Without a doubt, Sisig is one of the most popular Filipino dishes in the Philippines.
What was once a famous beer match “pulutan” has now become a prevalent meat dish that is consumed regardless of the time of the day. Whenever Filipinos have a hankering for it, sisig is widely consumed regardless of whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner. Made from various pork parts that are often discarded, sisig is somewhat an inventive culinary invention of the Kapampangans. In fact, it is a popular dish indicative of the belief that Filipinos would never let anything go to waste—even meat parts that are not widely consumed.
Sisig is often complemented with an ice-cold beer and is usually enjoyed after a long day’s work, but today, the dish has found a ubiquitous presence in Filipino presence and has a myriad of renditions using different kinds of proteins (fish, chicken and in some cases, even beef). However, if we broke down the process of making sisig, we would find that it is not only lengthy but a time-consuming and cumbersome one as well. To make sisig, you have to boil, broil and chop your meat into small pieces and then fry the pig’s head or pork ear. If that is not complicated enough, you need to add spices to the meat to give it that signature zing and flavour that makes the dish distinct and unique.
So, with all the ingenuity that goes into making sisig, it begs the question: How and where did this famous dish originate from?
THE HISTORY OF SISIG
The first time Sisig was ever recorded in history was in the year 1732 in a Kapampangan dictionary compiled by an Augustinian friar, Diego Bergaño. Bergaño was a Spanish missionary that served as a parish priest in the town of Mexico, Pampanga from 1725-1731 and it is very likely that it was the parish priest who encountered and first recorded the dish. While sisig is traditionally known as a meat dish, Bergaño first described sisig as a “salad, including green papaya or green guava consumed with a dressing of garlic, salt, pepper and vinegar” in his dictionary. In fact, Manyisig (where the word sisig likely originated from) means “to make salad” while mapanisig means “one who frequently makes or eats salad”. From this, we can clearly see that the sisig of our ancestors is the equivalent of a modern vegetable salad—a far cry from today’s contemporary sisig. Back then, sisig was composed with absolutely no meat, just green fruit soured by vinegar and tempered with salt and spiced with garlic and pepper.
Over the years, however, sisig evolved from being what is considered as a side today to being the main dish. Back then, there was evidence that our ancestors started putting meat parts such as pig ears and cheeks into the dish. The first known origins of the traditional meat dish that we know today were in fact composed of boiled pig ears and jowls, chopped, minced and then mixed with chicken liver and pig brain. This was then sautéed with salt, pepper, calamansi, and onion. However, it was not until Lucia Cunanan “Aling Lucing” of Angeles City refined and reinvented the traditional sisig that it became a sensational meat dish all over the country. In fact, if there is anyone to be credited for sisig’s fame and recognition, it should be none other than Lucia Cunanan. Aling Lucing redefined sisig by introducing two distinct features to the preparation: grilling the pig parts after boiling them and then serving the dish on a sizzling plate. While she had retained all the elements of the traditional sisig (chopped meat sprinkled with calamansi), her inclusion of the sizzling plate was considered revolutionary and made the Kapampangan sisig a national sensation. As a result of Aling Lucing’s innovative take on the traditional dish, she has since then been regarded as the sisig queen and the meat dish’s humble roots from the railroad tracks of Angeles then found national and even international fame.
Today, restaurants that specialize in various types of sisig can be found all over the country. Arguable still, the best ones are found in Pampanga where the dish originated.
THE BEST SISIG RESTAURANTS AND PLACES IN PAMPANGA
Recognized as one of Angeles City’s famous and best eateries, Mila’s arguably has been a household name for many Kapampangans since 1989.
While the best sisig in Pampanga is up for debate, Mila’s has arguably set a standard for the best. While the restaurant is originally famous for its Tokwa at Baboy, they are more known locally (and nationwide) for their incredibly delectable crispy sisig. Apart from sisig, Mila’s serves a host of other Filipino and Kapampangan food items such as BBQ Tocino, Paco Salad (Fresh baby fern with tomatoes and onions, topped off with salted egg), Tokwa’t Baboy and many more.
Aling Lucing’s Sisig
Of course, no list of the best sisig will ever be complete without including Aling Lucing’s sisig, where the beloved modern rendition of the dish has established its roots. It was said that the contemporary version of sisig was the result of a happy accident. Lucia Cunanan, commonly known as Aling Lucing The Sisig Queen, was grilling pig ears than usual. It was not until it was too late that she discovered she burned the pork. Instead of throwing it out, she chopped it up and added onions and vinegar which then led to the birth of the new version of sisig. Since then, the sisig so dearly loved by Filipinos is served on a sizzling plate and is tender and fatty.
In English, Bale Dutung means “house of wood” but in the Philippines, Bale Dutung is one of Pampanga’s world-renowned restaurants and was even visited by Anthony Bourdain once. Chef Claude prepares sisig in its purest form: boiled pig ears, chopped onions, salt, pepper and vinegar and just a sprinkle of chili. While there are many variations to this famous Kapampangan dish, Chef Claude has remained true to the Kapampangan way of cooking sisig. Apart from the original sisig, Bale Dutung serves a variety of other sisig dishes with the Lechon Sisig being the best and most sinful among the bunch.
Binulo Restaurant’s take on sisig is authentic and flavorful. It has been said that their version of the famous Kapampangan dish utilizes a mouth-watering contrast of textures as opposed to the traditional and more commonly consumed sisig. While Binulo Restaurant’s version of sisig is phenomenal, it is not their most famous dish. In fact, the restaurant is known for its other native dishes such as Pangat Na Ulang (freshwater prawns in sour broth), Kalderatang Kambing and Pork Bulanglang.
From the name itself, one can already say that this, indeed, is a café for everyone with dishes that would please anyone’s palate. While Everybody’s Café mostly serves exotic food that requires a daring nerve to taste and consume, the restaurant also serves some of the more traditional Kapampangan food such as sisig. The restaurant’s famous dishes are mostly exotic ones such as the stuffed frogs, crickets and the like. However, this homey restaurant styled after a carenderia is said to serve one of the best sisig dishes in town and as some would note, their sisig is absolutely delicious—it is to die for.
Matam-ih Restaurant’s sisig is distinct in the sense that it is a dish that is crunchy, creamy and chewy—all at the same time. This contrast of textures complemented by a burst of flavor is enough for Matam-ih Restaurant to earn a spot on this list. However, if you find yourself eating at their restaurant, be sure to sample some of their popular dishes as well. The restaurant’s rather expansive menu is written in Kapampangan, Filipino and English and covers a whole spectrum of main dishes, appetizers, desserts, snack choices, and even exotic selections. Some of their tastiest and most beloved dishes are the Kare-Kare, Misua Patola, and Pork Sinigang.
Whenever you are in Pampanga and are down for a drinking session or simply want to much on something savory for lunch or dinner, here are some of the restaurants that truly live up to the province’s claim of being the culinary capital of the country. Sure, while you might find a sisig joint in just about any corner in the Philippines, still none of them can quite compare to how the Kapampangans do it.
So, whether you are looking to sample the best sisig in the world or just wish to have a heart and meaty meal, here are some of the restaurants you ought to try.