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.
The Green Bile
Beef bile can be found in the freezer section at your friendly neighborhood Asian or Filipino market. The frozen bile I came across was labeled as "Papait Seasoning". And to provide clarity for the unknowing, printed in smaller letters was a Soylent Green-like parenthetical of "Beef Bile" (Papait Seasoning is Beef Bile! It's Beeeeef Biiiiiiiile!).
I have no idea how raw bile is processed or if its pasteurized or if it harbors any sort of cooties. So after letting it thaw in my fridge for a few days, I proceeded to handle it like hazardous waste--carefully and at arms length--until it boiled in the soup that is.
But before cooking with the bile, I did take a whiff of the stuff after it had thawed. It smelled of funky lawnmower clippings, which made sense considering its the digestive juice from a cow. I was very tempted to taste the raw bile, but considering the stuff was previously frozen and I had no idea how it was processed, I decided to wait until after I cooked it in the soup.
Speaking of which, beef bile processors should really re-evaluate their beef bile packaging. Considering I ended up needing only 1 tablespoon of beef bile, and I bought a 7-ounce tub of the stuff, what am I supposed to do with the other 6+ ounces of beef bile? Beef bile packaging be inefficient.
Anyways, to create my monster of a Papaitan I used beef chuck and tripe--for the life of me I couldn't find any beef intestines--not even at my Filipino market. Other papaitan fodder included onions, ginger, garlic, and a touch of fish sauce. And since I couldn't find any mild chili peppers like siling haba, I opted for the more fiery thai-birds (siling labuyo).
After simmering everything in a big pot for a few hours (to tenderize the tripe), I tasted the soup before adding any bile to check for seasoning. I must say, without the bile, the soup was quite tasty on its own. I then added only 1 tablespoon of the bile to the soup, and tasted it again. One tablespoon was more than enough to make this giant pot of soup bitter to my liking. Any more I think would have been overkill. Beef bile be potent.
I love it when you call me Big Papaitan
While it's definitely an acquired taste, Papaitan can bring about a new world of flavors and textures to those brave enough to try it.
Spicy and fragrant from the ginger and chilies. Meaty and chewy from the meat and tripe. Umami and saltiness from the fish sauce. And bitterness from the bile. And to top it all off, a squeeze of lemon also works wonders to brighten and balance the dish. This soup, really and truly, has it all.
Papaitan: Beef, Tripe, and Bile soup.
1.5 lbs. beef honeycomb tripe
2 tablespoons canola oil
1.5 lbs beef stew meat, like chuck, cut into small cubes
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and julienned
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-2 thai bird chilies, split lengthwise
2 bay leaves
Water to cover
1 tablespoon beef bile
Lemons for squeezing
Slice the tripe into small, thin strips about 1-inch in length by 1/2-inch in width. Place the tripe in a medium pot and cover with cold water. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce heat to low, then simmer for 10 minutes. Drain the tripe and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large pot over high heat. Add the beef to the pot and brown on all sides--you may have to do this in batches. Transfer the browned beef to a platter.
Add the onions to the pot and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Add the tripe to the pot and return the meat to the pot as well. Add the fish sauce and black pepper and stir everything to combine. Add the chili peppers, bay leaves, and enough water to cover everything by an inch. Bring everything to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 2-3 hours until the tripe is tender.
Taste the soup for seasoning, and add additional fish sauce or black pepper if needed. Add the tablespoon of beef bile and stir to combine. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes more. Serve immediately with lemon wedges on the side.