As they say, when the world throws lemon at you, you make a lemonade. And the Filipinos did just that. We made lemonades and sinigang and sawsawan (dipping sauce) and a thousand variety of kinilaw (local ceviche). Sourness is one of the main flavor that defines the Filipino cuisine, and what makes it distinct from other Asian food culture.
Sour is present in every Filipino restaurant menu and in every home. We always crave for that tangy sinigang, a tamarind based sour soup. Our crispy fried meat, chicken or fish is always served with a tiny plate of fish sauce and lemonsito for dipping. Our local salad, ensalada, is mostly green crunchy mangoes, diced with ripe juicy tomatoes and doused with a teaspoon of salty fish paste. Imagine a riot of sour and salty going on inside your mouth with every teaspoonful.
The Filipino cuisine is a triad of flavors. A protein, either grilled or fried or adobo, presented with a steaming sinigang and kilawin (our local ceviche) forms part of the triangle that defines our taste. In all these plates, the sour taste is never underrated.
This food triad is consumed by every class of society across the archipelago. For the sinigang alone, each region across the country has their own version of souring agents, from tomatoes, to mangoes, to guava, to local herbs, to tree barks and what have they. Any meat or fish or shell food can be cooked the sinigang way. Filipinos believe that sipping a steaming sour tangy soup help cools down the body.
Our famous kilawin, or sometimes called kinilaw, a local version of ceviche of Latin America, can be prepared in hundred different varieties. Usually, fresh tuna, squid or oyster is the meat of choice for preparing kilawin. Traverse between the main islands of Visayas and Mindanao and I bet you will uncover many ways on how the kinilaw is prepared and the curing agent used.
On a recent trip to Mindanao, I had the unique experience of sampling a local dish, called SuTuKil. It was fresh tuna, presented in 3 ways, SUgba for grilled tuna belly, TUwa or tinuwa for tuna fish sour soup in quartered tomatoes and Philippine lime, and KILawin or kinilaw, fresh tuna meat, cubed and cured in coconut vinegar loaded with green chili peppers and thinly sliced onions. I felt I had a food awakening of some sort sampling this triad. Hence the name SuTuKil. I thought I heard the word “shoot-to-kill”. Everything in front of me was so good that it felt like I’m having the last supper of my life.
In every Filipino home, head to the condiment tray and you will not miss kalamansi, red chili pepper (sili labuyo) and fish sauce or soy sauce. This is the most truthful evidence of our undying love for the sour.
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