There is one particular bit of Filipino cuisine which we have never cooked at home. Well, at least not in the way it’s done elsewhere. Because my mother is allergic to crustaceans, we rarely have that odoriferous condiment known as bagoong alamang (a purplish paste of tiny shrimp preserved with salt) at home. That obviously means that one of my favorite dishes, binagoongang baboy, is never served at our house.
Essentially, this dish is supposed to be the result of a culinary experiment done by native cooks during the Spanish Colonial Period. It is said that one Filipino cook was preparing adobo but made the mistake of adding a tad too much vinegar. To counteract the harsh sourness added by the vinegar, the cook toyed with just about everything he had in the kitchen until he tossed a bit of sauteed bagoong into the stewpot. Et voila: he ended up with chunks of tender pork in a rich, thick, flavorful sauce.
My first taste of this dish actually came when I was a freshman in college and I was bored to death by the cafeteria’s perpetual cycle of barbecued pork, siningang, adobo, and albondigas (meatballs cooked with misua noodles and patola gourd in chicken broth). So, one day, I pointed to a vat filled to the brim with stewed chunks of pork in an orange sauce dotted with the tell-tale black speckles of bagoong. And, from that day on, I was hooked!
This is the reason why I can’t resist – and don’t resist – whenever this particular dish is served. There’s just something compelling about the savory, pungent aroma it exudes as it cooks. Then, the rich sauce – somewhat salty, somewhat umami in character – is just plain fabulous when dribbled over steamed white rice. The chunks of pork are fork tender and savory – more so if the fatty belly was used for the stew. While some cooks add heat to the dish with the addition of long green chili peppers (siling haba) and some add crunch with a few chopped capsicums, the very basic combination of pork, tomatoes, and bagoong is perfect as it is.
Just throw in some fried or roasted eggplants on the side and, yes, I am good to go. 😉