There’s soul in soup

If you’re a regular here you know by now that occasionally I’m hit with bouts of homesickness.

I can talk about it all day – how fleeting a week off can be, how it’s always hard give a straight answer to my gramps when he asks me when I’m coming home again, how comfort can sometimes be a foreign concept here in the city, and how food can never, ever, ever compare to what I have back home.

Of course the last bit is subjective. I’m talking about the inherent “soul” a home-cooked meal has. You’re nodding your head, yeah? Food that the goddesses of my kitchen (my mom, grandma and Mama Eng) have been cooking for years in a way, have steered my palate to where it is now.

Yedy, Eugene and I intended to go to Mall of Kitchens just to gawk but it was unfortunate (and annoying) that they were, strangely enough, closed on weekends. But we figured Eugene knew that already. And the ulterior motive was for us to check out Pat-Pat’s, which apparently serves a mean bowl of kansi.

Kansi is like sinigang with its sour broth, but the meat of choice would be beef instead of pork or fish. Their offering is a great hangover remedy and Eugene swears by that.

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It was a familiar sight to behold, arriving at Pat-Pat’s. It was nothing fancy. A few tables and monoblock chairs, electric fans mounted on walls and loud, endearing servers. That kind of fixture will never go out of style in the Philippines. Beyond that, you know that food will never be fancy but will almost always be good and cheap.

Of course we had to order kansi. There were two variants, one served with a big piece of bone with marrow (bulalo), and another with chunks of beef meat (karne). They all came with the same sour broth. It’s not that hard to decide that you need to order both.
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The broth was deliciously sour, but not overpowering. It was fruity, flavored with what we will only assume to be kamias. It’s that kind of natural tang that I love in a great soup because in a way, one cup of rice will never be enough for me to enjoy it. “More rice, more fun”, Eugene always says.

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Now it was time to handle the marrow. It came intact with the whole bone still encased around it. Of course they had to give us a barbecue stick to take it out. It was a challenge, because in a way it felt like a race against time. Marrow is just golden ambrosia made entirely of fat, and when it gets cold it really isn’t palatable anymore. But I prevailed!

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What I did was scoop a spoonful of the marrow and mixed it together with a generous drizzle of soup over the little mound of rice. It was time to dig in. The verdict?

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It was perfect. I was, in a word, home.

I then added a piece of the beef to the mixture but at that point everything else was just a frill. Delicious, mouth-watering frills.

I thought my night couldn’t get any better. Then coconut water came, and was served to me right out of the shell, very cold to boot. I know I’m getting too emotionally descriptive but if there’s one thing that reminds me of home, it’s drinking ice-cold coconut water. I drink it more than water. It was unadulterated, cold and cleansing. The way coconut water should always be.

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It’s natural for us to associate carinderias with good food. 97% of the time, that’s actually true. But there are a few places that raise the bar in their unassuming glory. These aren’t just carinderias but institutions.
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The food isn’t snooty. It is as real as the earth, and as steadfast as tradition. It’s not farfetched to imagine that it has been imbibed with the charm and soul of those who man our family kitchens with gusto and love. And because of that, even their humblest soup fills the soul, ignites the bones and of course, brings us home.

Mabuhay ka, Pat-Pat. Mabuhay ka.
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Ahhhhh, good food.

This is also an open letter to March, the month. What I want March to do is to dispense a few extra hours, even days – whatever it takes just to delay April’s arrival. The days seem too short for comfort, and as much as typing this surprises me, I just want to put it out there that I don’t want cooking school to end. I’m just having too much fun! Too much, it seems, that I’ve been lounging under the radar for a while now.

A change of pace is great. One of the perks of being a student is that once in a blue moon you get to go on a field trip! And how many people can say that their field trip itinerary involves eating at a really great fine dining restaurant? Like I said, I’m having too much fun.
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So I’m just going to devote the rest of this space to the photos, and the little stories along the way because it’s already 1am and I have midterms in a few hours. But still, I’m here!

