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A Bit On The Side? Getting Saucy With Filipino Condiments


“Sinamak” from the Visayan region, is a mixture of chili pepper, onion, garlic and vinegar.

“Sawsawan” is the Tagalog word for sauce or condiment which was derived from the root word “sawsaw”, a verb which means “to dip”. it’s one of the three key essential elements in a Filipino meal. We describe that formula and review the range of “sawsawan”, many of which have international origins and influences.

The Filipino diet consists mostly of the two parts: rice and “ulam” or “viand”. Francophones will know that “viand” is French for “meat”, but the term is also applied to any savoury protein element: fish, chicken, seafood or even a vegetarian dish such as “laing” (taro leaves in spicy coconut milk).

However the full equation for a Filipino meal is: rice + “ulam” + “sawsawan”. So what sawsawans are there?

What are the most popular dips in the Filipino diet?


Toyomansi (Soy Sauce With Kalamansi)

Soy sauce (or “toyo” in Tagalog) is mostly used as a dip for fried fish and other seafood. Usually, soy sauce is mixed with a little juice from the local citrus fruit calamansi, which looks like a small lime,  to make “ToyoMansi”. It has a combination of a salty and sour flavor and has become a “must have” when Filipinos eat Chinese dimsum such as siomai and dumplings.




(LEFT TO RIGHT) Bottles you will see at a Filipino restaurant: (black) Soy sauce or “toyo”, (amber coloured) fish sauce or “patis” and (white or clear) “suka” or vinegar with onions and chilis


Patis (Fish Sauce)

Like other South East Asians and the Romans with their “garum”, the Filipinos like fermented fish sauce with their food. Patis is used as a dip in soup dishes such as sinigang, nilaga and bulalo. Local chilies can be added to the soy sauce and fish sauce for a spicy sensation.


Suka (Vinegar)

“Suka”, a Tagalog word derived from “Cu” in Chinese, is yet another popular dip, and is often mixed with several different spices such as garlic, onion, salt and pepper. It is a usual dip for many local grilled street food and the ever popular “tuhog-tuhog” food carts where you skewer fried balls of  fish or anything with sticks. “Tuhog” means “to poke” in English, usually with a stick or any pointed object, like a yakitori in the Japanese cuisine or kebab in the Middle East and India.


Lumpia is the Tagalog for “spring roll”, obviously another Chinese import. Lumpia can be deep-fried, typically containing beansprouts (“togue” – pronounced “toe-gay”). Suka is also a nice contrast to the slightly oily “lumpia togue”.


Lumpiang Ubod Sauce

Fresh lumpia commonly contains heart of palm or “ubod”, the growing bud of coconut and other palm trees. “Lumpiang ubod” is a fresh i.e. uncooked lumpia which has it’s own peanut-based sauce with a mixture of vinegar, garlic and brown sugar.


Tomato And Banana Ketchup

Ketchup is America’s favourite sawsawan and the colonisers made it popular in the Philippines.  There are various types of tomato ketchup available in Philippines but the most commonly used is banana ketchup, which made from sugar, vinegar, spices and of course mashed banana, it’s natural colour is brownish-yellow but often dyed in red to resemble the tomato ketchup.


Bagoong (Shrimp Paste)

Among all the condiments in Philippine cuisine, “bagoong” (or fermented shrimp paste) is one of the most popular. It is widely used as a dip for many types of dishes but its famous partner is the green mango. Sour green mangoes combined with the salty fermented shrimp paste makes a perfect combination which can be seen on many street corners.


Lechon Sarsa

“Lechon” is Spanish for a whole roasted pig, and “salsa” is not only music and dance but Spanish for “sauce” – giving Tagalog “sarsa”. The ingredients of the lechon sauce includes pork liver, onions, garlic, vinegar, brown sugar and salt. This is a sweet kind of sauce which adds flavour for the lechon dish.



“Lumpiang ubod” or “heart of palm spring roll” is a healthy Filipino dish which is dependent on its sauce for its taste.


“Sawsawan” or Filipino sauces are essential in most dishes as they add flavour and a twist in the taste of ordinary, everyday dishes. They are also used to marinate raw meat with locked in flavours and savoury goodness.




Author: Rhett Kinneas



Photo source:

Top photo –

Bottles –

Ubod and sauce –



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