Food and Leisure

Farewell to Aling Lucing, sisig queen

TURO-TURO Text & photos - Claude Tayag -

The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star. — J.A. Brillat-Savarin 

If there’s a Pampango dish that has crept its way into the national culinary landscape it is sisig, perhaps next to tocino (sweet cured pork).

No respectable Filipino eatery worth its salt will be without sisig, that yummy cholesterol-laden Kapampangan pulutan served on a sizzling plate. 

Though the popular sisig is basically a concoction of chopped grilled pig’s cheeks and chicken liver, smothered with onions, red-hot siling labuyo, and calamansi extract that most of us are familiar with these days, its appearance has not always been so.

Evolution of Sisig

The earliest documentation of the word sisig is found in the 1732 Pampango-Spanish dictionary Vocabulario de la Lengua Pampanga en Romance by Fray Diego Bergano. He defines sisig as a vinaigrette salad; an acidic hors d’oeuvre or a snack of unripe mango, guava or papaya; anything that is fermented in vinegar; while the adjective mapanyisig refers to someone who is fond of snacking on sour food. During that period, it was common practice for women in the early stages of infanticipation (paglilihi) to nibble on sour fruits to relieve the discomfort of pregnancy. Sisig at this time would comprise simply of fruits dipped in vinegar and salt. As the pregnancy progressed, usually in the last trimester, the expectant mother would be given a different version of sisig; this time, the dish is a mixture of boiled pig’s ears and tail then dipped in vinegar. The crunchy texture of the cartilage is believed to help make the growing fetus’ bones stronger.  Over the years, however, it came to be a favorite pulutan of the men on a drinking spree (info from the J.D. Nepomuceno Center for Kapampangan Studies of the Holy Angel University, Angeles City).

A star is born along da riles

In the mid 1970s, along Angeles City’s railroad junction, or crossing as we call it, was a row of barbecue stalls, which to this day is as popular as ever. One stall stood out and it practically became an institution. Aling Lucing is the name, and the lady who owned it, Lucia Lagman Cunanan, is credited for inventing the sisig as it is known today. As it was, it took a lot of pig’s ears to meet the growing demands of Aling Lucing’s loyal patrons. She came up with the idea of serving sisig in large quantities. Up to that time, the sisig that was served was the traditional one, merely a mix of boiled and chopped pig’s ears seasoned with vinegar, salt, and pepper. Aling Lucing then thought of using the whole pig’s head, with its cheeks, jowls, and snout, which yielded more meat (and fat!). And aside from simply boiling it, she went a step further by grilling it to a crunch, adding chopped chicken liver and onions.  

No-frills joint

To call the crossing barbecue row basic is an understatement. It sits right along the railroad tracks serving basically the same thing — a variety of charcoal-grilled meats and beer. It is grubby, with heavy smoke choking the air, and has no ambience at all. Plastic tables and chairs spill over onto the street. But it was Aling Lucing’s house specialty sisig that made her famous and started the sisig bandwagon that blazed across the country. Ordinary and upscale folks alike from Manila travel all the way to Angeles just to have a bite of this cholesterol-laden yummy concoction. I remember the time when we’d bring guests over for dinner in our Tamaraw utility van with long bench seats at the back (to ensure us of seating due to the hard-to-get tables), bringing our own newly cooked milagrosa rice, kept hot in its cooker,  and pako´ or fiddlehead fern salad (to lessen the guilt, as if naman). Other specialties of the house are grilled chicken butts, pig’s ears, and lechon manok. Recently, they added to their repertoire the grilled tilapia and burong hipon on the side. I highly recommend this beer joint only to the adventurous with robust appetites. Open daily from 5 p.m. until the wee hours.

Nowadays, it seems that just about anything served on a sizzling plate is called sisig. It has undergone many makeovers and incarnations, from an invigorating nourishment for pregnant women to pulutan to ulam ng bayan. In the metropolis, it is served with egg (a no-no in Pampanga!), much like torta of ground pork with rice. And for the more health-conscious, variants have been concocted for a cholesterol-free dish made of squid, tuna, bean curd, shrimp or chicken.

Aling Lucing’s sudden demise is a great loss to the Philippine culinary world. But her legacy will live on in every nook and kitchen all over the country. She has definitely made millions of tummies happy with her invention, raising the cholesterol level by a few bars perhaps, but blissfully, with every spoonful nonetheless.

Here’s looking at you, dear Aling Lucing!

* * *

Postscript: Aling Lucing was found dead in her home last April 16 with 35 stab wounds. Two days later, her husband Victorino Cunanan, 85, was charged with parricide by the Angeles City Police.

Sisig a la Lucing


1/2 pig’s head, deboned and quartered


2 cups pineapple juice

1 tbsp. whole black peppercorn

4 pcs chicken liver

1 tbsp. salt 


1 cup white onion, chopped

1/4 cup sukang puti (a.k.a. Paombong)

1/4 cup calamansi extract

salt and pepper to taste

siling labuyo, optional 

In a stockpot, place pig’s head and enough water to submerge it, pineapple juice, salt, peppercorn, and chicken liver. Cover stockpot and bring to a boil until meat becomes fork tender, approximately 30 minutes. Remove meat from stockpot and allow to cool to room temperature. Place chicken liver in bamboo skewers. Grill over charcoal both the liver and pork until skin becomes brown and crisp. Chop into small cubes. Mix the seasoning and serve on a hot skillet. 

Sisig variants:

1) Da Orig (kilawin style): Follow the above procedure but only until the boiling. Disregard chicken liver and skip the grilling. Slice into 1/4 inch strips. For the seasoning, follow the above recipe sans the calamansi extract but double the amount of the sukang puti, nothing but. Other types of vinegar are too acidic. This can be served cold.

2) In the absence of pig’s head, substitute with 1 kilo bagnet or lechon kawali. Use a la Lucing seasoning. It will be a knockout just the same. 

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