If everyone had the same taste...
...there would only be one flavor.
Sometimes, I get homesick for loud brownfolk. Homesick for a world where aunties arrive, competing for loudest entrance to a room. A world where the dining room seems to tilt as one more pot of pancit noodles or another platter of plantain fritters is added to the table.
(we get excited about karaoke; we are, afterall, ASIAN)
When I can't fly back home to my NY, I head straight down to SoCal where my "California" cousins have been calling San Diego home for over 30 years. Of course, when we get together, there is plenty of eating going on. Witness the edible carnage at a lazy Sunday afternoon bbq in Temecula...
(we get excited about meat marbling, too)
But, for the brown and down, meat—beef, fish or pig!—is not officially eaten in Filipino homes until a bowl of sawsawan is prepared. Loaded with salt, tang and kick, the sawsawan is essentially a condiment. Yet, so much more. Think of it as a dipping sauce that makes use of all those tiny bowls that come with a full dinnerware set. And, you thought those were for ice cream! Well, think again.
(this was an enormous bowl of sawsawan made by my cousin's husband who does the equivalent of "keeping kosher" by "preserving pinoy." Romel's sawsawan is composed of chopped fresh tomato, white onion, jalapeños—seeds included, pickled peppers, probably a couple whole garlic cloves, lemon juice, vinegar and soy sauce.)
Sawsawan, usually a "sour accompaniment," is delicious with any grilled, broiled, baked or fried meat. It can be as simple as a bowl of patis. Or, a side of soy sauce, calamansi juice and a few dry red chilies. How 'bout a small dish of bagoong with chopped green mangoes?
With warm, steamed white rice and a meat of choice, sawsawan makes a meal more personal. Perhaps, you're partaking in a host family's favorite sawsawan. Maybe, your little dipping bowl transports a solitary meal to a place called Home. If you want to get REAL, eat with your hands*: Squish together mounds of meat and rice, dip and enjoy. A friend once wrote that her perfect lover would relish the scent of patis on her fingers and seek out her vinegar kiss.
Sawsawan. Flavor. Try it.