" 'Sisig' means to snack on something sour," explains Patrice Cleary, owner and chef of Washington's Purple Patch restaurant. "They should rename it 'to snack on something flavorful.' " Indeed, this Filipino dish (pronounced "see-sig") of crisped, chopped pork, onions and peppers — served in a sizzling hot skillet and often topped with an egg — is the opposite of bland.
While sisig's origins trace back to the 1700s, the modern, pork-packed version is said to originate from the northern Philippine region of Pampanga during World War II (when U.S. forces fought in the Philippines). As Cleary's mother explained to her, the Americans would eat everything on the pig but the head; the Filipinos would in turn use the head meat to make many dishes, including sisig. It became popular and spread throughout the country, adds Reymond S. Domingo, co-owner and chef at Matthew's Grill in Gaithersburg.
"It's a full sensory experience," says Genevieve Villamora, co-owner of Bad Saint. "You can almost smell and hear it before you see it." Sorry to report: The dish is no longer on the tiny Washington restaurant's menu (although it might return in the future). Thankfully, there are several other spots around the area to get your fill of sisig.
The protein of choice is pork. At Purple Patch, you'll get belly and shoulder (braised, chilled overnight, chopped and flash-fried); Matthew's Grill also goes the belly route (boiled for many hours, then deep-fried), while adding in chicken liver. Bistro 1521 has a bit more chew with its pig ears (grilled, chopped) and pork belly (deep-fried). Diet food, this is not.
Slices of small red and/or green chiles (such as jalapeño or bird's-eye) add a welcome snap that cuts through the fatty meat. Big chunks of onion bring a
dose of sweet crunch.
Vinegar, lemon juice or something else acidic (such as calamansi, a citrus used extensively in the Philippines) add flavor and balance to the meat's fattiness.
An egg is optional but routine; it's usually added raw to the skillet. The residual heat cooks the white while leaving the yolk saucy.
Find Sisig in the District at Purple Patch (3155 Mount Pleasant St. NW; purplepatchdc.com; 202-299-0022); in Maryland at Manila Mart (5023 Garrett Ave., Beltsville; manilamartbeltsville.com; 301-931-0086) and Matthew's Grill (213 Muddy Branch Rd., Gaithersburg; matthewsgrill.com; 301-990-8858); and in Virginia at Bistro 1521 (900 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington; bistro1521.com; 703-741-0918).
More Anatomy of a Dish from Food:
Find Sisig in the District at Purple Patch (3155 Mount Pleasant St. NW; 202-299-0022); in Maryland at Manila Mart (5023 Garrett Ave., Beltsville; 301-931-0086) and Matthew's Grill (213 Muddy Branch Rd., Gaithersburg; 301-990-8858); and in Virginia at Bistro 1521 (900 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington; 703-741-0918).