Filipinos are more than familiar with the power the humble sawsawan can offer: the way fish sauce adds an umami depth to soups and stocks, the way piquant vinegars makes fried foods sing. One brand aims to bring this to the world—to “every adventurous gourmand worldwide.”
Named after the core Filipino ingredient quartet of bawang (garlic), sibuyas (onion), kamatis (tomato), and sili (chili)—the first syllables of which form the moniker “Basimatsi“—this homegrown brand from Kitchen Witchery offers a line of sauces that combine local ingredients, such as ginger, chilies, and regional variants of vinegars, to create unique blends. “All variants share the same blend of the three most common vinegars,” shares partner Winfred Tan. “[This] exemplifies the unity and commonality among [Filipinos]. Then the different blends [represent] their unique characteristics . . . comparable to different regional ethnicities. There is no direct correlation between the flavors and the [actual] regional identities, [instead] a close analogy of the Ilocanos, Kapampangans, Tagalogs, Bicolanos and Bisaya [all] being Filipino but [each] with their own [unique] beauty of identity.”
With seven variants under the line, there is a sauce for every situation. Most fundamental of the lineup is Suka Liso, a blend of sugar cane, coconut, and palm vinegars, resulting in a unique (and surprisingly balanced) condiment with a bright tang smoothed out with a mellow sweetness. Suka Timplado takes Liso up a notch with the addition of spices, making it a great way to balance out all things crisp and fatty. Molasses gives Suka Minatamis a sweeter, rounder edge that goes great with garlicky longganisa; and ginger adds its characteristic zing in the Suka Sinalabat. Got anything grilled or barbecued? Give it a few lashings of the Suka Pinausukan, whose smokiness heightens the flavor of the charred bits we love. Fried fish or dimsum? Try the soy sauce and calamansi-laced Suka Toyomansi. And for a truly one-of-a-kind punch, don’t miss the Labuyo Cerveza—a relatively thicker blend made with fermented birds-eye chili (the making process of which Tan likens to beer-making). It tingles the tongue with an immediate release of heat that dies down in a flash, leaving behind an earthiness that lingers; it is a revelation on crispy fried eggs.
“The creation of vinegar may seem simple. But the infusion of flavors is complex,” Tan explains, likening it to wine (but “not as complicated,” he clarifies). The resulting characteristics depend on many factors: the method of storage, type of container, age, temperature, and contaminants. “The assertive taste depends on the chosen base, [while] the delivery of the notes, aroma and tanginess is affected by the very origin and derivation of the material.” he continues. “Finally, the fermentation process of the different provinces greatly influences the outcome of the savory and exquisite flavor of the vinegar. There is no one way of fermenting vinegar in the Philippines, thus making it unique in our beloved archipelagic state.” As the Basimatsi tagline goes: “taste the Philippines in a bottle.”