Cook This: Vegetarian Papaitan, An Approachable Alternative to Ilocos’ Intimidating Offal and Bile Stew

March 16, 2017

Locally, Fear Factor-level food is the norm, very few dishes fazes anyone. Ceviché made from freshly harvested woodworms? Yum! Deep-fried duck fetus? I’ll have three please. But an offal stew flavored with bile? A line has to be drawn somewhere, and for many it’s this stew. The Ilocano papaitan is well-known as a post-drinking binge pick-me-up but it’s not uncommon to find the dish nestled between karinderya favorites. Unfortunately, its use of bile and offal turns away more than it can charm. If you count yourself as one of those who balk at the stew’s use of bile and offal, our vegetarian alternative offers all the flavors of papaitan without the gore.

Typically, the stew tastes overwhelmingly bitter but a tinge of acidity balances the bitterness and whets the appetite. In this recipe, the flavors of the original version are retained, but instead of using bile, the acerbic flavor is brought on by ampalaya and the sourness by the vinegar. The meatiness and umami of offal isn’t missed in this stew since the shiitake mushrooms makes up for the absence of meat in the dish. All together, the various vegetables create a range of textures from the soft eggplant to the substantial jackfruit. The different vegetables mimics the different textures of the innards used in the original version.

Cooking this stew is easy even for a beginner. Most of the handy work comes down to cutting all of your ingredients, but even that doesn’t require the precision of a chef. Once all the ingredients are prepared, it’s all a matter of sautéing and simmering the stew. Now there’s nothing in your way to finally trying the papaitan. 

Vegetarian Papaitan

Yield: 3 portions
Time: 2 hours

Ingredients: Papaitan Base

  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 1 pc onion, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced finely
  • 2 pcs ginger, thumb sized and julienned
  • 2 pcs finger chili, (siling pangsigangsliced
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ pc ampalaya, seeded and diced small
  • 3 pcs tomato, diced
  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • salt, to taste

Ingredients: Vegetables

  • 250g unripened jackfruit, sliced
  • 1 pc finger chili (siling pangsigang)
  • canola oil, as needed
  • 50g oyster mushrooms, sliced
  • 50g shiitake mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 pcs eggplant, cut into large cubes
  • salt, to taste


  1. Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium flame till hot.
  2. Add onion, garlic, and half the ginger. Sautée till onion is translucent.
  3. Add the sliced chili, turmeric, ampalaya, and tomatoes. Continue cooking till vegetables have given up their liquid and deglaze with vinegar. Allow vinegar to reduce by half and add water. Season to taste.
  4. Place langka in papaitan base and simmer till soft. (Around 45 minutes) Add the other half of the garlic and a whole sili pangsigang.
  5. Heat up another pan over high heat. Place some oil in it. When pan starts to smoke spread mushrooms on pan taking care not to overcrowd it. (Place only a single layer of mushrooms)
  6. Season with salt and cook shrooms till caramelized. Remove and set aside. If pan is small, cook in batches.
  7. Heat up the pan again and coat liberally with oil. Place a single layer of eggplant on pan, season with salt and cook till soft and caramelized. Place in same container as mushrooms.
  8. When about to serve. Add all the veggies in the papaitan.
  9. Garnish with chopped spring onions and serve with rice.
Bernice Escobar SEE AUTHOR Bernice Escobar

Bernice loves to get nerdy about food and making people hungry. In her free time, she attempts to play with her anti-social cat and fantasizes about all things sweet.

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