The Goose Station is tucked in a building and nestled in an area of Bonifacio that is more quiet, and doesn’t get a lot of action 24/7. In fact I would have had difficulty finding it if I went by my lonesome. It’s owned by the same chefs that run the school I go to and most of the staff are graduates of said school. I wouldn’t mind working at The Goose in the future, just so you know. (fingers crossed)

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Now the butter. Then the bread. That’s a mini baguette.
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For the snack we were served foie gras mousse in a flaky cone. It was followed by a lumpiang hubad served on a prawn cracker and a tuna tartare. I wish I could have had a second (and third) helping of the tartare, because it was delicious. It had a little kick of wasabi to it, which was simply perfect. I also keep on remembering how good the velvety foie was, served out of the box and in a nice cone.
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I don’t have much to say about the roasted tomato soup with parmesan foam, except that it hit the spot really well. It’s nothing spectacular…it’s just really good simple soup.
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The salad could be a meal in itself…and here lies its complexity. It’s made up of sweet potato sticks, little cubes of cured bagnet, watercress puree, salad greens, and drumroll…a piece of crisp chicken skin, a perfectly seared scallop AND an egg yolk that has been cooked sous vide (under a vacuum). Mix all of these components together – the smooth velvet liquid from the egg yolk, the crunch and salinity of the chicken skin and pork, the crisp taste of the greens and the juicy scallop… and you get a rich orchestra of flavors in your mouth. I was amazed.

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At this point the main course was well worth the wait: we were served a chicken roulade stuffed with Italian sausage and pistachio, adobo jus, green beans, smoked onion and a squash puree. All the components made sense. A big shout out to the roulade itself, which was made with (and I hope I’m right) chicken thigh, which I hold in high regard. I was a happy camper.

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To cap off our lunch, from Gourmandise patisserie, eclairs and spiked chocolate truffles. I made a mess with the truffles, and my personal favorite among the eclairs was the salted caramel.
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Here’s a parting shot of Gustare, which I didn’t expect to find just beside The Goose. It’s basically a low-profile food and pastry takeaway/commissary + kitchen lab, owned by Ginny Roces De Guzman the author of Bake Me A Cake, one of my favorite cookbooks. I didn’t get a chance to buy anything from the shop, but with products like santol bagoong…I’ll definitely be back.

In more ways than one.
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New England Clam Chowder

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There’s just something about the taste of clam soup that hits the spot. It doesn’t need a lot of coaxing to get the distinct flavor out of the clams – the rich flavor of the sea ignites the bones. My city is a city that gets to supply the rest of the country with canned sardines, since fishermen have direct access to the sea. Clams, along with a variety of fish and shellfish are always abundant in the seafood markets.

I like my clams baked, or made into a simple soup with tomatoes, kangkong or chili leaves. But last Sunday, for mother’s day, I decided to go the extra mile and make it into a chowder – “New England” Clam Chowder.
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The main difference between New England and Manhattan Clam Chowder is the cooking liquid used. New England uses cream or milk to flavor the clam broth, while Manhattan uses tomato sauce. One of my favorite restaurants serves this really delicious seafood chowder that carries the strong flavor of clam, and Mother’s Day was the perfect excuse to relive the taste again.

This isn’t really ‘New England’ to the letter because I didn’t have the crackers to thicken this. But adding bread crumbs to thicken this more can be a good idea…in the same way I like my lechon sauce really thick. Lechon. Lechon. God I’m hungry again. I’ll probably have my fill of lechon soon, but for now, I’m happy remembering the moment I had the first spoonful of the finished product. It was immaculate.
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Clam Chowder (serves 5 – 6)

Feel free to thicken it more with crackers, cornstarch, flour or even bread crumbs. This has a hint of thickness thanks to the flour but it doesn’t tread the lines of being gravy-ish, which I really like. 

