Let’s Get Weird: Exploring Filipino Cuisine


Let’s Get Weird: Exploring Filipino Cuisine

By Meryl Fulinara

Nothing says Filipino food quite like the f-word – fusion. The unique cuisine of the Philippines features cooking techniques adopted from centuries of Spanish rule and ingredients sourced from years of maritime trade with China, Mexico, and the U.S. What it means in cooking terms is a true melting pot of flavors. And it is fucking delicious.

Filipino food is definitely having its moment right now. Milkfish in New Orleans is said to be packed with off-duty chefs on the regular. Maharlika and its pinsan (cousin), Jeepney Gastropub, marry Filipino flavors with elevated techniques. And over the past couple years, Chicago has seen a handful of Filipino-inspired restaurants popping up all over the city. Soy sauce, banana ketchup, and 7-Up glazed ribs from Smalls, Smoke Shack and More? Yes, please!

For me, it’s more than just a food trend. It’s family parties that go on until 3 a.m. It’s my cousins sneaking cigarettes in the next cul-de-sac over, and drunken uncles picking fights in a garage full of gambling tables.

Forget what you heard about adobo (meat marinated in soy sauce and vinegar) – that’s already picky eater-approved. The following dishes are for a more adventurous diner:

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Sizzling sisig with eggs from Maharlika. Some rights reserved by roboppy.

SISIG – SIZZLING PLATE OF PIG FACE

The only thing Filipinos like more than Manny Pacquiao? Pork. Pork parts (often: ears, jowls and liver) are boiled, grilled, diced, then mixed with onions, chiles, and citrus. It’s all topped with an egg yolk. The tasty little pork bits are served on a cast iron skillet, which gives the bottom a nice crunch. This dish might as well be renamed crack, because I could freebase it all day. It’s the perfect balance of salty and spicy pork goodness, with a brightness that comes from the juice of calamansi (Filipino lime).

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PAPAITAN – BILE SOUP

An acquired taste that even some Filipinos won’t go near. Hailing from the Ilocos region of the Philippines — where my grandparents’ parents were from — the taste for Papaitan is in my blood. (Or more anatomically speaking: my liver.) Goat meat and beef tripe are cooked with garlic, onion and ginger, then left to stew with goat bile, vinegar, fish sauce and chiles. It’s bitter, salty and gamey in the best kind of way. I maintain that Filipino men love eating this soup because they are lacking in the body hair department, and this is definitely meant to put some hair on your chest.

DINUGUAN – BLOOD STEW

Pork loin and innards are simmered in a spicy gravy made of pig blood and vinegar. It’s got an earthy taste that is cut with the tang from the vinegar, and is given an added kick with chili peppers. Adults try and get children to eat this by calling it “chocolate meat.” Not only an unappetizing pseudonym, but it gives the 27-year-old Meryl a weird visual.

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The Setup

3 tbsp olive oil
1 lb pork belly, cut into one-inch cubes
1 lb. pork jowl, cut into one-inch cubes
1/3 cup of vinegar
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 thumb-sized pieces of ginger, finely chopped
1 green pepper, cut into one-inch cubes
5 to 6 finger chiles (or 3 jalapenos)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups of pork blood

Cooking

1. Heat cooking oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook over until 4-6 minutes until no longer pink, stirring often.

2. Add vinegar, stir, and cook uncovered, until most of the vinegar has been absorbed.

3. Add garlic, ginger, chiles, bell pepper, salt, and pepper to taste. Cook 4-5 minutes, until vegetables soften.

4. Pour in blood. (Note: if there are solid masses in your pork blood, strain before adding to the pot.). Stir and wait for the mixture to boil.

5. When mixture boils, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for an hour or until the pork is tender. The sauce will reduce and thicken as it cooks.

[NO DOGS WERE HARMED IN THE WRITING OF THIS STORY]

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    John Carruthers

    Peoria Packing or any of the West Loop butcher places should be able to hook you up. Aside from that, I’ve always had luck with Asian groceries.

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