In Praise of Sinigang



What’s that you say?  Sinigang?  What is that?

Sinigang is a traditional Filipino tamarind-based soup that my grandchildren’s other Grandmother,  Annabel makes.  The base is made of tamarind, fish sauce, meat and tomatoes with vegetables and sometimes peppers added.  The first time I had it, I fell in love with it.  The flavor of that tangy, delicious soup haunted me and made my mouth water every time I thought of it.

Annabel knows its my favorite and so she makes it for me often.  Whenever I ask her how to make it, she says, “Just meat and vegetables” in that typically modest way of hers.  She doesn’t think she’s a good cook when in fact, she’s really an incredible one.  In some ways, she reminds me of my Grandma Lupe.  Like my grandmother, she tosses in a little of this and a little of that to make magic in a bowl or plate.  She shows her love and care for the people close to her by feeding them, another Dona Lupe trait.  Also like my grandmother, Annabel is overly modest about her abilities.

One of her specialities is her soup.  Annabel makes soups that will make angels weep, they are so good.  There’s always something simmering on the stove that smells amazing and nine times out of ten, one of those pots is full of some kind of yummy soup.  The queen of them all though, is sinigang, my personal favorite.  My Latina palate loves all things spicy and tangy so it’s no big surprise that this is my favorite Filipino dish.

Annabel uses a tamarind base by Knorr though she’s told me that given time, she’d make it with fresh tamarind pods.  Since the grandkids are still young and their palate’s not quite so developed, she omits the finger-length green hot peppers that traditionally are part of the dish.  I’ve had it with those, and it brings a spicy heat to the soup that is delicious, but I agree with her to not include it when the kids are wanting soup.  We don’t want to turn them off of a delicious thing just because its too spicy.

I spent last night at the grandkids’ apartment and had arrived sniffling.  With the recent high winds all over Los Angeles, I either had a bad case of allergies, or the beginning of a cold.  Either way my nose is red and raw.  Annabel took one look at me and said, “You need soup” as she poured my coffee.  Settled in with the grandkids later, I fell asleep and woke to the scent of tamarind.  “Sinigang”, I thought, “she’s making sinigang” and jumped out of bed to watch her make it.  Sadly, she was already done and serving it into a bowl with steamed rice.  “Gina, eat soup.  I made your favorite, sinigang.”  Yes, I am a lucky woman to have this blended family that loves me. Well, she didn’t have to tell me twice.  Jasmine popped her head out from the covers and said, “I smell sinigang.”  It didn’t take her long to slide down from the top bunk and tumble into the small kitchen.

We sat at the table with steaming bowls of tamarind-scented soup, and I watched the grandkids smiling as they dug in.  Annabel was hovering over Aiden, chopping up his meat in small bite-sized pieces and I found myself turning Jasmine’s bowl in just such a way so she wouldn’t spill her rice over.  The wind howled a little outside as we ate our tangy, tomatoey broth with vegetables, meat and rice.  Warm in my belly, the soup soothed, kept my sneezing at bay and I had made sure to snap a photo  before demolishing it.

Annabel promises to show me how to make it.  She often changes up the vegetables in it, depending on what’s available in her fridge.  Today the veggies included radishes, baby bok choy, asparagus and tomatoes.  I’ve told her I’m going to video the whole process so that the grandkids we share have it always.  It’s as much their legacy as my grandmother’s recipes are, and most definitely belongs here in Doña Lupe’s Kitchen.

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