Rather than the overworked adobo (so identified as the Philippine stew in foreign cookbooks), sinigang seems to me the dish most representative of Filipino taste. We like the lightly boiled, the slightly soured, the dish that includes fish (or shrimp or meat) vegetables and broth. It is adaptable to all tastes ( if you don’t like shrimp, then bangus, or pork), to all classes and budgets, (even ayungin, in humble little piles, find their way into the pot), to seasons and availability (walang talong, mahal ang gabi? kangkong na lang!).
But why? Why does sinigang find its way to bare dulang, to formica-topped restaurant booth, to gleaming ilustrado table? Why does one like anything at all? How is a people’s taste shaped?
But still, why soured? Aside from the fact that sour broths are cooling in hot weather, could it be perhaps because the dish is meant to be eaten against the mild background of rice? Easy to plant and harvest, and allowing more than one crop a year, rice is ubiquitous on the landscape. One can picture our ancestors settling down beside their rivers and finally tuning to the cultivation of fields, with rice as one of the first steady crops.
Rice to us is more than basic cereal, for as constant background, steady accompaniment; it is also the shaper of other food, and of tastes. We not only sour, but also salt (daing, tuyo, bagoong) because the blandness of rice suggests the desirability of sharp contrast. Rice can be ground into flour and thus the proliferation of puto; the mildly sweet Putong Polo, the banana leaf-encased Manapla variety; puto filled with meat or flavored with ube; puto in cakes or wedges, white or brown eaten with dinuguan or salabat.
The landscape also offers the vines, shrubs, fields, forest and tress from which comes the galaxy of gulay with which we are best all year round. “Back home,” an American friend commented.” All we use from day to day are peas, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, and very few others.”
The dietarily uninhibited Filipino, on the other hand, recognizes the succulence of roots (gabi, ube, kamote); the delicacy and flavor of leaves (pechay, dahong bawang, kintsay, pako, malunggay) and tendrils (talbos ng ampalaya, kalabasa, sayote); the bounty of fruits (not only upo and kalabasa, talong and ampalaya, but also desserts like langka and banana, which double as vegetables; and the excitement of flowers like karutay and kalabasa
About Doreen Fernandez