Restaurant Review: Eating Filipino Style (Look Ma, Only Hands!) at House of Sisig
by Allan Roman Reyes
Walking into House of Sisig is like coming home to Lola’s house. It’s full of people eating, loud with family conversation and cooking, and did I mention food? The place is small; people are frequently excusing past each other and chairs are back to back, not to mention the tables. But to sit down to one of the Philippine’s great customs, the kamayan (eating with your hands) meal is something that needs to be experienced at least once, or twice, or how about every Sunday instead?
The menu has straight fare and family set-ups; our visiting party held four so the family plan was settled upon along with an order of Sisig to honor the namesake of the establishment. Ordering was easy and the setup commenced: the table was ceremoniously covered with banana leaves with no particular spaces designated for each sitter. Plastic forks and spoons were brought for the less adventurous, and the food arrived as only true ‘caboodle’ meals do: trays laden with sides of springy white onions, red tomatoes, and sweet yellow mango were poured onto the waiting banana leaves on the table. This was joined by steaming seafood fresh off the grill: roasted smoky pusit (squid), blackened tilapia, deep fried breaded prawns, and egg rolls. To counter-balance the sea fare, slow roasted smoky black eggplant and glazed golden kamote (sweet potato) along with some choice sauces joined the meal.
The way all this good stuff is eaten is as follows, though everyone who has experienced it may have a different technique. Step one is to take a handful of the steaming white rice provided and mix it on the banana leaf with the onions, tomato, and mango (with your hand of course). You then take your five fingers and press down and mold the food into a semi-round, mouth-sized shape using the banana leaves on the table as support. Add your favorite ulam, or protein, into the mix, add any of the sauces provided, and proceed to put this wonderful morsel into your mouth. The final steps are the most crucial: taste the incredible smokiness of the protein, the sharp bite of the raw onions, the cooling freshness of the red tomatoes, and the sweetness of the mango; chew and swallow (I know it’s hard to say goodbye but normal human body functioning decrees this process). Sit back and after opening your eyes, let out a MMMM! that comes straight from the heart. A heart that knows no matter how far you are from the Philippines, places like The House of Sisig, will always bring you back to where you came from using our most primal senses. Senses that directly connect us to who we are as a people, and, no matter where the food is going during this day and age, directly connects us to the old ways of eating and enjoying with family.
Then the Sisig came. :)