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All About Sawsawan, or Filipino Dipping Sauces

How can you add flavor to your favorite Filipino dishes? How about adding some sawsawan? This word translates to Filipino dipping sauce and encompasses a variety of sauces in the Philippines. Many types of sawsawan are available in the Philippines, ranging from tangy, vinegar-based sauces to sweet and sour condiments. Below, you'll find a Filipino basic condiments list that you can refer to whenever you need a flavor boost.

Chicken Inasal with Atchara

Sawsawan, or Filipino Dipping Sauces 

Sawsawan is not one particular dipping sauce in the Philippines. Instead, it's a culmination of dipping sauces. You can't enjoy Filipino cuisine without an array of sawsawan. By including Filipino dipping sauce options with each meal, diners can customize the flavor to their palate. Many of these sauces include condiments such as soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar, and an array of spices. 

These dipping sauces are not made beforehand. Instead, they’re typically prepared at the table. The sauces offered vary depending on which dishes are served at the table.  

Shrimp paste.

Buro Sauce

Buro is one of the top Philippine condiments for adding flavor to vegetables or fried foods. Various types are available using different seafood, like monkfish in combination with fermented rice. Depending on the type of rice used to make this sauce, the color can vary from white to pink. This condiment adds a salty, bold seafood flavor to dishes. 

Atchara

Atchara is one of the tastiest Filipino condiments made with pickled, unripe papaya. This condiment is usually made with a quick pickling process, so the papaya remains crunchy when you take a bite. Atchara, also known as atsara, is a flavorful condiment with a delicious tanginess. Most often, atchara is served alongside fried or grilled food items. 

Banana Ketchup

Banana ketchup is a unique Filipino condiment with a flavor similar to American ketchup. This Filipino ketchup was inspired by tomato ketchup, hence the similar flavor and color (achieved by food dye). However, when tomato ketchup was first brought to the Philippines, tomatoes were challenging to come by. Instead, bananas were used to provide a sweet flavor to the sauce. 

When using this condiment, you'll find it offers a sweet and sour taste. It's a great sauce for everything from hot dogs to pizza. 

Suka (Vinegar)  

If you prefer a sour, tangy, sweet, and spicy sawsawan, you’ll enjoy suka. This Filipino dipping sauce typically includes vinegar, garlic, onion, and chili. It’s a versatile sauce that you can use with an array of Filipino dishes, including crispy pata (crispy pork leg) and lechon kawali (a fried pork belly dish). You can also use a spiced coconut vinegar for a similar flavor if you can’t find suka in stores.

Anchovy Sauce/Shrimp Paste (Bagoong)

Bagoong,also known as shrimp paste or anchovy sauce, is originally from North Lukon. This sauce began as a combination of brine and fish. Now, you'll find various versions available, from sweet to sauteed. 

Depending on the variety you eat, you’ll find the flavor varying from salty to sweet and salty or spicy and salty. Shrimp paste is often served with kare-kare, a delicious ox tail stew. 

Lechon Sauce (Sarsa) 

Lechon sauce is made to pair with lechon, a roasted pig or chicken dish. This option is one of the more unique Filipino sauces as it is usually includes liver and breadcrumbs. It also typically contains vinegar, sugar, and various seasonings. It adds a deliciously sweet, sour, tangy taste to lechon. 

Toyomansi

Toyo translates to soy sauce in Filipino, so this condiment combines soy sauce and calamansi (a type of lime). This sawsawan is tangy, sour, and umami-rich. You’ll often see toyomansi as a marinade for chicken, pork, fish, and other protein. 

Filipino Fish Sauce (Patis) 

Fish sauce, also known as patis in the Philippines, is a sauce featuring a strong fish aroma and flavor. This flavor comes from its main ingredient, fermented salted fish. Since the flavor is strong, many people will combine Filipino patis with vinegar or citrus juice to help balance out the flavors. It’s common to see Filipino fish sauce served with various soups and stews.

Soy Sauce (Toyo)

You’ll recognize most of the ingredients in toyo, aka Filipino soy sauce, as they're the same as Japanese soy sauce. Beyond wheat and soybeans, toyo also includes salt and caramel color. These additional ingredients produce a saltier and thinner soy sauce than the Japanese version. 

This sawsawan is typically served alongside fish and grilled meat to help add a salty, umami flavor. 

Where to Buy Filipino Dipping Sauces?

If you don’t have a Filipino marketplace nearby, don’t fret! You can find sawsawan at online Asian grocery stores like Bokksu Maarket. At Bokksu Market, you'll find all the Filipino dipping sauces you could want and more! You'll also find Japanese, Korean, and other Asian sauces available for purchase.

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