A family friend called yesterday morning to say hello. An American from upstate New York, he was in town for just a few days and was already heading back to the States the following day. He has ties to the Philippines and lived here for several years until he and his family relocated to the U.S. a couple of years ago. This was his first time back in over a year, and we quickly agreed to do lunch at Milky Way on Pasay Road a few hours later. I asked him if there was anything in particular he wanted to eat and he immediately said “sinigang.” After I put the phone down, I realized it might be better to do lunch at home, and after a quick call, plans were set. I now had about 3 hours to pull together a filipino meal anchored on a fish sinigang. I sent someone off to the market to buy some fish and prawns, and I went to S&R to buy a few other ingredients. On the menu a couple of hours later?
Sinigang na Sugpo and Sinigang na Isda (Tanguigue), both done in palayoks over an open fire. Some Inihaw na Liempo (for those who weren’t abstaining), a fried bangus, a bicol express “relish” and a tomato and red egg salad. We also had a selection of “pickles” including our homemade papaya acharra and brined paho and a superb acharang ubod that we received as a gift. For dessert we had frozen langka pieces with brandy and a frozen mango torte, from a nearby gas station… The place setting was a simple woven mat, with light brown ceramics from the kilns of Lanelle Abueva, white linen napkins, silver and a simple glass.
It’s always nice when a foreigner or a balikbayan asks, without hesitation, for a sinigang or other classic Pinoy dish when they are here for a visit. And I was more than happy to oblige with the works, as best we could manage, in a brief period of time. We made the tamarind broth from scratch, using roughly 1/2 kilo of unripe tamarind boiled in water and strained to achieve that naturally sour but flavorful taste. I am biased but making it from scratch isn’t much work and it tastes a lot better than the packaged mixes, in my opinion. The use of palayoks and a wood fire brought the soups up a couple of notches! It is always unusual to present the palayoks as is on the dining table… so rustic and so uncommon a site in this modern day and age…
The selection of pickles was serendipitous. I had just made the brined paho a week or so ago and it was in perfect eating condition. The papaya acharra is almost always in our pantry and a whole bottle’s worth was put out on the table. And the ubod acharra arrived as a gift just the other day, and was patiently sitting in the fridge waiting for the right moment. These all paired particularly well with the grilled liempo and the fried bangus…
I always like to offer something with heat or spice when we are having a “local” lunch like this so I made a very quick bicol express inspired relish, the shortcut version. A can of thai coconut cream into a small saucepan and boiled for a minute or two. Add some chopped onion and garlic, a couple of teaspoons of bottle bagoong and lots of chopped siling pangsigang and stir occasionally until soft, say 15 minutes or so… Serve hot or at a lukewarm temperature. Yum. I also made a simple salad of chopped tomatoes and red egg, a dash of local vinegar and lots of cracked black pepper.
For dessert I extracted some frozen langka (jackfruit) from the freezer and let it thaw for about 15 minutes before serving as is (de-seeded) with a splash of good brandy or cognac. Yes, you read that right… freeze the langka, splash it with brandy and enjoy… so easy and yet so delicious.
Finally, for the sweet tooth, a Cuerva’s frozen mango torte… the perfect fruity and creamy finish to an impromptu lunch. Our guests had several servings of everything on the table, so I suspect it was a reasonable success… :)