SÍSIG has always been a part of Kapampángan culinary history. It may have been as old as the history of the Kapampángan nation itself. In 1732, Spanish friar Diego Bergaño recorded the existence of SÍSIG in his Vocabulario de la Lengua Pampanga. At that time, SÍSIG was a kind of salad with a spicy vinegar dressing or any sour snack that included unripe mangoes or guavas. Hence the term MÁNYÍSIG ‘to snack on something sour.’ It was a delicacy once reserved for expectant mothers. It has always been difficult for pregnant women to keep down much needed nourishment in the first trimester of their pregnancy. SÍSIG, being sour, was believed to fight morning sickness and nausea that accompanies pregnancy. SÍSIG BÁBÎ ‘pork sísig’ was originally made of boiled pig’s ears and tail mixed with onions and dressed in spicy vinegar. It was believed that the cartilage in the pig’s ears and tail aid in the bone development of the child in the mother’s womb.
SÍSIG is not limited to pork or meat however. There is SÍSIG MANIBALANG KAPÁYÂ, half ripe papayas dressed in sweet and spicy vinegar; SÍSIG PÚSÛNG SÁGIN or boiled banana heart dressed in garlic, vinegar, onions and dried shrimps; SÍSIG APALIÂ, raw bitter gourd with shallots, fish sauce, pepper and vinegar. There is also SÍSIG BANGUS, steamed milkfish that has been deboned, shredded, and mixed with chopped red onion, KALAMUNDING (Citrofortunella mitis) juice, soy sauce and chili peppers; SÍSIG ÉMA, a specialty of Sasmuan, is made of steamed crab meat and crab fat with chopped onions, ASLAM SASA ‘nipa palm vinegar,’ salt and pepper; SÍSIG TALABA, a specialty of Masantol, is made with raw oysters, ginger, onions, salt, pepper and ASLAM SASA ‘nipa palm vinegar.’
Although SÍSIG was still very much a dish for expectant mothers in many Kapampángan homes until the early 1980s, something happened in Angeles City in the late 1960s that changed the history of SÍSIG forever. It was in Angeles City that SÍSIG was first served as pulútan, the snack that accompanies alcoholic drinks.
According to many old timers, it was in the late 1960s that dancing halls, locally known as cabaret, began appearing on Henson Street. Enterprising ambulant vendors began selling barbecue on wooden carts at night to regular customers. Most of them were concentrated on the vacant lot on Burgos Street that was sandwiched between Henson Street and Rizal Street and near the dancing hall on San Francisco Street in what is now known as Barangay Agapito del Rosario.
People still debate as to which group first served SÍSIG as pulútan, although many point out that it has to be one of the ambulant vendors on Burgos Street. According to the most popular story, two young men were bragging that they left their pregnant wives at home so that they can have a good time drinking and going to dancing halls like teenagers. One of the vendors, a woman, sympathized with the poor wives left at home and so decided to prick the young men’s conscience without offending them. She served them SÍSIG. Being newly wed, the young men were not familiar with the dish or its cultural significance. They thought it was a new kind of pulútan. They liked it and ordered some more. That is how SÍSIG became a popular dish at Burgos Street among the regulars even if it was not on the menu.
At that time, the ambulant vendors at Burgos Street made SÍSIG by simply mixing in whatever they had on the grill. Usually it was BALUGBUG BÁBÎ ‘pig’s ears,’ BALUNBALÚNAN ‘chicken gizzard,’ PÚSÛ ‘chicken heart,’ PALDÉWUT ‘chicken tail’ and ATÉ MANUK ‘chicken liver.’ The regulars called these “spare parts,” hence “bárbekyung spare parts.” The vendors grilled these “spare parts” and then sliced them and mixed them with onions, red chilli peppers, black pepper, salt and souring it with KALAMUNDING juice. The vendors called it SÍSIG BÁRBEKYÛ while the regulars jokingly called it SÍSIG SPARE PARTS. Most people simply called it SÍSIG. Later, the vendors there called it SÍSIG MATUA ‘old style sísig’ when the new form that was made up of chopped grilled pig’s cheeks and onions became more popular.
It was said that a huge fire broke out at the railroad crossing when a train collided with a North bound passenger bus in the late 1960s or early 1970s. The houses by the railroad on Galicano Valdez Street perpendicular to Henson Street were razed to the ground. When the debris was cleared, stalls were built and rented out. These became drinking places that sold barbecue as pulútan. The area was simply called Crossing, after the railroad crossing at its corner.
Bápang Kadók (Ricardo Dinio) of Barangay Agapito del Rosario was said to be the first to serve SÍSIG at Crossing. He was the owner of the first stall and rented out electricity to the other stalls since he alone had a contador ‘electric meter’ among all the stalls there at that time. According to the story, Bápang Kadók’s regular customers were the livestock dealers from Pangasinan and Ilocos who, after selling all their merchandise in Manila, often stopped over at Angeles to have a good time before heading back to their provinces in the North. They were said to always complain that the only pulútan available in Angeles is BÁBÎ ‘pork.’ They missed their kilawên or raw goat meat in spicy vinegar, which they believed was an aphrodisiac. Bápang Kadók convinced them that he has a pork dish that would make them forget their kilawên. He served them SÍSIG BÁBÎ, which in his version was made of crunchy BALUGBUG BÁBÎ ‘pig’s ears’ which he grilled and chopped, ATÉ MANUK ‘chicken liver’ likewise grilled and chopped, chopped shallots, red chili peppers, black pepper, salt, KALAMUNDING juice and a shot of ginebra. It became a hit with the Ilocano and Pangasinan merchants. Soon, even insurance agents from Manila were asking for Bápang Kadók’s SÍSIG BÁBÎ or simply SÍSIG. It was only sometime that the curious locals began to wonder why Bápang Kadók’s stall was always full and discovered his SÍSIG. Unfortunately, Bápang Kadók met an untimely death in the mid-1970s. It was Aling Lucing (Lucia Lagman Cunanan) in the next stall that absorbed Bápang Kadók’s existing clientele with her own version of SÍSIG.
