Article By Kevin Pelgone ~ Photos by Candice Lo
Ushered through another door into a dimly lit room filled with masked individuals, we began to suspend our disbelief. The secret clubhouse / speakeasy style den was converted to feature communal tables adorned with candles, skulls, eccentric odds and ends, but most importantly, different styles of patis – fish sauce: a fermented, salty fish-based condiment used to flavor many Asian dishes, one being the Filipino sinigang. Funky yet mellow music played in the background as we made our way to the most important side of the room: the Sinigang Bar.
The Sinigang Bar was immense. Several chefs and bartenders lined the back ready to take our custom order. A plethora of meats, seafood, and vegetables ranging from kangkong (water spinach) to taro were piled high in front of the broth station. We filled out our menus, ordered our special drinks, and patiently waited for our custom-made bowl of sinigang.
I wondered to myself: if our bowls are so unique, how could we call all these variations ‘sinigang?’ To answer this question, I must first describe sinigang.
For those uninitiated in Filipino cuisine, ‘sinigang’ is a stew made by combining a broth (typically a pork, beef, or seafood broth), a souring agent (tamarind, santol, kamias, sampaloc, guava, or sorrel - a new souring agent I discovered at Bar Sinigang), meats and/or seafood, and a wide variety of vegetables, served with a bed of pillowy rice. Filipinos typically enjoy this dish by adding chili peppers for heat and patis for another layer of salty goodness. Although served hot, its tartness gives it a pleasantly refreshing aftertaste.
Was everyone eating a bowl that included the basic formula of broth, souring agent, meat/seafood, and vegetables? Check. Did everyone have it over rice and with some patis? Mostly check. Was everyone’s lip smacking from the broth’s umami? Check. Was everyone’s cheeks slightly contracting from its tartness? Yes, check. If everyone’s dish was ‘sinigang’ then there is no wrong version of ‘sinigang’ so long as it met the basic formula requirements of:
Let me close with a snippet of an anecdote from Chef Cocoy Ventura shared that evening by Filipino Food Movement’s chairman, P.J. Quesada, “Sinigang was born out of a storm. It was the result of Filipinos finding uprooted ingredients after a typhoon. Things like root vegetables, fish, and fruits washed ashore and made its way into the stockpot.”
Born out of a storm, uprooted, making it’s way into a pot. Proud, gracious, and polite. Bar Sinigang, how typically Filipino.