Rice porridge with guava or guava soup |The Manila Times

2022-09-23 08:27:53 By : Ms. Mary Zheng

I AM ashamed to admit that I have taken sinigang for granted. This sour soup, with green vegetables and meat or fish, is present in all Filipino households. Even for me, having grown up in both Manila and Toronto, sinigang was automatically in our weekly menu. It's so common, I never had to learn to cook it. My mom just cooked it using sinigang mix from Filipino stores in Canada. When I had my own family in Manila, our helpers always knew how to cook it. My sinigang ignorance came to an end when our eldest daughter came back for the summer from freshman year in Toronto wanting to learn how to cook adobo and sinigang.

I always thought sinigang meant "sour soup" since I was only exposed to the sour sinigang using sampaloc (tamarind) and kamias (bilimbi), and mostly in powder form. Sinigang is actually the process of stewing, commonly using pork, bangus (milk fish) or shrimp. Sometimes we get fancy and make salmon belly or salmon head sinigang.

I need to put things into context. I don't have immediate family in Manila. I don't have a rich culinary heritage from either my father or mother's side. I was of the generation and type that was made to stay away from the kitchen as a child, for safety reasons. My mom is an Ilongga American whose kitchen skills are very good but focused on either Western housewife dishes like meatloaf, shepherd's pie or lasagna, or her Ilonggo favorite laswa (slimy vegetable broth), or paksiw (fish in vinegar) which none of us ate when we were growing up. My father is from Quezon province. His specialty is pickling baby mangoes or paho. He only learned how to cook when he retired. He is our master meat griller, and he cooks sukiyaki and paella. Both very labor-intensive. So, I really had no one to teach me Filipino heirloom recipes. Thankfully there's the internet.

My first attempt at cooking sinigang from scratch was quite ambitious. I cooked with guava. And it was fantastic. My children and husband loved it. I am allergic to bangus, and I didn't want to waste expensive beef on my first try, so I cooked using pork ribs. It had an interesting flavor. Instead of an explosion of sourness from sampaloc or kamias, my sinigang sa bayabas soup had layers of fruity, floral and green. It was rich and nice. The texture of the mashed fruit worked well with the tender meat and green vegetables. I could imagine it tasting better with beef next time. It is best to mash the guava through a strainer, sieve or cheesecloth. Those guava seeds are pesky and can destroy dental work.

When I posted a photo of my sinigang sa bayabas online, my community in Daphne.ph came alive with information and nostalgia. Just like adobo, Filipino families have their own unique way of cooking sinigang based on regional traditions. There are different sources of sourness as well — tamarind, santol, kamias, guava, batwan, calamansi, mango, green pineapple or tomato. Guava has a distinct aroma and gives a fruity tartness. In Pampanga it is called "bulanglang."

Guava is a common fruit in the tropics. We had a guava tree in our backyard. As a child, I could pick a guava from the tree and bite into it. Overripe guavas have fruit worms though. And unfortunately biting into those occasionally was part of growing up. Most families had fruit and vegetable gardens even in the city. In our little farm south of the city, guava grows easily. They are self-pollinating and can grow with little help from wind. Though guava grows in tropical and subtropical regions, it is native to Mexico, and Latin America.

All these years I ignored the guava from our farm because of worm memories and sinigang ignorance. I remember at the start of the pandemic walking and biking around seeing different fruits fallen to the ground. In our suburban village alone we have mangoes, santol, kaimito, guava, duhat that remain strewn all over the pavement, left to rot. It dawned on me then how lucky we are to be living in the tropics — with food literally falling from the skies. If only each family planted a fruit tree, we could have a community barter activity every weekend.

When I got home from my weekly market with a basket of guavas, my Visayan helper looked at me perplexed. She said they don't cook with guava in their province. She laughed saying, she didn't realize guava was sold in Manila. It's free where she's from. I told her it's also free on our farm, but I was inspired to buy a basket. And from now on, we will make it part of our menu. Guava is no longer a humble common fruit to me, it is a sophisticated ingredient for my sinigang. I suppose this is how heirloom recipes are born and eventually passed on to my daughters. Sinigang sa bayabas makes it into our family culinary heritage together with my mom's meatloaf, dad's paella, and my roast chicken.