I cannot recall how many dozens of emails I have received regarding “Siomai sa Tisa” or requests for a shu mai/siomai recipe over the years. So I finally decided to head right to the “source” and with an order for 500 pieces of siomai to boot. Locals have always pointed to Tisa, a barangay or section of Cebu City that has built a reputation as being the epicenter of siomai. It’s easy to get confused about the players, what with all the “Original” or “D’Original” and other such SPURIOUS and INACCURATE claims for originality. Just because someone manages to register a name and “Original” in it DOES NOT assure they created it. Period. Besides, as if Shumai were unique to Cebu or to Tisa?! At any rate, back to the story. On a recent blustery and drizzly late afternoon we sent in an order for 500 shomai to be picked up at 6pm that evening…
The place locals “in the know” advised we should try was a little stall called “Way Tugpahay” short for walay tugpahay. It’s not easy phrase to translate… some say it refers to a “bird that comes in for a landing on a branch, but never bothers to land/rest and keeps going” — ergo I take it to mean you eat with no pause, it’s so good you just keep going and going. Another way to describe this is to have “no leftovers” because the dish is so good… The modest stall sells from 2,000-3,000+ siomai on average per day! And mostly in the afternoon and early evenings! That’s INCREDIBLE VOLUME, and all steamed street side! We picked up our order of 500 pieces, at JUST 5 PESOS (12 U.S. cents) per piece and chatted with the vendors at the stall… While they are perhaps the favorite stall on the street these days (among dozens of siomai vendors that have predictably set up shop all around them), they readily admitted they were NOT the first to sell siomai in Tisa over a decade ago…
…the cousins of “Way Tugpahay’s” owners had set up “Kuya Jeff’s Siomai sa Tisa” a month before, across the street. But the main difference, Way Tugpahay asserted, was that at the start, Kuya Jeff’s apparently just purchased their siomai from another supplier, while Way Tugpahay developed their own recipe and cooked everything in-house rather than outsourcing their raw siomai. I thought this was a very useful distinction. The term Original is bandied about a lot across the country, but frankly, I tend to believe the opposite these days… anyone who has to claim the term original in their name is probably most likely not to be the originator of the dish. But that’s the cynic in me talking. :) And just because someone registers “Original” at the DTI or elsewhere doesn’t assure they are in fact the ORIGINATOR. At any rate, both places still sell siomai today, but as I said, locals in the know insisted on Way Tugpahay being better, and I have to say, the line of customers there was a good sign…
The siomais are cooked in ginormous batches in double-decker aluminum steamers.
They are piled right on top of each other, in up to 3-4 layers of siomai!
And very curiously, cooked upside down! Presumably so that fat drips out of the siomai rather than collects at the bottom of each piece.
Business was extremely brisk, and several customers lined up to purchase 3, 5 or 10 pieces, either to eat at makeshift tables out front, or to take home. Folks around the world (and all those in China in particular) might be mortified to find out that Filipinos have taken a classic dimsum dish, meant for noshing without rice, and have made it the primary viand in a meal of siomai and rice, with lots of soy sauce, chili oil and kalamansi juice as a dip.
Back at the restaurant, we shared a few pieces of the famous siomai, on real plates. They were surprisingly large and when broken up, appeared to be made from chopped (rather than ground) pork, with significant fat content, and some flavoring/spices. There was no shrimp, sausage, mushrooms, carrots, green onions, etc. They almost certainly had MSG, and were quite salty on their own, but overall, they tasted pretty good and were an incredible bargain for just PHP5 a piece (more on this in the next post as I cannot imagine how they sold these for that price). The wrapper was a bit dry but again, at these prices, no quibbling allowed.
The siomai came with a sweetish chili oil, that combined with soy sauce and kalamansi, is the key to enjoying almost any local siomai. The siomai are really just vessels for the sauce, and the sauce masks any flavor shortcomings of the siomai. Of course this siomai excursion piqued my curiosity about making siomai, and my next post is my first attempt at home made siomai… stay tuned for more. :)