A Brief History of the Tapsilog and Its Many Variations

January 13, 2014

“Sex tayo? (Want to have sex?)” was (and probably still is) a popular come-on back when I was in college. Sex was (and probably still is) something special that could be enjoyed any time of day, and it was (and probably still is) always better if you bring a group of friends to share it with you. But before you accuse our generation of shameless, unabashed lust, in most cases (as far as I know anyway), we were talking about hitting Sinangag Express, a  24-hour eatery beloved for its cheap food, more specifically for a plate of what is arguably our nation’s favorite breakfast, lunch, and dinner : the tapsilog.

What Exactly is Tapsilog?

SILOG_1
Most groceries and restaurants source their tapa from Pampanga.

The word tapsilog describes the dish’s three main components: tapa (beef slices), sinangag (fried garlic rice), and itlog (fried egg). The tapa is usually made by marinating the beef in a special sauce or mixture and then drying it out in the sun. This process gives it that sweet, savory flavor and slightly chewy texture. Most groceries and restaurants source their tapa from Pampanga, a province renowned for its thriving meat industry and its residents’ cooking prowess.

Sinangag is a testament to our Filipino ingenuity when it comes to reducing waste and maximizing utility. It’s leftover rice that’s kneaded by hand to break apart any clumps prior to being fried in a wok with a bit of oil, rock salt, and a lot of garlic. Cold, day-old rice is preferred to anything freshly cooked since the former has a drier, somewhat hardier texture that stands up to the high cooking temperature better. The itlog portion is as simple as it gets: a farm-fresh chicken egg fried to the desired degree of doneness, sunny side-up style.

A plate of tapsilog is a delightful study in taste and texture. You get the rich, buttery silkiness of the egg, the herbed, aromatic grains of the fried rice, and the savory, lip-smacking meatiness of the tapa in one delicious dish.

Origins and Variations

Exactly who came up with the first plate of tapsilog (and when this happened) remains a mystery, but it’s clear that it must have been invented out of necessity. The dish is a marvelous example of fuss-free cooking and resourceful efficiency, given that the ingredients were all readily available, even in the days before industrialized farming and refrigeration.

Tapa is rooted in the Sanskrit word tapas, which means “heat.”

Contrary to popular belief, the Tagalog word “tapa” has no relation to the trendy Spanish “tapas,” which means “lid” (an allusion to its beginnings as snack plates used to cover pitchers of sangria). Rather, tapa as we know it is rooted in the Sanskrit word tapas, which means “heat,” a nod to the ancient, pre-Hispanic practice of drying boar or deer meat under the hot Philippine sun to preserve them.

When the Chinese traders arrived and introduced condiments like soy sauce to the natives, they soon learned to marinate the meat prior to the drying to give it a deeper flavor. It was also most probably around this time that early Filipinos were introduced to the Chinese wok and, as a result, the economic wonder that is fried rice. But while the Chinese made fried rice to stretch the number of mouths that an expensive slab of meat can feed, Filipino natives cooked sinangag so that cold, leftover rice wouldn’t go to waste, with strong garlic added to mask any stale flavors from the rice.

As to why tapsilog features sunny-side up eggs by default (despite the myriad ways of cooking them there are out there), it’s most likely because it’s the fastest and most straightforward cooking method. Eggs Benedict is all well and good, but it’s hardly appropriate for hungry laborers in need of  a quick, hearty breakfast before a long day’s work.

SILOG_2
Regional tapsilog variations were inevitable.

Given how long the tapsilog has been around as well as the sheer variety of regional delicacies in the Philippine archipelago, variations on the well-loved classic were inevitable. The garlic rice and the fried egg are usually retained since they are standard breakfast staples, but cooks and diners alike often swap the accompanying main protein around. From the more common longsilog and tocilog (garlic rice and egg with longganisa and tocino, respectively) to the exotic dangsilog (danggit being dried rabbitfish) and the indulgent litsilog (lechon), the possibilities are as wide and varied as the regions that gave rise to them. 

Tapsilog through the Years

Though the Philippines was eventually liberated from foreign invaders sometime in 1946, US armed forces continued to visit their former training camps and military bases. Eventually, canned goods such as corned beef and SPAM made their way into the Filipino diet and even became breakfast staples, alongside other Americanized edibles such as hotdogs and bacon. It didn’t take long before these too found a place beside our beloved silog, giving rise to quirky monikers like cornsilog, bacsilog, and even SPAM-silog.

