01 Feb2013


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. :)



  1. Natie says:

    siomai chronicles-can’t wait! And nothing but pork…wow!

    Feb 1, 2013 | 9:08 am


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  3. odessa says:

    oh, hubby and I love it. once a month i make it at home. ours are made of ground pork sometimes with ground shrimp and white onions and more garlic for the spicy and oily sauce. will try that upside down technique definitely. I also found a recipe on a mag, one which is baked instead but haven’t tried it yet . will await for your version MM so i can try it next week….:)

    Feb 1, 2013 | 9:19 am

  4. ami says:

    Over dinner yesterday, my friend was just telling me about an episode she saw in one of those investigative shows where they exposed a factory making siomai using not ground meat, not even double dead ground meat, but cardboard and fat! Yes, cardboard! I was shocked and mortified. So guys, be wary of where you buy your siomai. Gives new meaning to the phrase “lasang karton”.

    Funny regarding your comment on siomai and rice. It was only in college that I observed that people ate siomai as ulam with rice. We ate ours by itself with lots of kalamansi and soy sauce.

    Feb 1, 2013 | 9:36 am

  5. Marketman says:

    ami, yes about the rice. The siomai is supposed to be protein with the carb (the wheat flour based wrapper)… so a self-contained morsel of goodness. But then again, we are perhaps the only country that eats spaghetti with rice, and pancit with rice… :) And on the cardboard in siomai, AACCCKKKK! yipes! So the warning to consumers is appropriate!

    Feb 1, 2013 | 9:51 am

  6. Khew says:

    I guess the upside down technique is so that the bottom skin doesn’t disintegrate from the perpetual steaming.

    Feb 1, 2013 | 9:54 am

  7. Marketman says:

    Khew, I think it also has to do with the fat pooling in the bottom of the siomai, I have a photo of the difference between two techniques of cooking in the next post on siomai…

    Feb 1, 2013 | 10:00 am

  8. Khew says:

    Speaking of cardboard, it reminds me of a story/urban legend about one particular Penang Laksa stall which sold such unbelievably cheap laksa brimming with shredded mackerel. Can’t remember if it was a raid or what but the ugly truth was all that mackerel were nothing more than cheap toilet rolls soaking in pails! Ewwww………gag……

    Feb 1, 2013 | 10:02 am

  9. ECC says:

    Our dear Ms. BettyQ posted a comment with her Siomai or Shau Mai recipe in your November 29, 2008 article. She did specifically say to use chopped or diced pork because ground pork becomes paste.

    Feb 1, 2013 | 10:04 am

  10. Marketman says:

    ECC, accckkk, I forgot about that recipe, and where it was located… maybe for a second round of siomais… and yes, chopped pork better than ground pork. Just checked the recipe, not way too different from the one I concocted, but definitely will try it with five spice next time. Thanks for pointing out where that recipe was.

    Feb 1, 2013 | 10:41 am

  11. EbbaBlue says:

    Maybe Ms. BettyQ will post her siomai recipe again for us.. pretty please.

    I love siomai sold in Sampaloc, and I always bought some when I go Pinas..except last time, vendor changed it into the cardboard container, and I told them to just put mine in my own tupperware.

    Feb 1, 2013 | 11:17 am

  12. jakespeed says:

    Can’t wait for the next post on this. I hope in future posts, MM will take on xiao long bao. :)

    Feb 1, 2013 | 11:19 am

  13. Nina says:

    Yeah, jakespeed, xiao long bao… a food porno; too tedious to make; serving time too time-constrained (has to be served as soon as as it’s steamed to enjoy the 1st bite of hot soup!).

    Feb 1, 2013 | 11:51 am

  14. Marketman says:

    Nina, I understand you just freeze the liquid for the xiao long bao, place the ice cube in the center of the dough, then steam, and voila, the hot liquid inside the dough… but I haven’t made it myself…

    Feb 1, 2013 | 12:01 pm

  15. daphne says:

    Just curious, what are you going to do with the 500 pieces of siomai? That’s a lot!!!

