I only eat dinuguan when the meat in it is prime cut pork. I do know of course, that the more traditional versions of the dish contain animal innards. In Cris C. Abiva’s A Quick Guide To Filipino Food & Cooking, part of dinuguan’s description includes, “Pork, beef or chicken and innards stewed in fresh blood…”
Often the question for me is, how far will I go with dinuguan? Am I ready for some close encounters of the “internal” kind?
Recently, I did have the opportunity to finally come face to face with what really goes on inside a warm, comforting bowl of traditional dinuguan. My father-in-law who has been cooking for more than 50 years, and who started working as a cook in the markets of Cagayan de Oro at the age of ten says he has always followed a traditional recipe which includes pork small intestine and bamboo shoots mixed in with pork blood. Here, this dinuguan recipe is known more commonly as sampayna.
Origins of Dinuguan
My first in depth encounter with sampayna led me to wonder about the origins of the dish. My search for the story of its creation however has been largely difficult and fruitless either because of my limited academic resources or my poor research skills. In any case, unlike sisig and Bicol express that at least have origin stories of their modern versions, I was not able to find one for dinuguan, making it doubly difficult to identify its older roots.
There is a story online about dinuguan having been born out of the Filipinos’ natural tendency to make sure nothing ever goes to waste. There is another about its having been the result of the native population having been deprived of choice meat cuts during the Spanish period. I did not find historical references or documents in support of these stories and I am therefore unable to prove their veracity.
Food essayist Doreen G. Fernandez credits the inventiveness of Filipina housewives as the originating force behind the dish but she also refers to it in another essay as “indigenous”. With hardly a documentary trace of its first appearance, I am leaning towards the assumption that the recipe is pre Hispanic.
In Cagayan de Oro I learned of the lechon connection which is perhaps the origin story of why dinuguan and lechon are always together. When a pig is roasted for a feast, lechoneros here often immediately prepare sampayna out of the collected pig’s blood instead of disposing of it.
Despite the lack of a definitive origin story, we do have an abundance of documentation on regional variations, both in name and methods of preparation. Cagayan de Oro’s sampayna is therefore only one of many.
In Gilda Cordero Fernando’s Philippine Food and Life, she mentions tinumis from Nueva Ecija where pork meat and jowls are sautéed in onions, garlic and kamias. Coagulated pig’s blood was then mashed with the fingers and flavored with patis, long green hot pepper and hot pepper leaves.
Cordero also gives an account of Vigan’s dinardaren with thick, smooth sauce that is the result of keeping pig’s blood from coagulating. A more watery version is called mollo. Dinardaren is eaten with chicharon instead of puto.
In Memories of Philippine Kitchens, Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan note that in Pampanga, dinuguan is called tidtad bigac. Other sources call it tidtad babi or tidtad baca. Fernandez recounts Raquel de Leon’s Pampanga recipe which is saucy and uses oregano as an additional ingredient.
In an Inquirer article, Linda R. Corsiga’s Bicol recipe for tinutungang dinuguan contains coconut milk and laurel leaves.
This is by no means a complete account of regional and personal recipes. Depending on whose book you are reading, dinuguan can also be cooked using cow or chicken blood and the sauce can be chunky or smooth, thick or thin.
Blood Dishes across the Globe
The Philippines is not the only place where animal blood is used for cooking. The ancient Spartan melas zomos or black soup used pig’s blood as a main ingredient, and although the original recipe is supposedly lost to us, there are other European countries that continue to serve blood soup.
In other parts of the world, duck blood is used in Poland for the soup czernina and in Vietnam for tiết canh. Italy has blood sausages and Britain has black pudding. Blood pancakes are served in Spain, Scandinavia, Sweden and Finland. In China and Hungary, pig’s blood is consumed in its solidified form.
I started this journey looking for the origin of dinuguan. I invariably ended up with a greater appreciation for the richness of Filipino cuisine and an acceptance for what makes us both unique and similar to other cultures across the globe.