In a country so enamored with crispy pata or deep-fried pork knuckles, chicharon bulaklak or deep-fried ruffled fat, and lechon or roasted whole pig, longganisa stands out as the pork of morning, the crisp crunch that gives heart to our breakfasts. Aside from being a filling main course, longganisa also comes saddled with a lot of interesting cultural influences.
The long way over
Longganisa traces its roots to Spain, where longaniza is a long, pork sausage seasoned with paprika, cinnamon, aniseed, garlic and vinegar. It is sold fresh and must be cooked. It’s not to be confused with chorizo, which is mostly fermented, smoked or cured, then sliced and eaten with no cooking required, or added to flavor a variety of dishes.
At the height of the Spanish empire, longaniza traveled far and wide — not just to the Philippines but across the Americas, including Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Over the course of several centuries, the defining characteristics of the original Spanish longaniza changed, with different interpretations emerging from region to region, and from country to country.
The Filipino longganisa tradition appears to have emerged by way of Acapulco, presumably around the time Juan de Salcedo, a Spanish conquistador who was born and raised in Mexico, founded Manila. An irresistible historical tidbit: his grandfather, Miguel López de Legazpi, founded the first Spanish settlements in the archipelago.
For centuries, Manila was a key stop in the Spanish trading network that included Lima in Peru and Panama, but served as a spoke of Mexico rather than a hub of empire. It is no surprise, then, that in some parts of the Philippines, as in Mexico, the word recado refers to condiments or seasoning. In the Philippines,
it’s also used to distinguish the spicy version of longganisa from the sweet kind commonly known as hamonado. In Spain, however, the word “recado” has nothing to do with flavor or cooking, and simply means “message” or “errand”.
There is no standard recipe for the Filipino longganisa, and its preparation has always been been open to both local creativity and inter-generational innovation. You can try improving on your great-grandmother’s recipe, for example, with a slight change in how much garlic you throw in. Most sausage-makers will also confess to just winging it and flavoring the meat on instinct, improvising with a range of locally available spices. The result? A wide assortment of varying flavors and textures.
There are, however, broad categories that are useful to know, especially if you have certain preferences. Longganisa de recado is spicy and garlicky. Among the best servings of spicy longganisa are those that come from sausage-makers of Bais in Dumaguete, Lucban in Quezon, Taal in Batangas, Dipolog, Tuguegarao, Cabanatuan, Calumpit, Batac and Vigan.
Longganisa hamonado, on the other hand, is sweet and possibly influenced by the Malay sate (satay) and the sweeter Chinese sausages like lap cheong or siang jiang. The longganisa of Bacolod, Cebu, San Pablo and Baguio are examples of the hamonado tradition. There are also lesser-known but no less distinctive versions of longganisa, among them the sausages from Candaba and Guagua in central Luzon, which are salty-sour — a possible influence of pindang, the Kapampangan practice of using a process of fermentation to tenderize the meat.
The fresh factor
The best-known longganisa continue to follow time-tested artisanal traditions: they are cased daily, use no preservatives and are always sold fresh. The sausages never see the sun, breathe smoke or touch ice.
Most longganisa are stuffed into casings made from fresh pork intestines. Others, especially home-made versions, are often served “skinless”. One version, in San Pablo, Laguna, was wrapped in the diaphanous membrane lining a pig’s stomach, called gapen or sinsal. Most longganisa are made with ground meat; however, the towns of Taal and Guinobatan in Albay prefer the texture of rough-chopped pork. Many people like to eat them well cooked, with small bits of casing and filling fried to an almost candied crisp. In Guinobatan, where the annual calendar includes a longganisa-stringing contest, the casings are sun-dried prior to stuffing in order to help guarantee that crispness. Nearly all artisanal sausage-makers will tell you that nothing comes close to the flavor of freshly made longganisa.
The Philippine longganisa reflects a wide variety of local cultures — and, like the national dishes of kinilaw, adobo and sinigang, come in at least as many versions as there are creative home cooks. If you want to savor the full spectrum of flavors that define this phenomenon, you must travel to where these traditional sausages are made. But first, eat your breakfast.
This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Smile magazine.