Don’t Stay SUKA Free; Filipino Vinegar
by Haydee Vicedo
Suka (pronounced soo-ka) may sound like a figure skating move Michelle Kwan’s about to attempt successfully – “and Kwan landed that triple suka beautifully…”; but it actually means Filipino vinegar. Yes, Michelle landed those triple salchows like nobody’s business, but she was definitely not aiming for vinegar. Suka, along with patis (fish sauce), toyo (soy sauce) and bagoong (fermented fish/shrimp), is one of the main staples of the Filipino pantry. If you’re making Filipino food, you have suka somewhere in your kitchen. And if you have suka in the kitchen, you probably have at least one or two of the many varieties out there. Some are named after their place of birth – Sukang Iloko is from a region in the Philippines called, you guessed it, Ilocos, a la New York cheesecake. Others, meanwhile, get their moniker from the plant/tree they originate from. Sukang Tuba, for instance, comes from coconut sap, while sukang nipa (also known as sukang paombong) derives from the nipa palm. The latter is probably the vinegar most widely used in Filipino cuisine. And because you asked so politely (you didn’t know it but you did), we’re going to name just a few of the many delectable dishes in which suka’s presence reigns supreme.
1. Adobo: Whether made with pork or chicken, adobo is one of the most popular and beloved Filipino foods around. Suka is a key ingredient in this national dish, along with another Filipino kitchen staple, soy sauce (which are then mixed with tons of garlic, peppercorns and bay leaves). One can also make white adobo, which contains no toyo and thus boasts a more piquant flavor. Want to try your hand at making white adobo? Get your cooking on and click here.
2. Kinilaw: Also known as kilawin, one can describe kinilaw as the Filipino version of ceviche. It uses the acid of suka to “cook” the seafood. The citrus-like agent of the brine gives it that tangy-tart taste that many Filipinos (and non) love. With more than 7,000 islands in the Philippines, the country is home to some of the finest seafood in the world, making this another favored dish. For a very simple kinilaw recipe, click here.
3. Paksiw na Pata: Paksiw describes the act of cooking in suka, while pata is pork knuckle. Again the pickling solution is one of the two main ingredients in this sweet and savory fare. Paksiw can also be a cooking method for fish (paksiw na isda), for those who prefer seafood. Here are some mouth-watering recipes for paksiw na pata and paksiw na isda.