Sunday, September 30, 2012

[T&T] Mama Sita's Sinigang sa Sampalok (Filipino tamarind seasoning mix)

”The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”
- St. Augustine
What can I say to that? While not a fan of the man himself - inveterate unbeliever that I am - , I have to admit he got this one right.
And, while I may be too poor (OK, and lazy too...) to get around much, I like to keep an open mind and sample as much of the other cultures as I can. Especially as far as food is concerned - but you guessed that much, right?

The average Italian could probably name at least a couple Chinese or Japanese dishes, but Filipino cuisine is not as well-known as other Asian ones - pity, really, because it is unique and quite interesting.
Immigration from the Philippines is as strong as ever, though, and more and more Pinoy-specific groceries and foodstores are popping up, catering for the cravings of this ever-growing community.

Scouring ethnic shops is a well-known pastime of mine, so I quickly became familiar with Mama Sita's, which is pretty much synonymous with Filipino food.
I bought a nice selection of sauces and marinades in the past, both powdered and bottled, and loved them all. Likewise I enjoy Ube Halaya, coconut jelly, jackfruit, and everything mango... so you see I was pretty much ready to declare myself a honorary Pinay.

And when I stumbled into this, I knew I had to try it.

The blurb on the package (which was exhaustive and written in very good English btw) stated that the main ingredient of the mix was unripe tamarind, which would result in a soup with a a distinctively sour, fruity taste.
...Well isn't it gorgeous? I love soup! I love tamarind! I love sour! I'm going to LOVE this!

So here's my huge pot of water, with a quartered onion and a few cherry tomatoes floating in it. At this point I had already stirred in the package's content - I didn't take a pic of it but I guess it's better this way, since it was a lumpy pinkish mush that, quite frankly, reminded me of puke...

Still following the recipe given, I then added long green peppers and brought it all to a boil...

"Double, double, toil and trouble! Fire, burn! And cauldron, bubble!"

(Heh. In case you didn't notice, I gave up apologising about this sort of things a while ago...)

The recipe called for turnips, long beans and spinach at this point, but I added a frozen minestrone mix instead - granted, cranberry beans may not be an ingredient one would immediately associate with the Philippine islands, still...
...lookie, it's beans all right, 'nkay?

Last but not least, shrimps. Lots of them!

The result was pretty enough; so much so, in fact, that I confidently served it to my unsuspecting sweetie...

Now my sweetie, he has read quite a few pages of St. Augustine's metaphorical book, having travelled extensively through Asia in the past; but the best he could say about this soup was, "I bet it's really healthy" - which, as you might be suspecting, is Latin for, "Yeuch, this stuff is disgusting!"
We ended up forlornly plucking shrimps out of the broth, and eating them dejectedly, as neither of us -try as we might - could stomach a second serving of it.

The fact is, it was sour. Sour soup is yummy, mind you, but in this instance... let us just say I don't mean it in a pretty way.
It was, frankly, off-putting - I tried adding salt and it helped a little, but it was still way far from the "heavenly comfort food" it was meant to be.
As my sweetie wisely said, it tasted unfinished...
...thus, before giving in to the Dark Side and publicly bashing both Mama Sita's product and what was inexplicably a beloved national dish for a whole nation, I took a steadying breath and did what I should have done before - I searched YouTube...
...and found this.

See where mine went wrong? I SKIPPED THE FISH JUICE!
Now to be honest, the recipe on the package went: "Add fish juice to taste"... which I had mistakenly registered as, "You can add it if you like".

So - me being this adorable ball of stubbornness you have come to love (er, right?) - I saved the leftover broth (and, ye Gods, I had lots of it!), got myself a bottle of fish juice, and decided to give Sinigang sa Sampalok another chance before passing judgement.
Yes, I know. Strict but fair, that's me in a nutshell!

Guess what? It made a HUGE difference!
The fish stuff turned the broth sligtly darker, deliciously hearty, and umami-laden in a way that worked perfectly with the basic sourness.
I ended up eating all of the leftover broth by myself, and although I wouldn't say I'm looking forward to making more any time soon, I certainly wouldn't mind trying the real thing if only I could manage to find a Filipino restaurant!

1 comment:

  1. Mama Sita should consider NOT use MSG on some of her Seasoning mix. Using MSG as a seasoning,no doubt, really enhance the flavor and taste of the food...but the exchange is, overtime it will elevate the blood pressure of people who regularly consume this chemical base seasoning,this has has been proven by the medical world.