Sisig is not a quiet food. It crackles on a sizzling plate, billowing smoke in the face of passersby. It always makes its presence known, especially when one is instantly drawn to the strong smell of its charcoaled meat and flavourful spices. A staple pulutan in bars, the dish is made up of pig entrails, and doesn’t let a thing go to waste. It’s prepared by marinating a blend of vinegar, pepper, and calamansi juice with a raw egg for mixing on top and served on an ironcast hotplate, a testament to its loud and chaotic personality. Because of this, it goes beyond the grit of most street foods.
For the regular Atenean, it has become a comfort food of sorts—a meal staple. Scattered around different areas on campus, sisig has become more than a pulutan, but a taste of comforting Filipino food. How exactly does this ubiquitous dish translate in Ateneo? Basing this review on flavour, price, and quantity, Vantage went around Ateneo to check which sisig dish truly lives up to its reputation.
The accessible ones
For those seeking a quick meal during their hour-long breaks, JSEC and Gonzaga are always the places to go. Not too far from the SEC, CTC, and SOM buildings, these cafeterias are where most Ateneans go for their meals and snacks. But are these sisig dishes the best on campus?
Gonzaga (Grilling 101)
At Grilling 101, a hungry student can get his money’s full worth. At only Php 75.00, one can get a plate of sisig without having to walk too far. Despite being near, however, this sisig takes the longest to cook. Served mixed and ready with a mountain of rice for a student on the rush, it’s exactly what you would expect sisig to taste like—chewy, if not slightly rubbery. It fills you as each bite cuts through the palette with a tang of vinegar, calamansi, and bits of pepper scattered throughout. This otherwise smashing combo, however, doesn’t result in its usually succulent flavour as things fall rather flat.
This sisig, while hearty and convenient, is plain to taste: It doesn’t set off a visceral explosion in your mouth. Instead, it tastes almost mellow, with the egg and meat mixing to create a one-noted taste. What sets it apart, if anything, is how it isn’t doused in its own oil like other sisigs. This makes the sisig seem almost healthy, if that is possible. But if one wanted to be healthy, would he really go for sisig?
JSEC (Holy Smokes)
JSEC may be dismissed as “mainstream,” but on the bright side, you get what you pay for. This Filipino-themed stall’s sisig is moist and hearty. Although unorthodox, with no runny-yolked egg to mix with, it makes up for it by packing bits of crispy chicharon crunch in every bite. It’s also bursting with subtle yet luscious flavors—just the right balance of sour calamansi and peppery spice runs through the pork, with the perfect meat-to-fat ratio for added texture.
Its priciness, Php 120.00 with deposit, is worth it thanks to the huge mound of rice for fillingness. Although the grain’s yellow coloring is eye-popping, it adds zero flavor. While not exactly groundbreaking, it’s certainly tasty.
The far-off ones
Unlike Gonzaga or JSEC, you’ll have to trek through Ateneo’s winding brick roads to get a taste of these dishes. A journey on its own, Vantage sought to find out if they are worth the trip.
Ateneo Grade School
Not many are aware of the AGS cafeteria’s sisig. The Php 75.00 meal can be found in a Miryenda stall, where it is prepared in front of you with prepackaged meats, sauces, and heaps of butter. Rice is packed in a plastic container before being topped with meat and a dollop of mayonnaise. At first bite, it seems to have more egg than sisig, and it takes a great deal of chewing until one finally tastes the pork. There’s a minor crunch that isn’t that satisfying, as the dish contains more fat than meat. The typical tartness is replaced with an underlying sweetness—unsurprisingly, since after all, it was made for kids. It’s only filling enough for a quick snack—or a first-grader’s stomach—but despite its flaws, it’s at least a new take on everyone’s favorite pulutan.
While the distant ISO may be hidden far away beside the infamous Bellarmine Hall, the long trip for this sizzler is worth it. At only Php 80.00, one can have the sisig of his or her dreams sizzling on a hotplate. From the in-your-face cloud of smoke to the half-cooked egg ready to be mixed with the rice, it’s a standout for its traditional presentation. Luscious and filling, every bite is crispy and crunchy. Here, the sisig is the hero of the dish. Right in the center of the plate is a mound of a sizzling wonderland. The egg and rice don’t compete for your attention either; instead, they provide a palette for the sisig. They are but the background singers to the harmonious pieces of onions and meat that make this dish a star. Moreover, the experience of being able to modify the sisig to your taste, with ISO’s many condiments and spices, as you cook it on a hotplate makes it not just a dish, but an experience that you can’t get anywhere else on campus.
The final verdict
Admittedly, none of the sisig dishes on campus are particularly unsavory, as each one has something different to offer. The one in Gonzaga is for the student not willing to walk very far, while the one in AGS is for the student who wants a hearty snack. However, one simply triumphs over all: ISO’s sisig. While it’s quite a walk to get to, it’s worth it for the bite, crunch, and sheer experience of the dish. Not only is it inexpensive at Php 80.00, but you don’t feel like you’re missing out on some of the fusion-tasting food in JSEC or the dulcet notes of the one in AGS. Rather, you feel like you’re tasting sisig as it should be: A rich, comforting, and traditional Filipino dish. It satisfies not only your stomach, but your happy Filipino self, as it takes the spot as the best sisig on campus.
Photos by Reena Pineda.