Ilocano Pipian a la Marketman


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 Grandpa’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 “correct” or “modify” my version where they see it strays way too far from the “real thing.” I was cooking based on visual sightings of ingredients in our bowls and taste…


To make Marketman’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 sauté 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 Ilocos… 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 didn’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 bowl…and some Marketmanila readers have said this is treated more as merienda fare than an ulam or viand… Whenever you choose to eat it, it tastes great!


20 Responses

  1. wow, surely I will try to do this, but can you tell me in simpler words what is pasotes or epazotes, is it regularly available in the market…


  2. hi mm, i’ve never tasted ‘pipian’ before, so would like to try to replicate and get the authentic taste. what is a good substitute for epazote leaves, what does it taste like? in your previous post, i saw the leaves look a bit like rocket. thanks.

  3. hi mm, i’ve just googled it and answered my own question.

    wiki says “Raw, it has a resinous, medicinal pungency, similar to the liquorice taste of anise, fennel, or even tarragon, but stronger. Epazote’s fragrance is strong, but difficult to describe. It has been compared to citrus, petroleum, savory, mint, and putty.”

    i’ll make this dish with tarragon, which i quite like.

  4. Pipian is popular too among my friends in Cavite (where the ships from Mexico docked). Their version is closer to our kari-kari because of the ground peanuts they throw in. In Mexico they tend to use whatever enriching agent is available, the squash seeds you mentioned, cashews or peanuts. In the backwoods of Mexico, a deep plate of pipian, a few tortillas or tamales, flushed with ice-cold Coronas sent me back to my lodgings singing That’s a mole like Dean Martin.

  5. The epazote does add that special flavor, but I think it is the kamias that will differentiate this from a kare-kare…and I do think this is more unique with rice as a more neutral thickening agent, though the peanuts make sense too.

  6. HI MM!

    To be able to get the most color out of the achuete seeds, you can moisten them with LIHIYA. Leave them for a couple of minutes then add hot water when needed.

    We always have a bottle of Lihiya-moistened achuete in our fridge. For the times we make kare-kare, palabok or sotanghjon soup.

  7. this is something of a novelty for me as i’ve never tasted this dish although looks like a kare2. I will share this with my mom for her to try(I eat more than I cook…hehe)we have a kamias tree in the backyard that never fails to bear fruit.thanks for sharing this recipe(we don’t have to drive to Vigan after all to savor it…)

  8. We have tried cooking this without the epazote but it is still better with it.
    Marketman, instead of using achuete water (soaking) we saute the seeds to about a spoonful of oil somehow we find it with more color and/or hindi panisin. After sauteing the achuete seeds we discard it then saute the garlic, onions and so forth.

  9. Pipian is my comfort food. My mom’s a native of Vigan and she cooks the dish regularly. So regular that my mom decided to grow our own pasotes plant at home (and we live in laguna). It’s a low maintenance plant, ask someone you know to send you seeds or a semi-grown plant. Just leave it out of plain sight. Ours was mistaken for a marijuana plant a few times. Hehe.

    Mix pork with chicken. The flavor of the soup will be richer. Any cut will do but my mom stresses that it has to have a “reasonable” amount of fat in it.

  10. Never have had the chance to taste this dish but will definitely give it a try this weekend. Thanks for sharing this. Erleen thanks much for sharing the achuete lihiya trick. I heard about this awhile back never paid attention to it and will be one of your followers. Grace Encarnacion glad to hear from you. If you do not mind at all, are you the same Grace Encarnacion the famous hairdresser in Manila and Los Angeles?

  11. Grace Encarnacion, my sincere apology. I confuse you with Jun Encarnacion and Grace Lagman. Sorry about this.

  12. This dish looks good…I’ll try it today…maybe Indian produce stores might carry those epazote leaves..let you know later…My mom taught me just to saute the atchuete seeds in a little oil, too to extract the color…MM, my sister is heading back home to Manila in October to attend to some business there. She only stays there a week or two. I would like to send a little something for you to enjoy during the Christmas holidays (my FAMOUS WICKED CHOCOLATE CAKE). People are starting to drop me subtle hints telling me they wish they could have this cake all year round…hahaha..It is freezer stable. If you want to freeze it whole, pour the ganache after it comes down to room temp. I slice them into 1/2 thick and wrap them, then freeze. That way when we have company or my boys just want their chocolate fix, they just grab a slice and zap it in the microwave no more than 8 sec. Let me know and I shall send with it Christmas stuff like little sleigh, holly, snow man to put on top of the cake…

  13. Reggie Aspiras apologizes on her column in today’s paper. In doing so, she endears herself to me no hypocrisy and she’s down to earth! I feel the sincerity in her and I am really touched by her apology. She humbles herself and I look at her like a shining star fresh from the horizon! This publication is a national newspaper. Way to go MM for turning another stone.

  14. i wish i knew how this tasted like… not the vaguest idea of how pumpkin seeds should taste like (except for the ones they sell similar to butong pakwan). but if you say, something like kare-kare, i have yet to try it.



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