Many would argue that the Pampanga region is the beating heart of Filipino cuisine, and what really makes that heart sing is the region’s signature dish pork sisig.
In the local language Kampangan, sisig means “to snack on something sour” and the first references to the dish described something like a salad made with unripe fruits.
It was only later that the meat began to be added, and if local lore is to be believed, it was all thanks to the Americans!
The story has it that chefs at the Clark Airbase had no use for pigs heads, and would simply throw them into the trash. This was soon noticed by enterprising locals, who agreed to take them, along with other “waste” items, such as chicken livers.
With these ingredients, the dish began to take shape, but it was the work of one woman — Aling Lucking, the Sisig Queen — that created the sizzling dish that we know and love today.
Soon her food stall in the slums was attracting the great and good of the region, then of the nation and then the world. Anthony Bourdain was among the top chefs who made the pilgrimage to her shack by the railroad.
It’s important to note here that she didn’t just revolutionise one dish, but the region’s entire food culture. Suddenly, the wealthy were happy to step outside their air-conditioned comfort zone, and dozens of low-income entrepreneurs followed her lead, many making their fortunes.
Sadly for the Sisig Queen, at the age of 80 she was found bludgeoned to death near her home in 2008. The murder has never been fully explained, but the finger of suspicion points towards her husband, a heavy gambler.
Sizzling pork sisig
The recipe given here is what could be described as the most “traditional” version (although doubtless many will disagree on some details). Anyone who is squeamish about the cuts of meat used can easily substitute them — pork shoulder works well. In fact, it’s possible to use pretty much any sort of meat or fish, and some chefs even offer tofu versions.
1 lb pig ears
1½ lb pork belly
1 large onion, minced
3 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 knob ginger, minced
3 tbsp chili flakes
½ teaspoon garlic powder/3-4 fresh crushed cloves
Lemon or calamansi, halved for squeezing
½ cup butter (margarine/cooking oil can be used)
¼ lb chicken liver
6 cups water
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tsp salt
Pour the water in a pan and bring to the boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste (but don’t be shy).
Add the pig’s ears and pork belly, then simmer for between 40 minutes to an hour (until tender).
Remove the boiled ingredients from the pot and drain off excess water using a colander and bowl.
Pat dry the boiled pig ears and pork belly and place under a grill until nicely browned.
Chop the pig ears and pork belly into fine pieces. Opinions differ here, but I would suggest to about the size of a large pea or bean.
In a wide pan, melt butter (margarine or cooking oil can be used, but butter gives the best flavour). Add onions and cook until soft.
Add ginger and cook for a further two minutes, stirring throughout.
Add chicken liver. As it cooks, crush it into small pieces using a wooden spoon.
Add the chopped pig ears and pork belly. Cook for another 10-12 minutes.
Add soy sauce, garlic and chilli. Mix well.
Check seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Stir in the mayonnaise and mix well.
Transfer to a serving plate — ideally sizzling hot.
Top with chopped green onions and (optional) raw egg.
Calamansi (or lemon) can be served at the table for a last-minute squeeze.