The dish Pipian from the Ilocos region, is almost certainly derived from a Mexican dish of the same name. Sometime during the peak of the galleon trade between the Philippines and Mexico, a Mexican priest, sailor or merchant probably got homesick and cooked up a pot of Pipian, which a local eventually indigenized and made their own. At least that is my complete and utter conjecture. However, if one looks up a recipe for Mexican Pipian, you will note some similarities, the Mexican stew or soup being made with chicken, ground or crushed pumpkin seeds, epazote, ancho chillies, lots of different spices, etc.
When we ate the Pipian at Grandpaâ€™s Inn in Vigan, we were stunned by its simplicity yet highly memorable flavor. I think the real “indiginized” secret is the use of kamias or belimbing, as a subtle souring agent to a more viscous than expected soup due to the use of ground rice grains (ground pumpkin seeds are used in the Mexican versions). The other thing that makes this uniquely pipian, is the use of epazote or pasotes leaves, which MUST have been introduced from Mexico hundreds of years ago and tends to thrive in the Northern provinces primarily. Back home in Manila, and WITHOUT a recipe to guide me, I concocted my first attempt at pipian with shockingly good results. Frankly, I have no idea if I have followed ingredients or procedures as an Ilocano housewife or husband might, but the result was scrumptious and I would certainly do this again. Ilocano readers out there are encouraged to â€œcorrectâ€ or â€œmodifyâ€ my version where they see it strays way too far from the â€œreal thing.â€ I was cooking based on visual sightings of ingredients in our bowls and tasteâ€¦
To make Marketmanâ€™s pipian, take some uncooked rice grains and blitz them in a spice grinder or food processor or crush them with a mortar and pestle until fine. Toast the ground rice until lightly browned in a dry pan over medium heat. I used several tablespoons of rice. In a heavy enameled or stainless pot, add some vegetable oil and brown several pieces of chicken that have been seasoned with salt and pepper. I used one whole chicken, cut into pieces. Remove the chicken and sautÃ© chopped ginger, garlic and onions for a few minutes until softened, then add back the chicken, 8+ cups of good chicken stock and cook for several minutes at a gentle boil. Make lots of achuete water (soak dried achuete or annatto seeds in hot water) and add it to the soup for color. I used a shocking amount of achuete by our standards but I was trying to replicate the color of the dish we had at the restaurant in Ilocosâ€¦ In retrospect, maybe a bit of good paprika would have worked here. I might be satisfied with a less nuclear orange color next time. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I am told some folks use patis instead of salt and that would make sense, but I didnâ€™t in the first attempt. Next, I added lots of chopped kamias and simmered the soup some more. Add the toasted rice and watch the broth thicken a bit. Finally, I added pasotes or epazote leaves for that authentic kick, just seconds before turning off the heat and serving the dish. It only took some 25-30 minutes total to make the soup and the first try was a winner. You have to mix the soup up when serving as the rice and kamias tend to sink to the bottom of the bowlâ€¦and some Marketmanila readers have said this is treated more as merienda fare than an ulam or viandâ€¦ Whenever you choose to eat it, it tastes great!