Whenever there’s a celebration–a birthday, graduation, wedding, or even reunion–one dish will surely be found on the table: sisig. Much like lumpiang shanghai and fried chicken, sisig has also become a staple dish during gatherings because people of all ages love it. The crunchiness of the chicharon, the tanginess of the calamansi, and the “putok-batok” deliciousness of the pork meat are things that everyone looks forward to and craves for every time.
And with its timelessness, we can’t help but wonder who the genius was behind the invention of this well-loved dish. So let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we? (Read: Govt Plans to Provide Food Aid to at-Risk Pregnant Women, Children)
A Cure for Hangovers
Believe it or not, sisig was initially created to “cure” hangovers and nausea–two instances when people experience vomiting. Its name comes from the old Tagalog word “sisigan,” which means “to make it sour,” because they believed that sour food holds back the need to vomit. The word sisig was first recorded in 1732 in a Kapampangan dictionary by Augustinian friar Diego Bergaño who described it as “a salad including green papaya or green guava eaten with a dressing of salt, pepper, garlic, and vinegar.”
It would usually be served as a side dish to roast meats (inihaw), but eventually became a main dish of its own during the American colonization, when cooks in the soldier base in Angeles City, Pampanga started using discarded pig heads for the dish as they felt it was a waste throwing out perfectly edible pig meat. (Read: 5 of the Best Filipino Food for All Saints’ Day)
They then mixed the chopped meat with the sisig, and that’s how the blueprint for the modern sisig was born. Some cooks also saw the opportunity to sell this dish to the public for a low price, given that it was from discarded pig parts.
And it wasn’t until the 1960’s when a barbecue owner from Pampanga, Lucia Cunanan (popularly known as Aling Lucing), changed things up and invented the three-part cooking method for sisig, which is now being used by many to cook their own versions.
A Pop Culture Comfort Food
And even with its greasiness (and ridiculous amount of cholesterol), many Filipinos still crave and love sisig, eating it even on the most regular of days. It’s become so popular that even restaurants outside the Philippines are already adding sisig to their menu. And even the late Anthony Bourdain, a popular celebrity chef, journalist, and lover of international food and culture, had sisig one time and said that it will be a good “introductory dish to Filipino cuisine.”
He added that sisig will pique the curiosity of westerners like Americans who have little to no exposure with Filipino food. “I think sisig is perfectly positioned to win the hearts and minds of the world as a whole,” Bourdain said in an interview. (Read: 4 Thai Food Dishes That You Should Try at Least Once)
Now with its popularity, others have also created versions of sisig that aren’t made of pork–perfect for those who try to stay away from too much fat! There’s the chicken sisig, bangus (milkfish) sisig, tuna sisig, and squid sisig. And there’s even sisig versions that are for people who don’t eat meat and fish at all: tofu sisig and mushroom sisig. There’s literally a sisig dish for everyone!