Who Invented Sisig?
Some written works attribute sisig's origins to Lucia Cunanan. However, very few people know she was not the first to chop up pig parts or put them on a sizzling plate. The name derives from the old Tagalog word sisigan, which means “to make sour.”
An Augustinian friar first recorded its existence in 1732. In his Spanish-Kapampangan dictionary, he cataloged sisig as a “salad, including green papaya or green guava and eaten with a dressing of salt, pepper, garlic, and vinegar." Centuries later, sisig remained a citrusy side to heftier dishes, although variations of it with meat, oyster, or native deer surfaced around the region.
How Has Sisig’s History Evolved?
It wasn’t until the American occupation that the version most Filipinos know with pisngi and other odd bits of pork developed. Commissaries at the Clark Air Bases would throw out tons of pig heads and innards, which they avoided when preparing meals for the American troops stationed there. Nearby restaurants would take the discarded off-cuts and incorporate them into the sour salad, serving them with beers at their late-night joints by the railroad, an area known as the “Crossing.”
It was here in the 1970s that Aling Lucing Cunanan adopted the concept and transformed it into an entirely new dish. Her recipe involved grilling the cheeks, adding vinegar, calamansi juice, onions, and liver, and turning it into the pulutan Filipinos know today. Cunanan became the Sisig Queen and started a revolution. It didn’t take long for others to make her style the standard. Meanwhile, another restaurateur, Benedicto Pamintuan, started the trend of serving the dish on a sizzling plate.
Why is Sisig Popular?
These days, sisig has become one of the country's most in-demand exports – a dish often championed abroad by local and foreign chefs. It has taken the world by storm and is bringing Filipino cuisine to the forefront of the global dining scene, with renowned chefs like Anthony Bourdain featuring sisig on their food shows. There is even a festival dedicated to the beloved food held in Pampanga, where it all began.
Sisig remains a top choice for Filipino and foreign diners because the dish highlights the simplicity of local cuisine and its potential to diversify flavors. Many chefs have realized the dish's versatility, coming up with interpretations that push its constant evolution. There are as many versions as the country’s islands, and you can now find recipes for stuffed egg sisig, paella sisig, and black squid ink sisig. The infamous pulutan can also be considered a pioneer in nose-to-tail and sustainable cooking. There are even plant-based versions that cater to today’s demands.
If you want to learn more about the history of sisig, here’s a handy timeline that traces back its origins.
The History of Sisig
Sisig first appears in the Kapampangan dictionary, with origins from the old Tagalog word sisigan, which means “to make it sour.” The term is a name for a green side salad.
When US air bases in Pampanga would throw out whole pig’s heads, locals offered to buy the offal and started to mix it into the sour salad, starting its evolution.
Lucia Cunanan, often called the inventor of modern-day sisig, opened her restaurant Aling Lucing’s in Angeles City, serving a version that included meaty pig cheeks.
Benedicto Pamintuan first served sisig on a sizzling plate at his restaurant. Dan Tayag brings it to Manila via his restaurant Trellis.
Angeles City begins its annual Sisig Festival, with representatives from the Guinness Book of World Records attending a giant sisig cookout.
Popular TV host Anthony Bourdain eats sisig in Pampanga on his show No Reservations, bringing the dish mainstream.
Restaurant Maharlika in New York puts sisig on their menu, winning them the “Best New Food” award from Time Out New York.
Learning sisig‘s history – or any other local dish's origins – helps chefs diversify and innovate. Before one alters a recipe or adds modern twists to it, one must study how it evolved first. This way, one can continue to honor the essence of a dish and build on its culinary foundations.