Sinigang is one of every Filipino household’s essential soup dishes. It’s one of the first things we learn how to cook. And when it comes to carinderias and Filipino restaurants, it’s asim, este, a sin not to include it on the menu. So it came as delightful news to our sinigang-loving shores when our favorite sour soup garnered recognition from TasteAtlas as the World’s Best Vegetable Soup.
The website, which highlights traditional dishes from all over the world, gave our sinigang 4.8 out of the 5-star rating. The dish was dish-tinguished (sorry, we can’t help it) for its uniqueness, and as “a true representative of Filipino cuisine.”
But what really makes our sinigang very special? In an interview with SRO on Teleradyo early this week, Chef Myrna Segismundo thinks it’s the versatility of the dish that got the attention of international diners and culinary professionals surveyed for the poll. Sinigang uses a wide array of ingredients—from the type of paasim or souring agent (we list a host of examples down below), protein (pork, beef, fish, shrimps), and vegetables (e.g. onions, tomatoes, green beans, lady fingers, water spinach, radish, taro, eggplant). There’s even a version with a fruit in it—watermelon.
Chef Sandy Daza, on the other hand, says it’s the rest of the world’s unfamiliarity to the distinctive flavor of our sinigang. “Everybody likes a surprise,” he says. When people are unfamiliar with a particular food or taste, “it becomes exotic and exciting.”
The main appeal of the dish, says the chef of Casa Daza and host of Food Prints, is how the sourness of the sinigang soup tickles the tastebuds. “Tapos may sawsawan na patis at sili,” he says.
Chef Sandy is clearly not surprised that our sinigang made it to the TasteAtlas’ list, which means it appeals to a more worldly palate. Back in the 70s, when their family still had a Filipino restaurant in Paris called Aux Iles Philippines, they used to serve sinigang na sugpo there as an appetizer. And to hear him say it, the dish was already a big hit among the fine-dining French people back then.
Among our range of sinigang dishes, both Chef Myrna and Chef Sandy are partial to sinigang na baboy. “Yung pinaka unhealthy—sinigang na liempo, yung malapot [ang sabaw],” says Chef Sandy, as if he’s savoring the soup in his mouth.
Chef Myrna, who authored the book Kulinarya, a Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine, agrees. The Philippines has the best-tasting pork in the world according to many foreign chefs, she says. “Malasa ang pork dito sa atin, lalo na kung may kasamang buto.”
The sinigang has evolved through the decades, as Filipinos learned to experiment with different souring agents. From the usual sampalok and bayabas, some have also tried using balimbing, batwan, kamias, pineapple, tamarillo, mangoes and calamansi as pang-paasim. “Meron pa nga’ng mangosteen, na-try ko sa Cagayan de Oro. Masarap ang lasa nya,” says Chef Sandy.
Chef Myrna offers that the flavor profile of sourness in the Philippines has different levels, depending on which province a dish originates from. “Pag Tagalog, talagang paasiman ng sinigang. Sa Visayas medyo matabang,” she says. Some regions also have their own version of sour soup dishes distinct from sinigang. The Ilonggos, for instance, have kansi, which is made with beef shanks and jackfruit and flavored with tamarind, lemongrass, and annatto.
Purists will say that it is always best to use fresh souring agents instead of the powdered form, because naturally fresh tastes better. Chef Myrna, however has this bomb to drop: “Sa totoo lang, sinungaling ang kalahati sa amin nyan.” According to her, brands have already perfected their sinigang mixes, so she sees nothing wrong in using them.
How to make a fantastic sinigang? Chef Myrna says it is important to choose good quality ingredients. If one follows this, one is already several steps ahead to making sure that sinigang would taste good. It is also important to choose the right meat cuts. “Ang pipiliin nyong karne, pwedeng spare ribs, pwedeng liempo kasi may taba, masarap yan,” she offers. When it comes to fish, it has to be fresh— “kasi magiging malansa talaga ang sinigang nyo kung hindi sariwa ang isdang gagamitin.” Lastly, pick vegetables that are fresh and that ripened well.
The best tip Chef Sandy could give if one wants to cook a great sinigang is to eat more sinigang—expose our tastebuds to different types and versions. “Yung pinakamasarap sa iyo, yan ang magiging standard mo para pag gumawa ka ng sinigang,” he says, “kasi gagawa ka ng kasing sarap nun o mas masarap pa doon.”