One thing that will never be absent in a Filipino kitchen is soy sauce. It is a key ingredient in adobo – the most stereotypically Pinoy dish, if there ever was one. It is the base for most stir fry dishes. And it is also a popular choice for sawsawan, or dipping sauce. We love our dipping sauce for anything fried, grilled, boiled, broiled, barbecued, roasted. If it doesn’t already come swimming in sauce, we dunk it in a sauce of our choice – ketchup, vinegar+chili, soy sauce+calamansi (a kind of citrus fruit), fish sauce+garlic, and my personal favorite soy sauce+onions+tomatoes, perfect for grilled fish and meat. When we were growing up and we didn’t like whatever was on the table, we’d put a little bit of oil and soy sauce on our rice and then eat that instead. All of this to say that soy sauce practically runs through my veins.
And so when I walked into a Nepali kitchen and didn’t see any, the first thought that came to my mind was, how do you cook without it? Which isn’t such a big deal, really. I managed to get through decades of my life without ever cooking with turmeric and masala, staples in a Nepali kitchen. It’s just a matter of what you’re used to. But I told myself that as soon as I manage my own kitchen, I will buy soy sauce.
But surprise surprise, guess who asked for it first. The husband who did not grow up consuming it. All of a sudden he asks for it all the time, and puts it on most things, including his rice. And even when we’re eating something that already has soy sauce in it, he asks if he can add some more on his plate. It’s equal parts fascinating and alarming. It’s fascinating to see a person you’re so close to and discover something new about them. And it’s alarming to watch them consume so much sodium!
One time I was fretting about a dish that didn’t turn out quite as I expected. And he assured me that it’s good. Because I made it with love (cheesy!) AND because it has soy sauce in it (yaiks!). How did I ever get so lucky, being paired up for life with someone whose idea of a good meal only has two ingredients in it – love and soy sauce. I pray to God in heaven that we’ll never run out of that first one. And as for that second one, I’ll stock up on that one too.
What is your favorite/secret ingredient?