SILOG_3

By the late 1980’s, shortly after Martial Law was abolished and the nightly curfew was lifted, Manila’s urbanization and the influx of people from all over the country led to the popularization of late-night eateries like food carts, carinderias, and the tapsihan. These catered to the needs of the hungry drunks prowling the streets after they’d closed down the bar (as well as the common worker tired after a long day of struggling to make ends meet).

The modern tapsihan is a popular alternative to the well-known burger chains.

The humble tapsilog didn’t really break into the fast food industry until eateries like Tapa King were established as an alternative to the fast food chains serving burgers and pizza. Filipino customers who were looking for a quick rice meal responded with enthusiasm and soon enough, other restaurant chains were put up as a response to the demand. Tapsilog eventually became a popular meal choice at any time of day, and was no longer thought of as mere breakfast food. The modern-day tapsihan offers 24-hour delivery services, with industry stalwarts like Rufo’s and Sinangag Express employing the burgeoning call center industry (among other things) to keep up with their round-the-clock work schedule.

Nowadays, tapsilog can be had pretty much everywhere and at every price range. You can take your pick from the student-friendly bente-silog (which can be had for Php20 a pop) to the upscale tapsilog made with yakiniku-cut US rib cap beef at the swanky Mr. Jones in Greenbelt 5.  Furthermore, world-famous stylist Aiala Hernando’s delicately beautiful and Pinterest-worthy Basque-si-log elevates the rustic breakfast dish to breathtaking new levels, potentially putting our homegrown delicacy on the map. And who knows? Perhaps someday, the tapsilog just might take its rightful place on the international stage, not just as a representative of Filipino cuisine, but also as a formidable and hearty breakfast food beloved the world over.

References:

Fernandez, D. (2000). Palayok: Philippine Food Through Time, On Site, In the Pot. Bookmark, Inc.: Metro Manila.

Fussell, B. (2008). Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef. Houghton-Mifflin: New York.

Serna Estrella SEE AUTHOR Serna Estrella Serna is a slim piggy who heartily believes that salads are not real food and that desserts (fruit salad not included) should have their own food group. When she's not terrorizing people with her Grammar Nazi tendencies, she likes to hunt for the perfect afternoon tea spot that lets her pretend she's still in the age of Austen (albeit with electricity and better dental care).
8 comments in this post SHOW

Leave a Reply

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
shark_ga
shark_ga

Using sex in the lead to grab attention for a tapsilog article? Try harder next time, Ms. Writer.

Anonymous
Anonymous

What’s up Keith Patricio?

haterade
haterade

hater lang ang peg

tapsimania
tapsimania

Wow. Sobrang di ka naka-relate no? “Sex” here is an abbreviation of Sinangag Express, a very popular eatery frequented by college students. To say “Sex tayo” is a play on the abbreviation, while also catching people by surprise who are not in on the joke (like you).

You’re the only one who has a dirty mind here, you prude.

Also, kudos to the author for a very informative article 🙂

sherbetlemon
sherbetlemon

You don’t really get it.

trackback

[…] Paranaque is filled with more tapsi places than you can shake a fishball stick at. And each offers a good range of junky food that will […]

Lukinda Skye
Lukinda Skye
The writer is really from a younger generation, as her reference of eating tapsilog is Singangag Express, a fairly new joint. The top tapsi place to have them were Pares places (especially 20th ave cubao and at Joey’s, near the wet market of 15th ave, Cubao) and at Tapa King. Special mention should also go to Tapsi Ni Vivian for their very savory tapsilog which is sure to cure hang-overs. sayang the use of the bad pun at the beginning of her article made it corny, and unrelatable to my generation who hasn’t eaten at Sinangag express.
juan franchisine
juan franchisine

JUAN SILOG Best stop food hub that offers affordable meal as low as P25. This brings you closer to your favorite silog breakfast, snacks and dinner, perfect all day meal for people who want to have rice meal with their limited budget. an instant hit lucrative business on the streets.

Serving TAPSILOG, TOCILOG, LONGSILOG and many
more. These pinoy meals are just the right choice for people always on the go.
A delightful meal always available anytime of the day. 0905-4138824

wpDiscuz

Keep on

Reading