  • 30 pieces clams, scrubbed and cleaned
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large white onions, cubed
  • 4 – 5 medium-sized potatoes, sliced into small cubes
  • 2 medium-sized carrots, sliced into small cubes
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • 1  piece hungarian sausage, sliced, then each slice halved
  • 6 – 7 cups water
  • 1 300g can cream (I used Nestle)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • sliced spring onions for garnish
  1. In a large stockpot over medium heat, add the oil and butter and allow it to melt.
  2. Add the onions and sauté until limp. Add the carrots and potatoes. Mix well and sauté for around 3 – 4 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and mix well.
  3. Add the water, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and allow to simmer, for about 8 – 10 minutes.
  4. When the water is beginning to boil, lower the heat and add the cream. Mix well. Add the hungarian sausage.
  5. Add the clams and cover so the clams can cook, around 3 – 5 minutes.
  6. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.
  7. When the potatoes and carrots are cooked through, remove from heat. Serve in individual bowls and garnish with spring onions. Enjoy!

Lechon Sinigang

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The months of March and April usually herald the end of another school year, with graduation rites all over the country. My cousin graduated a few weeks ago and in true Filipino fashion, the family just had to celebrate, complete with the ubiquitous lechon. Lechon/roast pig instantly makes everything more festive and special.

My mom and I share this habit that when we’re at the buffet table, as soon as we get our plates, we dash straight to the lechon (which usually has its own little table at the end of the line) bypassing the rest of the dishes. Those come last. Now that I’m thinking about it, I probably got that habit from her.
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For a long time, my favorite moment was being one of the first few who get to peel off squares of crispy skin. A real sign that the lechon has been freshly cooked is when upon helping yourself to the skin, you sometimes get a glimpse of steam wafting from the body. Underneath the skin is a layer of fat and meat, and using your fingers (which I usually do) to get the crisp skin ends with my fingertips plastered with “salty slightly oily juice”. A real treat is when you suck on your fingers for a nanosecond, just to taste the it. Hey, it’s not as disgusting as it sounds.

But I’ve also taken a liking to waiting for the people to massacre the poor pig until the ribs are exposed, then make my way to the table. The ribs absorb most of the flavors, making it probably the most fragrant, succulent, and delicious part of the whole roasted pig.
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We almost always have lechon leftovers. Usually it’s made into paksiw, which is pretty standard in our household. But once in a while, when the tides sing a different song…

This post has been a long time coming. In fact, this burning desire to do something more with lechon started a few months ago, when I perused a magazine with an advertising feature that had a recipe for lechon sinigang. It was pretty frustrating that until now, I couldn’t find the said magazine with the recipe. But hey, it’s sinigang. It couldn’t be that hard right? I told myself that if my intuition will serve me right, I’ll probably avert catastrophe.
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And I was right!
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Not only was catastrophe averted, but two distinct flavors and aromas, sour sinigang broth and lemongrass-fragrant lechon, was placed in a bowl that was easily finished in one sitting. This left our tummies heavy and happy, which means we shouldn’t eat this all the time, but when we do, we superlatively indulge.
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Lechon Sinigang

Sinigang is one of those dishes that can be adjusted to suit your taste.  Ingredients and proportions do not need to be approximated to the letter; just adjust everything depending on how much leftover meat you have. 

  • Leftover lechon meat, excess fat trimmed and sliced into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 – 8 cups water that was used to wash rice (rice washing)
  • 3 – 4 medium-sized tomatoes
  • 2 ½-inch ginger slices
  • 2 red onions, sliced
  • String beans, sliced into 3-inch long pieces (add as much as you like)
  • 1 whole finger chili (optional)
  • 2 10-gram sachets Sinigang sa Sampalok mix, or more if desired
  • 2 cups chili leaves/tops or kangkong
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons patis/fish sauce, or more, to taste
  1. Trim off any excess fat from the lechon
  2. In a large pot, bring rice water to a boil. Once boiling, add the tomatoes, onions and ginger. Add the lechon, string beans and finger chili.
  3. Continue cooking until lechon and string beans become tender, around 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and patis. Add the sinigang mix and adjust taste to your preference.
  4. Add the chili leaves or kangkong, and cook for 1 more minute. When done, remove from heat and serve. Enjoy!

