Visit any Filipino kitchen and you’ll find this holy trinity: patis (fish sauce), suka (vinegar) and – no, I’m not including toyo or soy sauce in this list as that it is really a culinary adoption from the Chinese – but the third most ubiquitous Filipino sauce or condiment, the bagoong. It’s a paste made from shrimp or sometimes fish, pungent and dry (or wet, depending on the province or region it comes from) and rather similar to the belachan of our asian neighbours.

Bagoong is the base, the flavor enhancer in many Pinoy dishes, without which kare-kare or pinakbet is just never the same, nor green mangoes as enjoyable, and my favorite pork binagoongan, well, a misnomer.

On my short trip to Manila for the holidays, I had to cook a couple of bagoong-based dishes – thanks to an oversupply of this salted, fermented paste in my fridge. I had just come back from the grocery with stuff – you know, cooking oils, rice, garlic, onions and tomatoes, as well as patis, suka, toyo and bagoong – to stock my pantry for the length of my stay, when I saw what probably were left-over Barrio Fiesta bagoongs from two visits past. Good thing, bagoongs don’t go bad (or do they?)

So I cooked Sitaw at Kalabasa with Bagoong and, for the first time, Pork Binagoongan.

There’s really no need to refer to a recipe to cook pork binagoongan. Just sauté some bagoong in garlic, onions and tomato, drizzle some lemon juice and, at the last few minutes of cooking, add the pre-boiled slices of pork belly. For my version, I first boiled, dried, then fried the pork before adding them to the sautéed bagoong – as I preferred my pork crunchy. Of course, I love things with a lot more zing, so I also threw in a couple of finger chillies to the mix. This I served with a side dish of steamed bok choy – a perfect complement of bland and salty, green and brown, good and bad.

My friend and food taster C. suggested, though, that I added more bagoong – for texture. So I took a mental note – to top my next dish with a bit more sautéed bagoong – for texture and, yes, flourish.

Ohhhh, the smell of it!