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This is how you make sinigang:


Take a kilo of buto-buto,

wash it under running water.

Use your fingertips

to grope each piece

for stray shards of bone,

and don’t be shy about it.


In a pot, pour enough water

so the meat just peeks

through the surface.

Put the burner on low

so the flames just lick

the bottom of the pot.


This is when we wait

for the water to simmer,

for the meat to dance

until its fibers nearly fall

from the bone in exhaustion.


We use the wait

to prepare the vegetables,

cutting them just enough

to fit in your mouth.


Take the gabi, scrub it

until the flesh shines

through the dirt and hair.

Pare the outer layer

and cube what is left.


You can include

strings of sitaw

and sections of okra

to thicken the stew.


Add three whole green sili,

as long as your hand.

I like the ones whose tips

Curl come-hither.


Some like radishes,

saying they add piquancy,

a distinctive tartness.

Add them for the crunch.


What makes sinigang

the way it is is unripe tamarind,

boiled until it falls apart,

crushed and put through a sieve.

What we use is its essence,

separated from flesh,

blended with meat

exhausted from its dance.


See to the salt, the pepper and patis.

No spoons for you; use your fingers

and let salt kiss skin,

then rub your fingers together

so kissed salt falls into water.


Dust the soup with black pepper

and anoint it with patis.

Stir the pot, waft its fumes

toward you and smell:

Its flavor is in the scent.


Have you cut the kangkong leaves yet?

Cover the soup’s surface with leaves,

As if for modesty, then

quickly turn off the flames.

Let the leaves cook

in what remains of the heat.


Now, prepare a bowl

and remember:

The meat should explode on your tongue,

coating the inside of your mouth

with its savor.

The soup should burn a line

from throat to stomach,

while the vegetables

must have a pleasant texture

against your teeth.


Now swallow, and have some more.




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