight (Daily)   13 Hours per day in May
Heat and Humidity Discomfort   Very High in May
Days with some Rainfall   11 Days in May
Monthly Rainfall (mm)   129 mm (5.1 inches) in May
UV Index (Maximum)   11+ (Extreme) in May
Sea Temperature (°C)   30°C (86°F) in May

Samalamig is, therefore, always needed to relieve one’s system from the searing air temperature.   It may be plain juice in pineapple, mango, guayabano, melon, and pandan flavors.  Sometimes it contains bits of fruit, such as cantaloupe strings.


Samalamig may be ice-cold water flavored with arnibal and contain pieces of  gulaman (agar) and pearl sago.

Arnibal is a term borrowed from the Mexican vocabulary, which came to our shores with regularity during the 16th-century Acapulco-Manila galleon trade: almibar means syrup.

Agar, somehow doubly called  agar-agar  in the Philippines,  is a natural vegetable counterpart of gelatin, which is obtained from the skin, bones, and connective tissue of animals.  Agar was discovered in algae during the mid-1600s in Japan.  It is now sold as dried strips or in powdered form.  Warm water is added to the dried strips or powder to make the gel, then sweetening, flavoring, coloring, and pieces of fruits or vegetables are added before the gel is poured into molds.  Finished products include jellies, puddings, meats in aspic, and other products.

Sago is from the spongy center of various tropical palm stems.  It is a major staple food  in the Spice Islands (Moluccas) where it is called sagu.  Sago “pearls” can be boiled with water until chewy, and then added to cold drinks,  Lately it has received wide acceptance as an addition bubble tea and fruit smoothies, also known as “boba.”

Finally, here is samalamig  in solid form:  the famous ice candy.  It is fruit juice of any kind, poured into narrow tubes of plastic which are sealed at the end by a knot, and kept in a freezer until solidified.  Compared with traditional cold drinks sold by the glass, ice candy is cheaper and more portable.  And refreshing.  And delicious, like candy !

 From Sidney Spoeck’s photo essay blog MY SARISARI STORE


Ciruelas, Siguelas, SINIGUELAS!

What a treat to be vacationing in the Philippines during May!  The markets are teeming with summer fruit, among them the beloved siniguelas of my youth.

But first, let’s rewind to the month before.  I was strolling in a port town of Colombia during a day-long break from a cruise to the Panama Canal.

In Cartagenia de las Indias, I asked a vendor, Por favor, que es eso?  His response: siguelas.

I wasn’t surprised at hearing the name.  The siniguelas, a fruit of the cashew family, is native to the Mesoamerican region which extends from central Mexico to Belize,Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica.

Other names for it are ciruela and  jocote (from xocotl, a Nahuatl word which means “fruit”).  Nahuatl is a language known informally as Aztec.

Siniguelas, when “just so” between green/red and hard/spongy, are easy to bite into and taste delectably tart-sweetish. It has more seed than flesh, but that doesn’t matter because the flesh, skin included, is sooo very delish and aromatic in its own right. (I say this because there are many fruits that can claim #1 position in my ranking!)

Some folks put the whole oblong-shaped fruit into their mouths, chomping away at the flesh and spitting out the relatively large seed. I prefer to hold a washed siniguela between thumb and two more fingers, gnawing at the fruit until all is gone but the seed. Yum!
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Seeds of the drupe fruit siniguelas are relatively large;
the hard stone is surrounded by a thin layer of flesh
and shiny skin which, fortunately, are super tasty.
Green (unripe) fruit have a distinct tartness, but
not unacceptable, tastes good with some rock salt.
Ripe ones are juicy and sweeter. 

Siniguelas is almost always eaten fresh in the Philippines.  G. Stuart reports that Ecuadorians process this fruit into sweets, such marmalades,  and  also into wines…

Some cultures focus on its curative properties.  Again, G. Stuart:  Guatemalans use it to remedy gastro-intestinal disorders. In Brazil, it is used to remedy both diarrhea and constipation. Cubans use it to induce vomiting, while Jamaicans boil the leaves for use as a cold remedy and to help with sore gums.

The siniguelas is said to have given its Thai name, makok farang, to the country’s capital city. A theory suggests that “Bangkok” is short for Bang Makok, bang meaning a village near a stream, and makok being the local name of the siniguelas. The trees grew prominently around Bangkok’s historic Wat Makok temple, now renamed Wat Arun.


Some people consider the idea of eating chicken feet revolting: those toenails, those hard scales !
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I’d say that those folks only need some “education,” so that with a bit of acquired taste they can enjoy this flavorful, chewy concoction called Adidas by street vendors in Manila.  To make the idea more acceptable, let me add that the chicken feet are first cleaned and boiled so that the scales and the talons can be easily removed.

Now, tickle your taste buds by imagining the way a mixture of calamansi juice, assorted spices, and brown sugar — by then caramelized — hit your tongue as you bite into one of three chicken feet, previously marinated and coal-fired right before your eyes.  Calamansi, by the way, is a citrus indigenous to the Philippines; it is similar to Mexican lime, but has a unique sourness to it.

Chicken feet as food is not unique to the Philippines; they are also featured in the cuisines of other Asian countries such as China, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam. Some nations in the Carribean, South America, and the Middle East also use them in their dishes. And if you browse a few travel blogs, you will see that some Asian restaurants are getting a toehold (my pun!) in European countries and popularizing chicken feet appetizers.

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Barbequed chicken feet make for a quick flavorful snack.

And why is it called Adidas by food vendors in Metro Manila?  Well, look at the three stripes on the side of the famed athletic shoes.  They correspond to the three “fingers” on the chicken feet, hah-ha-ha!