“Wake the Dead” Sauce/Condiment/Elixir a la Vern…


A palate puncher! Shock those tastebuds! Scare the bacteria right out of your jaded mouth! Yup, this was that much needed departure from what has become rather predictable lunch time fare (pork and its by-products) at the Zubuchon main office… One of our newest employees took some murky JB fish sauce into the kitchen a half hour before lunch and emerged with this bowl that can only be described as having the potential for waking the dead. And I mean that in a good way…


Folks always refer to “sawsawan” or a dipping sauce these days as an “essential part” of Filipino cuisine, but the nature and quality of sawsawan is increasingly being determined by a commercially available, supermarket sourced list of ingredients that are often a shadow of their original or authentic cousins. Think “white” vinegar from white gallon containers instead of artisanally fermented nipa (or recently, from a friend, homemade buri) vinegar. Or large red but mild taiwanese-bred finger chilies rather than fiery smiling labuyo grown wild from bird droppings (after the bird feasted on ripe chilies elsewhere in the archipelago presumably. Or salt with iodine vs. just plain sea salt, or worse pure MSG. Soy sauce that is oddly thick as sin that’s salty but oddly lacks flavor, etc. Younger diners today who are so used to creating their sawsawan (particularly in urban areas) by pouring things out of bottles, perhaps are no longer aware that so many of the “sawsawans” or condiments used by their parents and grandparents were things that were cooked or prepared along with a meal. And in the Visayas, a lot of these “condiments” were really more than just dips. Think guinamos dips that could just as well be a viand, here. Or kamias with bagoong, here or here. So a plate of blandish food might be “ramped up” with a shockingly salty, sour, umami-ish side dish. That’s what this particular post is about…


Vern took 750 grams of ripe tomatoes and sliced them, seeds and all. PHP8 from the Carbon market at the height of summer. Tons of tomatoes on offer. Then she chopped some onions and garlic, sliced some ginger, chopped some taiwanese chilies (no ripe labuyo in the larder or garden) and extracted the juice of 15 kalamansi fruit. She measured out roughly a tablespoon (yes, a tablespoon!) of homemade siling labuyo flakes, roughly 1/2 a cup of JB murky brown-grey fish sauce with no bones, and roughly 2-3 tablespoons of lard.


Into a pan over high heat, add the lard. Repeat, lard. It adds flavor that is distinct from vegetable oil. Then the onions and garlic, ginger and sauce until softened and fragrant. Next add the tomatoes and lightly mash them as they cook, creating essentially a fresh tomato sauce. Cook this down for roughly 10 minutes, before adding the fish sauce, chilies (fresh and dried) and finally the kalamansi juice and cook this down further for 8-10 minutes until it is the consistency you desire. Serve with grilled or fried food, vegetable dishes, mild soups with protein and veggies in it that require a hit of tongue lashing flavor and spice. This particular concoction was mind-blowingly good. Spicy, saucy, intense, salty, etc. I could see this working well with fried chicken, grilled tanguigue, sautéed dark greens, platters of bihon,etc. Absolutely delicious. So much so, just after lunch, I asked Vern to cook the dish again, so I could take these photos and write this post. :)

P.S. I have written this exactly as Vern prepared it. But as a personal note, I would mince the ginger instead of large chunks used in the photos here. Now that I finish this post, it triggers thoughts of some Indonesian sambals we enjoyed when we lived there many years ago…


14 Responses

  1. MM, you mean Indonesian sambals?

    Good to hear you’re still around and busy…IG & blog have been VERY QUIET…??????

  2. When I read “JB fish sauce” in the opening paragraph, I thought it was you know who who made it. JB Lingayen pala, so I stand corrected.

  3. joe jj, hahaha, precisely the reason I bought boxes of it at a trade fair, good initials. But we didn’t end up using it for the restaurants, so I gave all the office staff bottles of it to take home instead. Dragon, yes, sambal(s), spell-check is the death of me. But if I don’t use it, I misspell the most idiotic everyday words as well. Will edit now. :)

  4. So similar to a delicious fiery African condiment except they use smoked fish instead of bagoong. The whole thing pureed and cooked with a lot more oil, stirred often till most of the liquid has evaporated and the oil has risen up top. Like a sofrito? It is even better If you cook everything on a wood fire. Splatters like heck though. I play it safe by using a large non stick covered pot, the cover slightly askew so the liquid evaporates quicker.

  5. That boneless fish sauce may be closest to the ancient Romans’ garum although garum adored by classical epicures such as M. G. Apicius was manufactured using mostly fish viscera. It was a common table condiment much like our patis, a veritable umami bomb that’s always within easy reach.

    As summer ends and gardeners end up with more ripening tomatoes than they can handle, a friend’s mom (from Iloilo) dices and sautées them with an equal part of ginger, minced as you suggested, and inspissates the combo to a chutney-like consistency and packed in pickle jars, an annual gift from the old lady much anticipated by her children and hangers on like me.

  6. My mom use to do this sawsawan but instead of the fish bagoong she uses miso paste…. Very good as sawsawan for “Pesa”

    Anyway you inspired me to do this today for lunch as sawsawan for sinigang na samaral sa bayabas! Thanks MM!

  7. Connie C, :), I know exactly that you feel and mean, I am just trying to be good and hold my tongue/fingertips for a few months until it’s time to make more detailed comments…

  8. He was a soldier in a war from which he was never dishonourably discharged so yes, he was a hero before he, along with scores of enablers (who btw outlived him unpunished), plundered the country’s human and natural resources from which the country has never recovered. As things are currently unfolding, being all too human with short memory and shorter patience for picking lessons from history, we are bound to repeat past errors.

  9. yes, we always make this Sawsawan with bagoong balayan and mantikang baboy as we call lard Ito yung tinatawag na Sawsawan pa Lang ulam na.

  10. Hi MM, made this earlier today. Double the quantity so that I could store them and see how the flavors would be after a while. Had about 2 cups worth that I couldn’t fit in the bottle anymore and had a stalk of leftover lemongrass in the fridge. So i decided to mince it up and add it to the sauce. Damn, it added a whole new flavor profile to it! Highly recommend you give it a try next time you make another batch.

  11. So sorry to digress MM, but I am getting so frustrated with a need for info. Calling Lee and Millet who I recalled are very familiar with Bacolod. We are US based and are planning a trip to Bacolod in Oct. to watch the Masskara Parade and local cuisines. So frustrated that there is no info out there re exact dates/highlights of the parade; the two preferred hotels and basically decent hotels (L’Fisher and O’Hotel) are fully booked when I checked a week ago… other options have scary reviews i.e., rats/roaches infestation, water not being available, dirty bathrooms, etc., etc. Would appreciate it very much if Lee and Millet (and others) can provide some info, very much appreciate it, thank you and sorry again for the digression.



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