Nostalgia has been the main ingredient of all the dishes I’ve made since moving to Texas 3 months ago. As a way to soothe my homesick soul, everything I’ve cooked and eaten at home has been laced with memories from childhood and beyond.
But nothing tasted like home more than when I made a favorite side dish for my friend when she came over for brunch. I was nervous to cook for her, she is one of my dearest friends, we hadn’t caught up together in a while, and I’d never cooked this dish at home before.
Each component of the breakfast silog has their own lengthy backstory in my life, but the star of the show was a side dish. Pipino is made of rounded cucumber slices, soaking in a sweet and tangy sauce made of vinegar, sugar, and black pepper.
It reminded me of hot summer days spent at a beach house in the Philippines. I remember spending the whole day frolicking with the waves, tossing and tumbling much like Moana did. We would eat on a wooden bench under the shade of a coconut tree, and we’d order dish after dish from the kitchen. There’d be fried fish, grilled pork (inihaw), adobo, and of course fresh white rice.
We Filipinos are known for our sawsawan, aka our dipping sauces! Pipino is one of the more versatile ones, that’s usually served with fried fish. They truly make or break any meal. I think this is where my love of sour food is rooted, but more on that later let’s go back to the beach.
Everyone at the table ate with their hands, and used the occasional spoon for the various sauces and as serving spoons. My Mom’s OCD. I can’t remember if my Lola was feeding me or if it was the yaya at the time, but it was a balled up fish and rice combo followed afterwards with the pipino. I am salivating as I write this because I can taste the tangy bite of the vinegar assaulting the front of my mouth and nose, only to be soothed by the sweet after taste of the sugar.
The pipino, and other sawsawan dishes, play an integral part in any meal because they work as a well played foil to the salty/sweet dishes , in the same way as white rice. Our cuisine compensates for being heavy handed in the kitchen by adding the equal and opposite flavor. Seems logical, and delicious to me.
And this is how our summers would go – we would eat, swim, then eat some more and then lay down to bed. Our bellies full and rocking to the gentle beat of the waves.
My friend sat down on the counter after making her brunch plate from my offering of pork tocino, longannisa, garlic fried rice and scrambled eggs. I pointed out the pipino to her and urged her to put some on her plate, much like how our Moms would just scoop things into it without our permission – simultaneously urging us to eat more, and then pinch our belly fat passive aggressively afterwards.
“This pipino is a really nice touch to this dish! I didn’t even know I was missing it.”