    Feb 1, 2013 | 12:48 pm

  16. Marketman says:

    daphne, they were for a post-Sinulog Zubuchon staff party… a thank you for crew that entailed at 10pm to 2am party, dancing, games, food and relaxation which was well deserved after a Sinulog deluge of people. We ordered almost all of the food so we wouldn’t have to do much preparation. And no, we had NO lechon products at all served for the midnight snacks… :)

    Feb 1, 2013 | 1:12 pm

  17. betty q. says:

    MM…you know the stuff that congeals ( like when you make chicken confit) at the bottom of the pan…aspic…that is best thing to use in making the soup dumplings…flavour is concentrated and a little goes a long way.

    Feb 1, 2013 | 1:16 pm

  18. pixienixie says:

    I think I was one of those who asked for a siomai recipe in response to a post that asked readers to suggest dishes to prepare… :)

    I’m soooo excited for your siomai post!

    The quality of siomai sold here in Metro Manila is quite disappointing, especially for people like me who buy from stalls and/or inexpensive restaurants. The most delicious I’ve tasted was in Kopi Roti in Mall of Asia! Can you believe that — Kopi Roti?! That was around 2 years ago, though…

    Feb 1, 2013 | 1:22 pm

  19. Risa says:

    Memorable siomai I tasted were big fat juicy ones from the now defunct Cantonese Kitchen on Jupiter.

    Feb 1, 2013 | 2:50 pm

  20. Fred says:

    Tried making these a few months ago. You can put in any ingredient or flavor combination you want for the filling. Healthier too since its steamed. The problem is it gets tedious making them and you want to have a LOT of it. :)

    Feb 1, 2013 | 5:20 pm

  21. greens_blossoms says:

    Siomai here always homemade … Based on the cooking class my mom took under Sylvia Reynoso some 40 years ago…tweaked it a bit now that am cooking the siomai…more shrimps and no MSG

    Feb 1, 2013 | 5:53 pm

  22. corrine says:

    Yehey! Been waiting for your recipe. My son said that his Chinese friends said that they “beat” the siomai filling. Wonder how. But I think the “beating” tenderizes the meat. I just couldn’t get these siomai to stick well together like those commercial ones even if I add more flour. Hope somebody will post bettyq’s recipe again.

    Feb 1, 2013 | 8:15 pm

  23. Mandy says:

    I love the siomai from Wai Ying, a trip to Binondo always include passing by for their frozen siomai. Another favorite is from Luk yuen.

    Feb 1, 2013 | 8:34 pm

  24. Shalimar says:

    did not excite my palate when I was there… I found most siomai dry and boring in terms sa filling. I love mine with mushroom. chives, spring onions, a bit of shrimps and ginger, of course minced pork.

    Feb 1, 2013 | 9:44 pm

  25. Elit says:

    I love siomai! Can’t wait for your siomai recipe :)

    Feb 1, 2013 | 10:03 pm

  26. Footloose says:

    @Risa, you have been to Jupiter?

    Feb 1, 2013 | 10:53 pm

  27. Nina says:

    Hahaha, Footloose… I think Jupiter is a street in Makati? Betty Q./MM, when I make the XLB, I used concentrated soup from gelatinous chicken parts and/or add unflavored gelatin, let the soup set, cubed, then add to the dumpling. My fav is pork and crab.

    Feb 2, 2013 | 12:34 am

  28. Footloose says:

    Oh, in Makati. I was going to say those siomais must have been out of this world.

    Feb 2, 2013 | 1:32 am

  29. Natie says:

    BettyQ details on how to “throw” mixed fillings of pork and such, on side of bowl to get them to adhere better..I take all cooking tips seriously.

    Last night, I was reading a preview of Fresh Off The Boat from Oprah’s Book Club. It chronicles a Chinese family’s immigration to the US. the first chapter, the 3rd generation narrator, focuses on food, specifically SOUP DUMPLINGS! Hellooo….

    Feb 2, 2013 | 1:40 am

  30. kurzhaar says:

    MM, “piqued” not “peaked”… :)

    A Chinese friend makes shumai using a lot of mushrooms, 3 or more varieties. He even used some morels once when we brought them over for dinner…delicious if not traditional. Interesting comment about rice…I’ve only seen them and other dumplings eaten on their own, straight up as it were.

    Feb 2, 2013 | 2:57 am

  31. Marketman says:

    kurzhaar, thanks, will edit.

