Sisig: A Cultural Heritage of Pampanga

January 19, 2019

Sisig has been a culinary tradition of Pampanga and we feel very strongly about it to the point that we declared Sizzling Sisig Babi (pork) as an intangible heritage of Angeles City through a city ordinance (City Ordinance No. 405, Series of 2017 “An ordinance declaring Sizzling Sisig Babi as an intangible cultural heritage of Angeles City, and establishing systems and policies in safeguarding the original recipe of Sizzling Sisig, providing mechanisms of implementation, and for other related purposes”)and registered it with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

As a Kapampangan and as the Heritage, Culture and Arts Officer of Angeles City, Pampanga, I feel it is my duty to educate you, and your clients on what SISIG really is. 

Sisig is more of a cooking process rather than just the dish. Sisig can be anything,  but the keywords are: sour and snack. Sisig was in the Kapampangan vocabulary prior to the 18th century as evidenced by the dictionary written by Spanish friar Diego Bergaño. He recorded the existence of SÍSIG in his Vocabulario de la Lengua Pampanga printed in 1732. Sisig back then was fruits dipped in a spiced vinegar dressing. Maybe you have heard of the term mannisig as in mannisig manga, a phrase still used today.  Back then, it was a snack eaten by pregnant women. Pregnant women enjoy the sourness due to their pregnancy cravings, when they are kakagli. Fast forward to today, Sisig is still a snack / pulutan in a sour dressing. The sourness may come from vinegar or calamansi or kamias. In the culinary tradition of Pampanga, this dish has no raw egg or mayonnaise. Vinegar or calamansi with egg or mayonnaise just don’t mix. Kapampangans frown upon this development invented from outside Pampanga. For Kapampangans this is a mortal sin.

Sisig evolved in Angeles City, from fruits like papaya, guava or green mangoes to pork (pigs ears). Years ago, pig’s head is rarely used in every day cooking, and there was a surplus in Angeles of these parts.  The Americans from Clark Air Base threw it out or gave it for free. The “nothing should go to waste”, and “that food should be valued and respected” attitude of Kapampangans came into play, (thus we eat anything edible such as crickets and frogs), but going back to Sisig . . . we used the pig’s ears to make Sisig. Pig’s ears were boiled, chopped and dipped in vinegar with onions.  It is said that the gelatinous cartilage helped in the development of the fetus (pregnant women lang pa rin “ang kumakain”). “Eh ang sarap“, so this time men started eating it too, and ate it with their alcoholic beverages as a pulutan. Aling Lucing became popular when she grilled the pig’s ears,  and adding the use of the cheeks to accommodate the bigger demand, a recipe she learned from the nextdoor stall owner in Crossing, Bapang Kadok. Aling Lucing was a very charismatic woman so naturally she had more clientele. The evolution of Sisig moved forward when Benedict Pamintuan (Mayor Ed’s brother) of Sugay’s (eventually opened his own restaurant named Benedict’s) thought of using a sizzling plate because the fat easily gets sebo when you eat it as pulutan.  This development catapulted Sisig to a whole new level. Not only is it enjoyed by the taste buds, but the nose (smell from the smoke),  and ears (sizzling sound) as well.

Manila got a taste of Sisig when 2 groups of Angelenos brought it there 1) Benedict’s family opened a restaurant in Sta Mesa, and 2) Claude Tayag’s 2 brothers and a cousin opened Trellis Restaurant in Diliman Quezon City. By this time, Sisig was served with ground grilled chicken liver as well. That was the final evolution of Sisig in Angeles.

So again, Sisig is not defined by the meat used, any meat, fruits or vegetables may be used.  It is not defined by the cut: you don’t call it Sisig just because it is minced. It is certainly not because of the plate used, you may serve Sisig on a plate not sizzling.  And definitely no raw egg on top!

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