Sinigang na Hipon/Shrimp Sinigang

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Really sour. That’s how I like my sinigang. Be it fish, shrimp or pork, as long as I’m slurping a bowl of rich tangy broth, I’m good. Sinigang, to all y’all clueless, is the Filipino ‘soup’, characterized by the meat/whole protein, vegetables, and a souring agent – usually sampalok (tamarind).
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The only cop-out with this classic soup, that sits well with me,  is the use of powdered soup mix (called Sinigang sa Sampalok). Every corner store, wet market and grocery carries sachets of this in its many brands and forms. So to put it out there: I’ve never had sinigang that wasn’t prepared and soured using the powdered mix. But like I said, it works for me.
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Shrimp sinigang/Sinigang na Hipon sits at the top of the list of my favorite soups. I like how it gives the soup a fresh, subtle, “from the sea” flavor, that broth cubes just can’t give. Compared to adding pork in your sinigang, shrimp isn’t  greasy at all, and you can hardly see any oil globules floating on the surface of the soup. It’s not that I don’t enjoy eating pork sinigang, on the contrary, I love it. But I love this one more. So much more.
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I associate a hot sour soup like this one with memories of summer. Growing up it was really during the summer that I had uninterrupted moments in the kitchen with my Mama Eng. I got to enjoy family lunches and dinners more, and admittedly, I had more variety with what I was eating – probably more vegetables. I can’t really remember it all.
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If you want to make this (and I hope you do), don’t settle for the ones that are literally shrimps. Go for the big prawns. They’re meatier and pack more flavor. And don’t forget: really sour.
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Sinigang na Hipon/Shrimp Sinigang (serves 6 – 8)

  • 6 – 8 cups water
  • around 15 – 20 prawns, head and shell intact, but barbs and long whiskers snipped with scissors
  • 2 red onions, sliced
  • 4 – 5 small tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 half an inch piece of ginger, intact
  • 1 eggplant, sliced
  • around 2 cups kangkong leaves or chili tops/leaves, washed under running water
  • 1 cup/a bunch of string beans, sliced into 2 -3 inch pieces
  • 1 cup malunggay/moringa leaves
  • 2 10-gram sachets Sinigang sa Sampalok mix, or more if desired
  • 1 sachet seasoning granules (I used Maggi Magic Sarap) or salt, to taste
  1. In a stockpot, allow water to boil over medium heat.
  2. When it’s boiling, add the shrimps, onions, tomatoes, ginger, eggplant and string beans. Cover and allow to cook for around 5  minutes, or until eggplant is tender. Season with salt or seasoning granules, to taste.
  3. Add the rest of the vegetables and the sinigang mix. Lower the heat to medium-low. Mix everything together and adjust taste to your preference. When it starts to boil again, remove from heat. Serve with rice and enjoy!

Vienna Sausage Soup

Organization isn’t really one of my strong suits. My part-time teaching gig ended around November, but it took me more than a month to rearrange my study table here at home, cluttered with piles and piles of test papers and essays (which I confess, never really read thoroughly, hence, I’m too lazy to be a teacher).

But I’m attempting to organize my blog a little bit more. I’ve noticed a few hitches here and there – posting schedules, what to post, and tags. The last one I have yet to address, if that only means I have to go through every single one of my 75 posts to tweak the tags, then that can wait (notice my failed logic).
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On posting schedules and what to post, I tried to go back to basic pen and paper lists, with days and dates marked with tentative recipes/dishes I might try. I seriously need visual reminders to keep me on track (haha).
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Today’s the first day my “list” takes full effect, and I’m pretty happy that I managed to make at least one dish. I tried to break it down into smaller, attainable goals every day with breathing space in between dishes. That simply means in a week, I’ll TRY (and I will, I promise), to post dishes of varying degrees of difficulty to challenge myself and bring in more variety to my blog.