    Feb 2, 2013 | 6:17 am

  32. Debbie says:

    Here’s BettyQ’s recipe:

    Yield…about 5 dozens (cut the recipe in half if it’s too much yield for you)

    1 1/2 pounds pork with a bit of fat (I used pork loin…including the fat), diced to small pieces or chopped BUT NOT GROUND!
    8 Chinese dried mushrooms (soaked in hot water until softened
    1 small can bamboo shoots, drained and chopped

    2 egg whites about
    2 tsp. salt
    about 2 tsp. sugar
    black pepper
    1 to 2 tsp. sesame oil
    1 tsp. rice wine or sherry (didn’t have rice wine so I used sherry instead)
    3 TBSP. cornstarch
    1 tsp. 5 spice powder ( this is my SECRET INGREDIENT! and I think gave it the taste that differs from the other vendors..)

    shredded carrot and cilatro for garnish

    Just put all the ingredients in a bowl and throw everything against the sides (INSIDE!!!!) of the bowl for a good 3 to 4 minutes to thoroughly combine all the ingredients. Now LEAVE this mixture covered and refrigerate overnight. …to allow the flavours to get acquainted!!!! Next day, fill the wonton skins with this mixture and press down gently with a back of spoon to make the filling compact. Then grease botttom of steamer and put your filled shau mai in there and steam on HIGH HEAT. Do not crowd them in the steamer. it will take about 8 minutes to steam them. Granish tops with shredded carrot and cilantro.

    Feb 2, 2013 | 11:07 am

  33. Toping says:

    I couldn’t help but smile at your translation of “way tugpahay.” It means, quite literally, “no(t) touching ground,” and is slang for an all-nighter, in the sense of “not coming home (to roost),” or “buntagay,” if you will — “tugpa” here being the act of sleeping — but why be terse when you can be colorful, right?

    Incidentally, the phrase is also used to refer to being high, as in drugs, the act of touching ground being figurative for being in touch with reality. I wonder if the store owner had this in mind when he registered the business name (unlikely). Is the store open 24/7? Or maybe business is so brisk that the shu mai fly straight from the shelves (or in this case, the steamer) into customers’ mouths — but what about the stop-over in the dipping sauce? ????

    Feb 2, 2013 | 2:15 pm

  34. Marketman says:

    Toping, THANK YOU for that, obviously I had no idea what it meant… and several folks I asked couldn’t explain it that clearly. :) I doubt the name is registered, but it’s obviously catchy. :)

    Feb 2, 2013 | 2:32 pm

  35. PITS, MANILA says:

    steamed or fried … we love them!

    Feb 2, 2013 | 4:35 pm

  36. Finch says:

    I’ve been there once sa Way Tugpahay for like 4 years ago when I visited Cebu. :D Grabe their siomai isssss sooo yummmmy >__<

    I hope they will have a branch here in Manila soon. Lido Cocina Tsina's siomai also tastes good, but nothing beats Cebu's Siomai sa Tisa. :)

    Feb 2, 2013 | 5:26 pm

  37. Footloose says:

    @Toping, I find this fascinating too. Reminds me of hovering hummingbirds and being grounded in reality.

    Feb 2, 2013 | 11:08 pm

  38. MlleD says:

    I remember that phrase being casually thrown in college. “Way tugpahay na pud” after downing a cocktail of instant Nescafe and Pepsi. Now that I think about it, it was probably hard to “touch ground” after ingesting that poison. But hey, it made anatomy and kinesiology bearable.

    Feb 3, 2013 | 1:01 am

  39. Maki says:

    wow, I like this kind of post MM.

    so peculiar than your usual fancy post… Kudos to that sir!!!!!

    Feb 3, 2013 | 7:39 pm

  40. Marketman says:

    Maki, believe it or not, the blog has several posts along this vein, from enjoying fresh sea urchins caught by a bangkero off a sandbar in Bohol, climbing trees to collect tuba for vinegar, a post on how to make tinapa, provincial markets and vendors, roadside finds, etc. Go back into the archives and find them when you have nothing better to do… :)

    Feb 3, 2013 | 7:42 pm

  41. Footloose says:

    Being a long-time visitor, I would not say peculiar. It is more of a feature. The “fancy” posts are there just as ornaments but market is still the overriding operative word, even if the market may be in other parts of the world. A day to day diet of tuyo has to be broken with some lechon from time to time while a steady diet of lechon is simply lethal.

