Recently, Anthony Bourdain was quoted by multiple publications predicting that sisig, a Filipino dish made of chopped pig’s head, is set to “win the hearts and minds of the world.”
What this means to you will depend on what circles you travel in. Regardless of those circles, regardless of your taste or distaste for food personalities, regardless of even your feelings about noshing on cheeks, jaws, and funky bits of animals — you should try Brian Webb’s sisig.
Webb once operated the truck Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food. These days, he works a modest room and stove as general manager of Hot Noodles Cold Sake in North Scottsdale. The ramen spot, owned by Josh Hebert, ladles a mean bowl of Japanese noodles. On Saturdays, if you’re hungry and game, Webb will anoint that ramen with a glorious faceful of sisig.
Sisig, Webb is keen to explain, started in the Philippines in the 1970s. Americans stationed at Clark Air Base in Angeles City had a taste for pigs. That taste stopped at the shoulder. Locals gladly took the superfluous heads and, out of hunger and resourcefulness, invented sisig.
Sisig is the boiled, grilled, and chopped head of a pig. “It’s an entire pig face,” Webb says, “ear, jaw, snout, cheek, face, and tongue.”
If that sounds like something out of Halloween or Hannibal, read on. Eating face is no weirder than eating loin, belly, or butt. But if you can’t reason yourself into enjoying an offal-centric snack like sisig, try letting flavor do the reasoning for you.
Webb started cooking Filipino food after meeting the Filipino girl who is now his wife. He learned about sisig when in the Philippines for a wedding almost a decade ago, where he saw the stuff everywhere from atop pizza to shrouded in steamed buns in 7-11. Sisig typically comes over rice. At Hot Noodles Cold Sake, Webb decided to alter the customary base. He serves sisig atop bowls of ramen.
Before proceeding, we must pause to make an important note. Webb’s Japanese-Filipino hybrid is an ambitious violation of ramen strictures, one that may leave crusty traditionalists aghast.
Forget those jokers. Flavor reigns. And the flavor of Webb’s sisig is surreal.
It tastes like the essence of robust pork flavor distilled to make that flavor deeper and better. Taking a bite — some morsels are crispy, some gelatinous — is like getting smacked in the mouth with a shovel. The nicely funky pork flavor arrests you. That the sisig floats in ramen made from pork broth wild, baroque, and heady on its own gives the chopped pig’s face an even piggier flavor. Webb’s sisig is what every bacon strip wishes it could be.
Webb starts with pig heads from The Meat Shop, heads cut from Arizona hogs often killed the day before. He boils the heads in coconut vinegar and soy sauce, then chills them and fires up a charcoal grill. As heads crisp on the hot grates, they snap and crackle “like popcorn.” Webb then dices and sautés the face meat with ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and calamansi, a tiny green citrus that, because it's unavailable here in the Valley, Webb grows himself.
Finally, after a jolt of ghost pepper sauce made specially for Hot Noodles Cold Sake, the sisig is transferred to molten cast iron, where morsels sizzle and smoke under a newly added raw egg, which Webb rapidly forks as the yellow and white cook, sponging up the pork flavor.
At last, our pig’s face is now sisig.
The egg on top is traditional, Webb notes. He proudly admits that his sisig-ramen hybrid is not. (The ramen recipe is the one Hebert used at Posh, the recently closed Scottsdale restaurant where he first served ramen.)
Is a Filipino dish of chopped pig’s head poised to “win the hearts and minds of the world”? In light of the litany of horrifying tribulations the world faces in 2017, this seems a tall statement. Maybe sisig will become a shutter-clicking, lip-smacking trend. Maybe it won’t. The hearts and minds of the world are vast and complicated, and we’re just talking about a pork dish of modest origins.
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In any case, there’s sisig to be eaten at Hot Noodles Cold Sake, pig’s face good enough to convert you to the gospel of offal, some truly wild stuff.
Brian Webb squeezing calamansi over sisig.