For today, I wanted to make something that uses basic canned items that take up too much space in our pantry. Instead of the usual frying and microwaving, it would be so much better to go the extra mile and make something “special” but still incredibly easy.
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Mom woke me up today and told me she’s in the mood for soup, and like it was meant to happen, soup also happened to on my shortlist for today, and I needed to make good use of vienna sausage.
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The secret to this hearty soup is using good quality vienna sausage. I was really never a fan of vienna sausage because I thought it tasted funny, and most of the local varieties are exorbitantly salty. But all that changed when I tried Libby’s, an imported brand. And before somebody lectures me about patriotism, let me just put it out there that Libby’s trumps all y’all local cans. Even you, Purefoods. And I really think Libby’s can be found in any major grocery nationwide. Even the largest grocery in Zamboanga has it, so yeah, it’s accessible.
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If you think you’ve found a better vienna sausage brand than Libby’s, then please, use it to make your soup more special. And drop me a line, I’d like to hear more about it.

But for now, cheers to great, easy soup on a Saturday morning.
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Vienna Sausage Soup (serves 6 – 8)

  • 1 large can (around 255 grams) Libby’s Vienna sausage, drained
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 4 shallots or really small red onions, sliced in half (for garnish; optional)
  • 1 small potato, sliced into small cubes
  • A dash of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 (a total of 20 grams) chicken bouillon cubes
  • 4 cups water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • a dash of thyme
  • 4 – 6 cabbage leaves, sliced into strips
  1. In a medium sized saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Heat until oil glistens or “shines”, an indicator that oil is hot enough. When oil is hot, add garlic and fry for 10 seconds.
  2. Add the onions and continue to fry until it starts to go limp. When using shallots/small onions, be careful when stirring so the half pieces do not crumble. At this point, remove the shallots sliced in half and reserve for garnish.
  3. Add the potatoes and reduce heat to low. Continue to fry until potatoes are lightly browned and tender, around 3 – 5 minutes.
  4. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
  5. Add the Vienna sausage and stir to coat it with oil.
  6. Add the water and the bouillon cubes. Crank up the heat medium and stir to dissolve the cubes.
  7. Add the flour and cornstarch and simmer for about 3 – 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the thyme. Add the cabbage leaves at the last minute.
  8.  When desired taste and consistency are achieved, remove from heat, garnish with shallots and serve warm in individual bowls. Enjoy!

Batchoy

If only every morning can be as good as batchoy: as amazing as the the thick, chicaron-laden broth and as smooth and velvety as slurping the noodles while making that peculiar sound.

But no, not all mornings are nice. Most of the time I have to drag myself out of bed, and to think I haven’t done anything professionally productive in the last three months!
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But it was a relatively calm and peaceful morning today. No, I don’t live in a rough neighborhood. It’s calm and peaceful because everything just fell into place: I woke up in a good mood (and early to boot), and the first thing I did was to finish making the broth that’s been sitting on the stove overnight.
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I don’t like eating innards, especially liver. I despise it. And batchoy usually has liver, spleen (and all that nasty stuff) mixed with the broth. So I took matters into my own hands and made a friendlier version of batchoy. I have a pretty good feeling what I made isn’t remotely ‘La Paz’ but nonetheless, it was a great, great start for me today.
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Dig in.
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Batchoy (serves 6 – 8)

500 grams fresh batchoy noodles (thinner than regular miki noodles)

Broth:

  • 1 whole garlic head, minced
  • 2 large white onions, cubed
  • One 1-inch piece ginger, minced
  • ¼ kg/250 grams pork shoulder, cut into small, ½ inch cubes
  • 2 pork broth cubes
  • 1 shrimp broth cube
  • 2 -3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cane vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 10 – 12 cups water
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • Optional: 1 cup crushed pork cracklings