    Feb 3, 2013 | 8:38 pm

  42. Alex says:

    Xiao Long Bao is not made with an ice cube inside. The secret to make the broth appear after steaming is actually adding chopped up jellied agar-agar (gulaman) in the meat mixture. When you steam it, it liquifies. Ingenious isn’t it? Who would have guessed it was that simple.

    Feb 4, 2013 | 3:44 pm

  43. Footloose says:

    Stymied by winter but heartened by the groundhog’s prediction of early thaw, have nothing better to do than revisit the previous comments. Nina suggested xiao long bao is too timing dependent and it’s true. Wait too long and the soup vanishes into the wrapper. MM said freeze your stock, presumably, in ice trays but if you have well and truly reduced your stock into a solid jell, dicing it is enough. A concentrated and well flavored stock will naturally deliver a satisfying burst of soupy goodness (and tear-falling heat if you’re not careful) on your first bite. Unflavored gulaman will just guarantee disappointment, flat taste and insipidness. A waste of time and effort if you ask me.

    Feb 4, 2013 | 10:18 pm

  44. Alex says:

    Footloose, you may think that gulaman will be a disappointment and a waste of time but that is what they use. Not need to sound condescending just because you are a chef. There was an extensive article in Saveur Magazine about it. The dimsum chefs of Shang Palace do the same. They chop it up finely before incorporating it into the meat mixture. The liquid does not leach out because the wrapper mixture is different from regular dumplings. I learned how to do this from a dimsum chef so this is not hearsay.

    Feb 5, 2013 | 9:40 pm

  45. Footloose says:

    Alexander, my life principle is only to look down on people when I am helping them up so condescension is one thing I stay away from all the time. Sorry if it seemed that way to you. Gulaman to me is either animal or vegetable gelatin and unflavored gelatin is obviously tasteless. What the Saveur people actually experimented on was pork stock that was reduced to such an extent that it gelled at room temperature. Now I can see cutting this to the chase by resorting to commercial gelatin but you still need a rich and flavorful broth to start with.

    And on this note, I am off and see you all again after Easter.

    Feb 5, 2013 | 10:27 pm

  46. Marketman says:

    Alex and Footloose, thanks for that, I just had a eureka moment. I often make lechon stock and when its a really substantial one it turns into aspic as it cools. Didn’t realize that would be the perfect thing for xiao long bao… now I can make lechon xiao long bao’s… cool. While I do like the dish, my tongue gets burned rather easily, and I have seared it on exploding soup dumplings a few too many times… but may still give this a go…

    Feb 6, 2013 | 1:55 am

  47. Carol says:

    Marketman, I’ve learned how to make xiaolongbao here in shanghai. The jellied cubes are made from boiling pig’s skin for hours and hours. Then cooled then sliced. It was boiled twice, I should look for that recipe and post the recipe next time. the stuffing is easy to make, it’s the act of stuffing that is difficult. Your proficiency in wrapping determines if your xiaolongbao becomes Dintaifong quality or 2rmb variety. What I’ve learned from that class is just to buy xiaolongbao at DTF. Much yummier and easier.

    Feb 7, 2013 | 1:05 am

  48. Marketman says:

    Carol, hahaha, I agree, some things you just buy… and from the sound of it xiaolongbao are one of those items…

    Feb 8, 2013 | 6:47 am

  49. Carol says:

    There’s another delicacy in shanghai that’s probably easier to make. Seng Jian is like xiaolongbao but with thicker, siopaolike skin. It’s fried then water is added to the pan, then the pan is covered to steam it. Don’t stand in front of a person eating sengjian, there’s a tiny water gun hidden inside every bun! Mmmm I am craving forit now. I’d imagine that would be good with squirty lechon fillings. Speaking of squirty food, look what’s sold in china supermarkets hee hee http://trevorxfiles.com/urinating-balls-for-sale/

    Feb 10, 2013 | 11:56 pm

  50. Alex says:

    Footloose, first of all I am not an Alexander. I stand by my original statements above. Appreciate all the good intentions but can’t always have the monopoly of facts even though you don’t think much of agar-agar, it is used by commercial kitchens. Amen.

    Feb 15, 2013 | 12:06 pm


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