With Aling Lucing, SÍSIG would again undergo a transformation in Angeles City in the mid-1970s. Instead of the usual BALUGBUG BÁBÎ ‘pig’s ears,’ Aling Lucing decided to use the meatier BALÍNGIT BÁBÎ ‘pig’s cheeks’ and therefore create more servings and quickly meet the rising demand for the dish. At that time, SÍSIG was simply served in saucers. According to their story, Aling Lucy would obtain for free the discarded pig’s head at the abattoir in the former US Airforce Base at Clark. She would grill the pig’s cheeks, chopped them, add grilled chicken liver which she then crushed, add chopped onions which is milder than shallots and mix all of these in KALAMUNDING juice, salt and pepper. By the late 1970s, Aling Lucing’s version of SÍSIG would become the only version known to most Angeleños.
SÍSIG would once again be reinvented and undergo its final cultural transformation in Angeles City in the late 1970s. It was Benedicto Pámintuan, the brother of the current mayor Edgardo Pámintuan, who first thought of serving SÍSIG as a family dish instead of just as a pulútan. Using the SÍSIG version popularized by Aling Lucing, which is primarily made of BALÍNGIT BÁBÎ ‘pig’s cheeks’ instead of BALUGBUG BÁBÎ ‘pig’s ears,’ Pámintuan decided to serve this for the first time on a sizzling plate that he borrowed from his mom’s restaurant in Manila. He called this sizzling version, SÍSIG BENEDICT. He first served this at his restaurant at the Sugay’s residence on Lakandúlâ Street. Later he moved his restaurant on Miranda Street to where the Imerex Hotel now stands. Benedicto’s mom, Lilia D. Pámintuan, introduced this sizzling version of SÍSIG at her restaurant in Sta. Mesa, Manila in 1980. At the same time, Dan Táyag, another Angeleño, also began serving SIZZLING SÍSIG at the Trellis Restaurant in Diliman, Quezon City. When Camalig Restaurant along Santo Rosario Street first opened its doors to the public in 1980, SÍSIG served on a sizzling plate was also on the menu.
Not to be outdone, Aling Lucing also began serving her SÍSIG on a sizzling plate at her place in Crossing and simply called it SIZZLING SÍSIG. Being strategically placed at the crossroads of many travellers coming to and from Angeles City, Aling Lucing’s SIZZLING SÍSIG became popularly known even outside the city. Rumor has it that Bongbong Marcos, if not President Marcos himself, was her patron. Legend has it that she would be whisked to the presidential palace in Malacañang where she would cook SÍSIG exclusively for Marcos’ guests. Aling Lucing undoubtedly became one of Angeles City’s icons because of her SIZZLING SÍSIG. Catering to a wide range of clientele for more than two decades, Aling Lucing outshone and outlasted many of her local competitors and became the undisputed “Sisig Queen.” Yet throughout her “reign” the ambulant barbecue vendors at Burgos continued to sell their off-the-menu SÍSIG MATUA made of pig’s ears and “spare parts” side by side with the new style SIZZLING SÍSIG until the late 1990s. Mila’s Tokwa’t Baboy which began in 1989 in Barangay Santo Domingo also continue to serve the old style “original” SÍSIG, which in their version is simply sliced boiled BALUGBUG BÁBÎ ‘pig’s ears’ in spicy vinegar and their own version of SIZZLING SÍSIG which is made of deep fried and crunchy BUNTUK BÁBÎ ‘pig’s head’ mixed with mild green onions without chicken liver. Although, Ápûng Míla (Milagros Gomez) of Mila’s Tokwa’t Baboy, did not earn the title “Sisig Queen,” she is a rising star in her own right and her two versions of SÍSIG already has a strong fan base that includes a number of famous national celebrities.
Bergaño, Diego. 1732 (reprinted 1860, English translation 2007). Vocabulario de la Lengua Pampanga en Romance. Manila: Imprenta de Ramirez y Giraudier (1860 version). English translation by Venancio Q. Samson. Angeles City, Pampanga: Holy Angel University Press.
Bergaño, Diego. (1732). [Reprinted 1860]. Vocabulario de la Lengua Pampanga en Romance. Manila: Imprenta de Ramirez y Giraudier.
Sources (Personal Communication):
Mayor Edgardo Pámintuan and Mrs. Herminia Pámintuan
Marco D. Nepomuceno
Also recently published as:
Pangilinan, Michael. (2016). History of SÍSIG: How Angeles City Kept Reinventing a Traditional Kapampángan Delicacy. In Sálángî kó pû. July-December 2016. pp. 27-32.
© Copyright 2016 Siuálâ Ding Meángûbié