Food and Leisure

‘Sisig’, ‘dinakdakan’ & other indigenous northern foods

Joy Angelica Subido, Joy Angelica Subido, Karla Alindahao - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The highlight of this year’s Big Bite Northern Food Festival in Pampanga province’s Marquee Mall was sisig, that tasty dish made from pork odds and ends such as ears, cheeks and snout. Chopped finely so that the meat portions are rendered unrecognizable, augmented by chicken liver and enhanced by seasonings, the less desirable cuts are transformed into an immensely palatable concoction.

“This is one dish that validates the Filipino chef’s resourcefulness,” says chef Sau del Rosario, who prepared the Pampanga sisig for the food festival. He recounted the story of the dish’s humble origins in a small eatery beside Angeles City’s railroad tracks. As a firm believer that “The best way to promote Filipino heritage cooking is to find the time to do so,” chef Sau has made it his apostolate to tirelessly promote Filipino food by participating in various culinary festivals despite his demanding schedule.

But the famous Pampango sisig has an Ilocano incarnation, too. Chef Jackie dela Cruz prepared dinakdakan, which makes use of essentially the same portions of meat. The dish, which is also known in some areas of Ilocandia as warek-warek, does not have chicken liver. Instead, the larger slices of cartilaginous meat are supplemented by pig’s tongue, made savory by the liberal addition of onion slivers, and turned creamy by the addition of brain.

“The texture of dinakdakan makes it distinct,” said chef Jackie. More than just the favorite bar chow or pulutan of alcoholic drinkers (agbabartek,) cold dinakdakan makes a delicious viand to accompany hot and steaming, newly cooked rice.

Choosing to highlight Pangasinan’s famous Bonuan bangus or milkfish instead, chef Danilo Maramba prepared bangus sisig. “This is a dish that was created for Dagupan City’s Bangus Festival,” he explained. With significantly less grease and considerably lighter on the stomach, this version of sisig should be a healthier alternative when compared to its meat-based counterparts.

But Marquee Mall’s food festival had more than cooking demonstrations. That it has held food fairs for the past three years is highly commendable and appreciated by serious food aficionados, too.  The food fair is more than just a means for food entrepreneurs from the North to widen their market base and improve their sales. More importantly, the range of products sold at the food fair indicates a growing attentiveness on the important food value of indigenous plants that may have been ignored before. 

Among the products that caught our eye at the festival were wines from the Cordillera region made from wild berries.  Also, we were glad that tamarillo (Solanum betacea) has reappeared as a slightly tart but delicious jelly. Tamarillo plums, which we call “Spanish tomato,” were once plentiful in the Baguio City of our childhood, but because their value was overlooked, tamarillos are now more difficult to find. Food products from the forest can help develop appreciation of the value of preserving natural habitats so that edible plants that grow wild can thrive. Food appreciation can be corollary to the important aspect of enhancing environmental education. 

Food products at the fair likewise indicated the shared culinary and cultural similarities of Filipinos from the northern Philippines. The Ilocano bagnet, the Pangasinense tulapo and Pampanga chicharon are almost the same — pork that is deep-fried until the fat is rendered and the skin turns crunchy. Food anthropologists tell us that the process was also a means of preserving the meat when refrigeration was not readily available, but perhaps it is telling of the northerners’ pragmatic nature that the lard from the cooking process is considered equally valuable. In times when harvests are meager (gawat), the farmers of Ilocandia eat the rich pork lard with bananas as a viand for hot rice.  And before cholesterol consciousness became widespread, the Spanish influence on Kapampangan cuisine was evident as they baked their ensaimadas and other pastries with the decadent lard.

Korniks (crunchy corn kernels), meats preserved using traditional processes, bottled taba ng talangka (crab fat), dried fish, and even the less photogenic sisig can be considered the survival fare of the people of the region. Through ingenious use of what is available around them, the resilient northerners are able to store enough food in times of plenty and survive frequent typhoons — even that last terrible storm.   


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