Gaiety and spontaneity are trademarks of most Filipino societies. Being very sociable, camaraderie is at the heart of many relationships. Perhaps it also comes from the nature of our traditional occupations – farming and fishing. Our ways of living rely on being with others, helping and sharing in the labour and the harvests.
This camaraderie is even more apparent when unwinding after a day or night’s toil. It is then when beverages come out. And when there are spirits, of course there is pulutan!
For January, Ting Aling at World Class Cuiscene is graciously hosting Lasang Pinoy with the theme Let’s Wash it Down with Booze!! That, dear friends, is another way of saying you don’t have to be a drinker to indulge in drinking food.
First a note on Filipinos and drinking. Here I shall liberally employ quotations from my favourite Doreen Fernandez resource. Tikim has an essay on the subject with the very explicit title A Conversation with Fray Juan de Oliver on Drinking and Drunkenness. It is an exposition on what the early missionaries in the archipelago wrote of when they saw men drinking. Fray Juan de Oliver, O.F.M. thought the menfolk imbibed tuba (his generic term for our native spirits) day and night, in excess until they threw up (in DeclaraciÃ³n de la Doctrina Christiana en Idioma Tagalog, ca. 1583-1591).
That of course is being too hasty. Doreen opines: “His and other friars’ European minds, used to certain hours for drinking (at meals, after hours) must have been boggled by people drinking in the morning, afternoon and evening… Oliver almost certainly did not realize that drinking hours are set by people’s work schedules. Fishermen drink when they come in from the sea — some in the moring, others in the afternoon or evening. Farmers drink after work in the fields. Everybody drinks at fiestas. There were no professionals and no office hours then, and thus no “after-hours” drinking as we know it today, “after [work] hours being possible all day.”
Francisco Colin, S.J. thought so too (Labor Evangelica, 1663). “They eat sparingly but drink often; and when they are invited to a banquet, they are asked not to eat but to drink,” he says. The natives engage in long drinking sessions yet are still fully functional, still working on their trade. “And if he has occasion to buy or sell, and to examine and weigh gold or silver he does it with great steadiness that the hand does not tremble nor does he make any error in the weight,” Colin finishes.
I was impressed with how Doreen set what she calls the “conversation between centuries” between Fray Oliver and Fr. Colin. She muses on setting the old friar straight on his views, that “the community drinking of Filipinos, although frequent and of long duration, is not necessarily drunkenness.” It has a lot to do with community drinking, and the technique of tagayan or having a leader (tagatagay) pour the libation into a glass then passing it around.
Then there is pulutan, also called sumsuman and recorded in Pedro de San Buenaventura’s Vocabulario de la lengua Tagala (1613) as “polotan” and much later (1860) defined by Noceda and San Lucar as “a type of snack which one eats while drinking wine”. This is food specific to drinking and is to be eaten with companions.
There are many preparations for many species eaten as pulutan but what I thought to be common is to have something with meat. My own mother taught me a trick when I was old enough to drink. Never drink when hungry and before imbibing anything, eat something fatty to coat the stomach’s lining, preventing the absorption of alcohol. As is usual for mother dear, very scientific. To this day, I have never had a hangover but then again, I’ve never strayed away from wine. But I suppose it does make sense.
And so I thought that was the reason for the generally oily preparation of pulutan. However, I found out just a year ago drinkers also like something sour to chew on. It prevents them from getting drunk, I have been told. No wonder many drinking sessions I’ve witnessed had sisig. But it’s not the sisig that you’re thinking of.
What most Filipinos know as sisig nowadays is simply one variation of the generic Capampangan term for something sour and eaten by itself. These could be naturally sour like unripe fruits – “ mangoes, guavas, tamarind – or dipped in vinegar like unripe (manibalang) papaya.
My other favourite resource, Fr. Diego Bergaño’s Vocabulario de la Lengua Pampanga has this entry:
SISING. (pp.) N. S. Ensalada. Y aun papaya verde, o guayaba comida con pebre. V. act. y su prot. Hacerla P. 2. lo que Ma, N. Mapanisig, no solo es el que hace muchas, sino goloso de ellas.
I would take his spelling of “sising” to the Spanish difficulty in pronouncing and thus confusing our ‘ng’ and hard ‘g’ sounds. The give-away clue is in ‘mapanisig‘ which is still used nowadays in that context, someone who is fond of eating sour food by itself.
Through time, the term sisig has also come to refer to food prepared with a simple sour marinade, such as meats and seafood. An example of this is the older version of sisig babi which is boiled pork ears and jowl, sliced thinly then dressed with calamansi (or vinegar), onions, chillies, salt and pepper.
The contemporary sizzling sisig is an innovation by eateries in Angeles City. Instead of the usual, it is broiled after boiling and cooling, before mincing. Quite a nationwide bestseller but hardly the definitive sisig, mind you.
[Here, I am supposed to insert a table of the different preparations for sisig but my html skills are not up to par - my template goes askew. I should be done in a few days though.]
For Lasang Pinoy 6, I prepared sisig páro, also known as quiló páro (pronounced ki-loh pah-roh). This is something we love to have at home, not as pulutan but for lunch. It goes very well with rice and hot soup.
Sisig Páro (Shrimp Ceviche)
1 1/2 cups small live freshwater shrimps
8-10 medium calamansi
3 larang labuyu (siling labuyo, bird’s eye chillies)
1/3 teaspoon salt
2 cups boiling water
- Clean the shrimps by rinsing them several times until the water runs clear.
- To lock in the freshness while they’re still alive, blanche them in hot water till just after the colour changes, approximately 3 minutes.
- Drain well and peel carefully. The shrimps are still very soft since they are not cooked.
- Squeeze the calamansi and take out seeds.
- Add the salt and pour the juice on the shrimps and make sure they are well coated.
- Finely chop the shallots. Add to the shrimps.
- At this point, gently mash the shrimps with fingers to make sure the flavour of the dressing is absorbed by the shrimps.
- Mince the chillies. If you do not like very spicy food, start with one then add more if you desire. Add the chillies to the shrimps and mix well with a spoon.
- Refrigerate for around 30 minutes to an hour to cool and for the flavours to meld.
- Serve for either inuman or with hot rice.
Thank you Ting for thinking of this theme. I was forced to write down what I have been putting off for so long.
Update: The round-up for Lasang Pinoy 6 is now online.