The Philippine Star
‘Sawsawan’: Dip it good
Attendant to any Filipino meal is the sawsawan, or dipping sauce, whether at home or in commercial establishments. The late Doreen Fernandez ascribes it to a desire to fine-tune the taste of the dish to the preference of the individual diner, unlike in western cooking, particularly French, where there’s the ego of the chef to contend with (thank God for our great unnamed
Most common sawsawan on the Pinoy dining table are patis (fish sauce), toyo (soy sauce), bagoong alamang (salt-fermented shrimp paste) and bagoong isda (salt-fermented fish), or any of
Attendant to any Filipino meal is the sawsawan, or dipping sauce, a desire to fine-tune the taste of the dish.
the four mixed with kalamansi or vinegar and spiked with siling labuyo or bird’s-eye chili. Banana ketchup and sweet liver sauce are fast becoming staples as well.
Also popular are the relishes or side dishes with any of the following combinations: chopped tomato, onion, green mango, salted egg, grilled eggplant, fresh mustard leaves, kamias, radish, cilantro, lató or seaweed of various kinds, and chili, as well as atsara of pickled green papaya and other veggies, burong manga (pickled mango), and burong isda (salt-fermented rice with fish). These quasi-salads go well with any fried or grilled meat and fish.
Our penchant for adding sawsawan is a balancing act of tempering something salty with something sour (adding kalamansi, kamias or suka to pancit), or vice versa (adding patis to sinigang); of something sweet with something salty (tocino with bagoong alamang, salted egg and tomato,
paksiw na lechon with patis), or vice versa (chicken/pork adobo with atsara, ripe mango or banana).
Try serving a simple fried or grilled bangus to 10 Filipinos sharing a meal together. Chances are, their respective choice of sawsawan will betray what corner of the archipelago they come from. People from up north will most likely have bagoong
isda (salt-fermented fish paste) and sukang Iloko to go with it; a Pampango wouldn’t have it any other way than his buro or fermented rice and fresh mustard leaves; a Tagalog with bagoong alamang (salt-fermented shrimp paste) or patis (fish sauce) mixed with kalamansi; a Bicolano with Bicol Express or balao, lightly salted shrimp fries; an Ilonggo with his ever-present, all-around sinamak; while a Cebuano would favor green tomato over the ripe one, mixed with toyo and onions. What’s your pleasure?
So, next time you eat out, feel free to concoct your own sawsawan. No one will storm out of the kitchen and kick you out. After all, you’re the one eating and you’re footing the bill. It’s truly more fun eating in the Philippines!