I know what you're thinking.
WTF? Offal and bile soup?!!!
Yes, that is perhaps the most unappetizing description of a soup ever known to man. I mean, it's got "awful bile" in the title. But I didn't know how else to describe the Filipino soup known as Papaitan (papa-ee-tahn) because, well, it's nothing more than a hot steaming bowl of animal innards seasoned with green digestive juices. Sheesh, I'm on a roll. I should write menu descriptions for a living.
Anyhizzle, don't let the individual parts of this dish dissuade you from discovering the whole of something truly delicious. And yes, it can be delicious if bitter is your bag, baby.
Hailing from the Ilocos region of the Northern Philippines (Ilocos son, what?!!), Papaitan is usually comprised of the organ meats found within a goat such as its stomach and intestines, as well as its bitter bile. However, it can be made with beef offal as well.
With such a mish-mash of animal parts and its green hue, Papaitan is sort of the Frankenstein's Monster of Filipino cuisine (but in a good way). And I guess that makes Dinuguan the Vampire, and Sisig with brains the Zombie espesyal of Filipino food (much like Zombies, Sisig is so hot right now). But I digress.
I can't say I've had goat Papaitan, but I am quite familiar with the bovine variety as it makes an occassional appearance at my Grandmother's from time to time. That version, usually made by one of my aunties, features onions, garlic, ginger, mild chili peppers, beef meat, as well as tripe, intestines, and the heart too, methinks. While that concoction on its own can bring more than enough flavor to the party, the addition of beef bile lends that ever-so Ilocano bitter flavor profile.
And that brings me to the bile. Biologically speaking, bile is a greenish fluid that is secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder to aid in digestion. Culinarily speaking, it's bitter as hell. A spoonful is a nuclear bomb of bitterness. It's kinda like if a Double IPA were brewed from a zillion bittermelons and a touch of battery acid. So yeah. That's what bile tastes like.
Us crazy Ilocanos, we'll eat anything. But we aren't the only ones who enjoy the bracing bitterness of bile. Thais also enjoy beef bile in their Koi Soi--an Isaan dish of raw beef and bile.
But what's with the Filipino (or more specifically, Ilocano) love of bitter flavors? In her book Tikim, Doreen Fernandez wrote, "Ilocanos know that after the mildly bitter comes the pleasure of an after-sweetness, and that the word 'bittersweet' is a reality, and not a figure of speech."
And I can attest that there is definitely a sweetness that follows most bitter flavors. Admittedly though, having been raised on things like Pinakbet, I am quite biased. Much like a chiliheads' love of hot and spicy foods, I've built a tolerance and appreciation for all things bitter. And it's this bitter note that adds to the richness and complexity of so many Southeast Asian cuisines.