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?Usually when you dine out, you order the food that you don?t cook at home, but people still order ?sinigang?
THERE ARE MANY REASONS WHY sinigang is considered the national dish. It is easy to cook, requires readily available ingredients, and can be enjoyed anywhere?at home or in a restaurant.

?Sinigang is a household dish. It cooks fast; you basically just put everything in one pot,? says Unilever Foodsolutions sous chef Martin Kabigting.

?Usually when you dine out, you order the food that you don?t cook at home, but people still order sinigang when they want something with sabaw. Some order adobo, but only if it has a twist, like adobo flakes.?

Sinigang was recently awarded the the Ultimate Filipino Dish in a nationwide search for the Filipinos? favorite local dish. The campaign, called ?Sooo Pinoy (Evolving Filipino Flavors): National Search for the Ultimate Pinoy Dish,? was organized by the Inquirer in cooperation with Unilever Foodsolutions and the Department of Tourism.

Sinigang garnered the most number of votes via SMS and online polls, beating other food items like adobo, crispy pata, chicken inasal and kare-kare.

Cooling sour broth

Piping-hot sinigang is such a favorite that it is consumed even during hot days. As Inquirer columnist Ambeth Ocampo quoted from ?Why Sinigang?,? a noted essay by the late food historian and critic Doreen Fernandez:

?Her explanation was that sour broths are cooling in hot weather. One can also add that sinigang is soothing to the sick, and, after a fiesta, with rich food, sinigang brings the palate back down to earth. According to Fernandez the ingredients in sinigang reflect not only the ingenuity of Filipino cooks, but it also shows the effect of geography on our tastes. Fish and vegetables in our sinigang are mirrors of the Philippine landscape. The way sinigang is prepared and preferred in different regions reflects the environment.

?More importantly, the sour sinigang is a perfect foil for the mild, I would say blandness, of boiled rice. Show me what you eat and I will tell you who you are. Perhaps food holds the key to that elusive thing we call national identity.?

The ingredients are simple: meat such as pork, beef, chicken, or seafood such as shrimps and fish; vegetables? onions, tomatoes, radish, gabi, sitaw, kangkong, finger chilis (siling mahaba); and a souring agent such as sampaloc puree, kamias, calamansi, santol; and some patis to taste.

The veggies are boiled in a pot of water, followed by the meat and the pang-asim. Some prefer using flavorings like Knorr cubes, which comes in chicken, beef, pork, fish and shrimp variety. These items are available in all SM grocery stores, one of the partners in the Sooo Pinoy campaign.

But how do you match the meat with the veggies and the souring agent? Chef Kabigting gives some tips.

?The popular choice is a tamarind soup base for its slightly sweet taste. Say, for pork sinigang, you can use the traditional tamarind fruit puree or the Knorr tamarind powder mix which is more cost-effective. A kilo of tamarind would yield juice for 1-2 liters of broth, compared with one pack of sinigang mix,? he says.

?Tamarind is also used for chicken cooked like sinampalukan, and also beef. Kamias is used for seafood like prawns or suahe; while miso is best for fish and seafood like bangus and salmon belly or tuna head, to remove the fishy taste. In Western Visayas such as in Bacolod, batuan is a staple; it is slightly bigger than calamansi. In Luzon, bayabas is commonly used.?

The meat sinigang has sliced tomatoes, onions, sitaw, kamatis, kangkong, eggplant and gabi, which could be mashed to make the broth thicker. Seafood sinigang has fewer ingredients, usually just onions, tomatoes, kangkong and labanos.

Alternative ingredients

The sinigang has evolved over time. New concoctions now include corned beef, lechon and bagnet sinigang. In the absence of local ingredients, such as when one is abroad, alternative ingredients can be used.

?If kangkong is not available, spinach, pechay or broccoli leaves are good alternatives, and potato can be used instead of gabi,? Kabigting adds.

The 28-year-old chef took up Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management at De La Salle University-College of Saint Benilde, then trained at Mandarin Oriental Manila and Dusit Hotel Nikko. His favorite sinigang is pork.

?What I do is I sauté the pork a little. I brown some onions and tomatoes in a little oil and add the pork to give my sinigang a little brown color and more flavor. I set aside vegetables and add them before serving to make them crisp, so even when the sinigang is reheated, the veggies are not soggy.?

Here are some new sinigang recipes from Unilever Foodsolutions chef Datu Pendatun.

Sinigang na Dalag sa Pinya

150 ml oil

5 g ground turmeric

50 g sliced garlic

50 g sliced onion

20 g sliced ginger

1 liter water

250 g unripe pineapple, peeled and sliced

250 g ripe pineapple, peeled and sliced

1 kg dalag, cleaned and fried

20 g Knorr Tamarind Soup Base

5 g Knorr Fish Cube

2 bulb lemongrass

200 g kangkong leaves

Add turmeric to oil. When oil is bright yellow, add in garlic and brown. Add in onion and ginger, sauté. Add in water and pineapples, Once pineapples have softened, add in dalag. Flavor broth with Knorr Tamarind Soup Base and Knorr Fish Cube. Add in lemongrass bulb and simmer for 5 minutes. Add in kangkong leaves and remove from heat.

Sinigang na Baka?t Sugpo sa Kamatis

300 ml annatto oil

50 g sliced garlic

50 g sliced onion

250 g sliced tomato

1.5 L stock from softening the beef and prawn shells and heads

1 kg beef short ribs, browned and softened

250 g daikon, sliced

250 g okra, sliced

25 g Knorr Tamarind Soup Base

5 g Knorr Shrimp Powder

100 g tomato, sliced and grilled

500 g prawns, shelled and deveined

Cook garlic, onion and tomato in oil until tomato is mashed. Add in stock, short ribs and daikon.

Once daikon is softened, add in Knorr Tamarind Soup Base and okra. Season with Knorr Shrimp Powder. Add in prawns and grilled tomatoes. Simmer until prawns change color.