The other night, my Mom and I were in San Fernando and had a buffet dinner at one of our favourite restaurants, Balé Capampangan. As always, their spread was something not for the faint-hearted but since we are regulars, I searched for those that I seldom saw and found a few that I liked (more about them in the coming posts).

This morning, my Mom was back at the restaurant for a meeting and before she left the place, she SMS’d if I wanted her to bring home a dish or two to take pictures of (yes, she knows I blog about food). I told her nothing of the usual and she did not disappoint. One of the dishes she came home with was bistig damulag. I seldom have this since the meat isn’t sold in marketplaces everyday.

What then is this bistig damulag? Like many of our Filipino dishes, this is another example of the inherent fusion that results when an archipelago such as ours is situated in a very strategic place, the islands having seen many waves of migration both from indigenous cultures and from more alien adventurers, both from the East and the West.

Damulag, of course, is the water buffalo or carabao (Bubalus carabanesis syn. Bubalus bubalis Linn.), which in these parts is used as a beast of burden, milked and slaughtered for its meat. The taste is quite similar to beef, sometimes referred to as carabeef, but much more flavourful. Bistig is the Capampangan corruption of the Spanish bistec which literally means ‘steak’ although the Tagalogs stay close to the original with their bistek. But the way we cook the dish is the same, at first glance definitely Oriental, with the soy sauce and the calamansi. However, the recipe also is very similar to the Latin American bistec encebollado.

Let us illustrate. Unlike the more common thickly-cut steak, our bistig utilises very thin strips of meat, almost like that for teriyaki. So does the bistec encebollado. One of the recipes I saw required pounding the meat till very thin while another was to make scallopini. Hmmm… that indeed is almost the same procedure for cooking bistig!

Here then is the basic recipe for bistig.

Ingredients:

1 kg. carabeef striploin
1/4 cup soy sauce
10 pcs. calamansi, juiced
4 tbsp flour or cornstarch
2 large onions, 1 chopped, the other sliced into rings
1 head garlic, crushed finely
5 tbsp cooking oil
1/2 tsp cracked peppercorns

  1. In a shallow bowl, combine the soy sauce, calamansi juice and cracked peppercorns.
  2. Marinate the meat in the mixture for at least three hours. Place inside refrigerator if marinating overnight.
  3. Take out the meat from the marinade and dust very, very thinly with flour or cornstarch.
  4. In a frying pan or skillet, fry the meat to a light golden brown. Drain and set aside.
  5. In the same frying pan, using the leftover oil, brown the garlic then add the chopped onions and stir very slowly till the onions are translucent.
  6. Place the meat into the pan and let its juices mingle with the oil then pour in the marinade. Simmer for five to ten minutes then test for tenderness. Add water if necessary.
  7. When the meat is tender enough, add the onion rings and turn just enough for them to be coated in oil and heated then turn off the stove.
  8. Serve hot.

Note: When cooking bistig, aside from beef and carabeef, pork and fish may also be used. Here at home, we almost always cook bistig bangus (milkfish, Chanos chanos) instead of meat.

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