“Would you like to try the pork sisig?” asks the woman in the order window as I’m looking over the menu board of The Bamboo Cookhouse. “We’re offering free tastes.”
Having eaten in just a handful of Filipino restaurants in my life, my experience with the cuisine is limited. I’ve had several renditions of adobo, naturally, which is generally considered to be the national dish. I’ve sampled most of the other specialties the cuisine is best known for, and I’ve even had a chance to try a few more exotic dishes. But I don’t recall ever seeing a dish called sisig on a menu.
So, of course, I would like to try the pork sisig. And once I’ve tasted the juicy nuggets of citrus-marinated pork, punctuated with spices and a well-browned sear in places, you bet I want to order it. I get the combo, and I’m rewarded with an ample mound of sisig, spangled with diced onions, peppers and tomatoes; a scoop of white rice; and a veggie spring roll filled with a medley of vegetables, mushrooms and vermicelli noodles.
My wife orders pancit bihon, a popular Filipino dish featuring rice stick noodles stir-fried with chicken (tofu is also available) and vegetables. Compared to the sisig, we both find it to be a very subtly flavored dish, even with its garnishing shower of chopped scallions. Squeeze bottle of Sriracha, in a rack by the order window, to the rescue.
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She has also opted for the combo, but with lumpia, another Filipino classic, as her side. The Bamboo House rendition of these cigar-shaped spring rolls, their shatter-crisp shells filled with a savory hash of ground beef and minced vegetables is so tasty I don’t even need the sweet chile dipping sauce for the one I snag when she isn’t looking.
For dessert, we share an order of mango turon, which come two to an order (fortunately for me, as my wife wasn’t too pleased to discover the lumpia theft). Yet another variation on the spring roll theme, these deep-fried delights are filled with ripe mango slices and cream cheese, drizzled with caramel and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Turns out the generous woman in the window is chef Madz Igelman, who grew up in the Philippines and worked at resorts in Singapore and Florida before moving to Chicago. That’s where she met her husband and partner, Tim. The couple moved to the Triangle in 2013, and put The Bamboo Cookhouse on the road last summer.
Tim Igelman will proudly tell you that his wife makes practically everything from scratch. He’ll also point out that many of her presentations aren’t strictly authentic, but tweaked for local tastes. Sisig, for one, is traditionally made with the pig's cheek and other parts, but Madz Igelman exclusively uses pork shoulder. She has even been known to offer creative variations on the dish such as sisig nachos, sisig mac and cheese, and even a Windy City sisig dog.
It’s easy to understand why sisig has become something of a signature dish for the chef, though Tim Igelman notes that adobo wings are also a best-seller. The wings weren’t on the menu when I was there, and I’m looking forward to tracking the truck down again and trying them. I’d also like to try the lechon (deep-fried pork belly) that has recently been added to the lineup, and I wouldn’t say no to a banana turon.
But you can bet I’ll also be ordering the sisig, no matter what version is offered.
The Bamboo Cookhouse
Prices: combo plates (main dish plus choice of two lumpia, two cheese sticks or one spring roll), $10