Garnish:

  • 5-6 pieces Napa cabbage/Chinese pechay, sliced thinly
  • 5-6 stalks green onions/scallions, sliced thinly
  • Pork crackling/chicharon, roughly crushed
  1. In a large stockpot, over medium heat heat oil enough to cover the bottom of the pot.
  2. Add the onions and cook until slightly translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and toast until fragrant.
  3. Add the pork and frequently stir to cook. Season with salt and pepper. Allow pork to toast, around 10 – 15 minutes.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients for the broth. Adjust taste to your preference by adding more water or seasoning.
  5. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to the lowest point. Optional: add crushed pork cracklings to the broth and stir. Let it simmer for 1 hour (or more, if you like).
  6. Put noodles in a colander and run it through warm water to clean.
  7. When ready to serve, put noodles and Napa cabbage in individual bowls. Add the broth. Garnish with pork crackling and green onions. Serve immediately and enjoy!

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And let me just put it out there: IT’S MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES!

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This is by far, my favorite ad shot because of the picture itself

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But this one takes the cake. Lechon is amazingly fun after all.

And why exactly we append the article ‘The’, well, maybe this can help. 

Pork Sinigang

I felt really lazy today. Most of the afternoon I spent sleeping. It’s already evening and I still feel sleepy and tired to type this, but I’d like to believe I’ll survive.

What kept me bogged down today was soup, strangely enough. Since yesterday, I was craving for pork sinigang so much. What’s not to like about pork sinigang? It has veggies to help you rationalize eating so much pork, it’s heavy and hearty so you can eat it as is (but I never do; rice is always best), it’s also an “almost anything goes” kind of soup – you can put in veggies you like and make it as sour as it can be. I really like my sinigang sour but I never worked with tamarinds before so the ready-to-use sinigang tamarind mix works for me.

The soup my dad and I made was a great way to keep you in bed the whole day. Plus we made it after we went on our early morning run, so you can imagine how tired I was. It was really heavy and thinking about it right now makes me sleepy. Dad likes his sinigang with ginger, almost like paksiw, and it made all the difference. Sinigang is one of the dishes where you don’t necessarily follow specific sahog/ingredient proportions. Well, that’s how I see it at least. It’s important to always adjust the taste to your preference. This sinigang really has that subtle “heat” from the ginger and the tang of the tamarind mix. Adding lemongrass doesn’t hurt either. Wow, that took a lot to write. Now excuse me while I hug my pillow and curl up in bed.

Nilagang Baboy/Pork Sinigang (serves 8 )

  • 1 kg pork paikut or pork belly or any cut of your choice, cut into 2 to 3 inch pieces
  • enough water for the soup (I just make sure that it covers the pork enough and fills 1/2 to almost 3/4ths of the pot)
  • half a head of garlic, chopped roughly
  • 2 white onions, quartered
  • one 2 – 3 inch thumb of ginger, sliced
  • 6 tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 tanglad stalk, roughly chopped into 5 to 6 inch pieces
  • 1 pork broth cube
  • two 22-gram sachets sinigang sa sampalok mix
  • string beans cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 bunch pechay (the market where we get our veggies sells them in bunches)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • (you can add more vegetables like eggplant, kangkong, sili tops etc)
  1. In a large stockpot (enough to hold everything), place the pork and add water. Place over medium heat and cook for 30 to 40 minutes.
  2. When the soup starts to simmer, add the rest of the ingredients except string beans and pechay, and season to taste. Allow to cook until pork becomes fork tender.
  3. Add the string beans and cook for 3 – 5 minutes or until tender. Then add the pechay and cook for 1 – 2 minutes and remove from heat. Serve with a steaming bowl of rice and enjoy!

And by the way, could you tell me what cut of pork this is? Locally (here in Zamboanga) we call it paikut, but I know it’s not pork belly nor pork chop. If you’re out there, mr./ms. butcher/pork cut connoisseur, help a fella out.