Thursday, June 11, 2009

How Much I (and the boyfriend!) Love Sinigang

Being Filipino in Boston is not easy.

Being the only person in my family in New England is even harder.

Though more recently the boyfriend and I became part of the Boston Filipino-American Bookclub, one of the major ways I've held on to my culture and not get super homesick is through the food. Even the book club has an emphasis on the food - each person brings a dish to share. The Filipino community in Boston is much smaller than that of Los Angeles or even New York. Most of the community is in the outskirts of Boston, areas that aren't as T-accessible necessarily.

But, I digress...let's talk about sinigang.
*My Lola (grandmother) singing about sinigang. Thanks Sinta!*

Specifically, singang na baboy (pork sinigang)...
There's actually several types of sinigang:
  • baboy (pork)
  • bangus (milkfish)
  • baka (beef)
  • hipon (shrimp)
  • manok (chicken)
But really...I'll stick with the baboy, thanks :)

Sinigang is basically a sour soupy meal with a sampalok (tamarind) base. You can also use a gabi (guava) base, but it's not as sour. Sour tamarind-based sinigang is hard to beat though, and it's clearly my personal favorite.

It's definitely a strange meal if you're not used to the Southeast Asian-type flavors. Honestly, I was really worried that the boyfriend (who is of German-Irish decent, raised in Massachusetts, and lived in Japan for 6 years) was not going to like it much. My ex (who is of African-American decent, and life-long lover of Japanese/Asian things) definitely did not like it, though I think he'd eat it if he had to - if it was the only thing on the menu. But, that's why he's my ex, now isn't it?

When I first told the boyfriend about it, he said, "What's silly-ging-gong?"
After I explained the proper pronunciation and the basics of the meal, he sounded more interested but insisted on calling it silly-ging-gong. As I started preparing it, the smells of the meal got him more and more excited about eating it. When he found out that one of his favorite root vegetables,
labanos (daikon radish) is part of the dish, he was even more excited!

When he finally sat down and had a heaping bowl of the stuff (paired with brown rice), I'm pretty sure he fell in love with it. Now, I am just the girl who lives in the same apartment that cooks silly-ging-gong for him.

So, here are my personal tips and tricks to making sinigang - especially if you live in Boston.
Ingredient List and Where You Can Buy Them:

  • 1.5-2 lbs Country-style pork ribs - You can get these at any regular (big-chain) supermarket. I go to Shaw's/Star Market and Stop & Shop. I usually ask the butcher to cut them into smaller pieces. Sometimes they come without the bone, but I recommend getting it with bone.
  • 1 Packet of Tamarind Seasoning Mix/Sinigang na Sampalok Mix - These awesome little pre-packaged mixes (either Mama Sita's or Knorr brands) can be found at larger Asian markets. I will suggest that you don't look at the Ingredient list on the back, since there are some not so fun looking preservatives. But I've been eating this for years, and I'm still here! In Boston, there's Super 88, but there's a little gem in Chinatown called See Sun Market. In the very back is a section filled with Filipino goodness. If you're lucky enough to be near or able to easily get near Quincy, the Sure Pinoy Market is like heaven...AND it's right next door to the only Filipino restaurant in town! So maybe you don't need to make this recipe at all :) I'm so jealous of you now.....
  • AND/OR Tamarind itself! - I've seen a box of tamarind at Super 88.
  • 1 large Onion - I like getting yellow onions, but the only one I wouldn't personally use are red onions.
  • 2 medium Tomatoes - Any tomato that isn't cherry or grape will do.
  • Bag of Baby Spinach - If you prefer to get fresh spinach, go for it! I only choose this for the easy factor. You can probably put a whole lot of spinach in this recipe since the leaves shrink when they're cooked.
  • 1 large Daikon Radish - Once in a while, they'll have these at Super 88. But when they're out of season, the only place I can seem to find them is Whole Foods.
  • 5 or 6 pieces of Okra - I cut the ends off, and slice these into pieces. I've only bought them at Whole Foods, but I'm sure it's the same situation with Super 88 (not always available).
  • Baby Bok Choy - Most Asian markets will have this, as well as Whole Foods.
Did you enjoy your whirlwind trip getting all the ingredients?
Now, let's get cooking:

1. Boil pork ribs in 1/2 full 8 quart pot of water.

2. Take out the impurities (they'll look foamy) before it fully boils.

3. When boiling, add 2 medium tomatoes (diced) and 1 small onion (diced). Let it boil until meat is cooked. (When boiling, put heat at medium high).
4. When meat is cooked, add Tamarind base, but don't stir yet!
5. When boiling, stir and add daikon radish (cut into disks), and any other veggies (I recommend okra).
6. When daikon radishes are soft, put in the spinach or other leafy green vegetables go last.

Now, if you're willing to go the extra tamarind route, here's how you do it:
After putting the tomatoes and onions in, and letting it cook for a couple more minutes, take some of the broth and place in a regular bowl. Take one of the tamarind pieces (with the shell and all!) and place into a sieve. Dip the sieve into the bowl of broth, and crush the tamarind with a spoon. You can do this with at least 3 or 4 of the tamarind pieces. When done, put that broth back into the pot! This will produce a more "tamarindy" taste.

*Don't mind the mess around the delicious meal :) *
Here's the nutrition information provided by

Nutrition Facts

Recipe Serves 4 people
Amount per Serving
  • Calories 239 Calories from Fat 61
% Daily Value *
  • Total Fat 7.07g 11%
  • Saturated Fat 2.52g 13%
  • Monounsaturated Fat 0.01g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat 0.01g
  • Cholesterol 65mg 22%
  • Sodium 843.03mg 35%
  • Potassium 115.25mg 3%
  • Total Carbohydrate 18.52g 6%
  • Dietary Fiber 5.84g 23%
  • Sugars 3.31g
  • Protein 24.71g 49%
  • Vitamin C 2.95
  • Calcium 8.75
  • Iron 4.18
  • Vitamin E 0.01
  • Vitamin K 0.15
  • Thiamin (B1) 0.02
  • Riboflavin (B2) 0.01
  • Niacin (B3) 0.08
  • Vitamin B6 0.05
  • Phosphorus 10.75
  • Magnesium 8
  • Panthothenic Acid 0.05
  • Zinc 0.07
  • Manganese 0.05
Est. Percent of Calories from:
Fat 26.6% Carbs 31.0% Protein 41.4%

So, the lesson of the story is this, if the person you love loves sinigang, you've got a good thing going.

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