Sinigang for the Sentimental

Monday, October 30, 2017 - 5:40pm

Making Filipino food is to retell a story of my culture — complex, humbling and personal.

Sinigang is a classic Filipino sour soup with a variety of vegetables that are reminiscent of a Filipino farm. It’s the warm hug that withholds its sentimental, cultural significance in times of a harsh Midwest winter.

Prep time: approximately 15 minutes

Cook time: whenever my parents said the sinigang is ready. I used to call to ask my parents when I made it by myself.

Total time: my whole existence as a Filipino American, because I never stop questioning it.

Note: best prepared with Filipino parents at home, because they are the best cooks in the entire world and all-knowing when it comes to Filipino cuisine, but you reserve the right to disagree with them on other things.  


·        Meat (pork or salmon are my favs, but if you’re going to use salmon, it’s absolutely necessary that you use the salmon head. Go big and go home.), cubed    

·        Tubig (water)

·        Patis (fish sauce, but always use the one with the green and white label because it reminds you of home)

·        Kangkong leaves

·        Sili (long green chili pepper, the best ones come from the garden in the backyard), whole

·        Kamatis (tomato, the best ones also come from the same garden in the backyard)

·        Labanos (daikon radish), sliced

·        Taro root, peeled and sliced

·        Sinigang seasoning mix, because no one has time to make sinigang from scratch. (You can find packets at your local Asian grocery store. My local Asian grocery store was 50 minutes away. I recommend Knorr or Mama Sita, but I usually just trust whatever my mom or dad picked out. Sampalok, or taramind, is the best flavor in my opinion.)

·        Sorry but I never learned exact quantities, because my parents cooked by feel and I carried that technique throughout life.


1.    Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.

2.    Put the meat into the boiling pot of water.

3.    Wait for a long time, so long that you wonder the odds of ending up in the cold Midwest when your family comes from a hot and humid archipelago.

4.    Become even more hungry.

5.    Add the taro root and kamatis. Make sure you cook it all the way, because you heard from a Filipino friend that raw taro root is poisonous.

6.    Skim the fat out of the broth.

7.    Question why your parents never told you raw taro root was poisonous and how they knew it was properly cooked.

8.    Question the legitimacy of your Filipino friend’s sources on taro root.

9.    Add the sinigang mix and patis. Stir occasionally.  

10.  Put the daikon radish into the soup.

11.  Put the celi in.

12.  Listen to your parents talk to each other in Ilocano and wonder what they’re talking about.

13.  Add the kangkong leaves, one for each time you said thank you to your parents for giving you your life — a lot but not enough.

14.  Wait for a little bit, but not too long because overcooked kangkong leaves are the worst.

15.  Enjoy with rice. Always enjoy everything with rice. It’s also not a complete meal without it.

16.  Cherish each spoonful, because despite moving from small town to small town, your family has preserved the Filipino culture regardless.  

17.  Go home for Fall Break, for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, or every time you felt defeated and rest easy to the fact you have your family and a hot pot of sinigang ready.  

18.  Make baon. Take the leftovers with you.

19.  Take the strength of your family, their achievements, their sacrifice, and use that as your drive to fight.

20.  Try your best to make sinigang when you’re away at college, but know that your sinigang is levels beneath your parents’and smile at the fact that they’re just happy you tried your best.

21.  Find Filipino communities everywhere. Eat their sinigang. Each rendition is similar yet different.

22.  Share your recipe as if it were a page out of your autobiography. It’s something to be proud of.

23. Make Filipino food whenever you can, not just sinigang, in symbolic honor of your parents’ sacrifices for you.

24.  Remember that Filipino American history isn’t always academic. It’s weaved into the recipes and lessons your family passed down to you.