Papaitan: Offal & Bile Soup

Papaitan

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.

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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.

 

Grassy. Funky.

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.

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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.

Serves 4-6

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.

  • Fred October 25, 2011, 10:24 am

    mmm. makeshift pares stalls in makati sell this too. tasty tasty stuff.

    Reply
  • marguerite October 25, 2011, 12:26 pm

    Wow!! I don’t think I’m brave enough to try this!!!

    Reply
  • Tracey@Tangled Noodle October 25, 2011, 6:57 pm

    It’s not my favorite – a bit too gamey – but my husband loves the combination of bitterness and spiciness from the macerated chilis. As for cooking it – I can make a decent dinuguan but haven’t managed to graduate to papaitan. I’ll just have to buck up and do it!

    Reply
  • Mike October 25, 2011, 10:04 pm

    My Dad taught me a “safe” version using calamansi skins, we saved the juice for toyomansi and dumped the skins into the simmering papaitan. It works pretty well but not on the same level as bile.

    Reply
  • skip to malou October 26, 2011, 6:10 pm

    I love papaitan, I think I was destined to love it haha. I come from the north where Papaitan is a staple during fiestas.
    I can’t believe they sell frozen bile here. I’ve never seen it before in Socal, now that I’m in STL, I don’t think they well it over here. But I will check.
    Your bowl of papaitan looks exactly how i recall the last bowl of papaitan I’ve eaten in years.
    Malou

    Reply
  • Joy October 26, 2011, 6:33 pm

    My mom makes something similar. Great recipe.

    Reply
  • JMom @ Cooked from the Heart October 28, 2011, 1:23 pm

    I was brought up on this stuff, so I can’t help but love it! But since I am the only one in my house who will touch this stuff, I have to wait until I’m around my family to have some, then I usually bring some with me to freeze and enjoy later.
    Your pinapaitan looks delicious! Nevermind the gross descriptions. lol!

    Reply
  • torviewtoronto October 30, 2011, 1:34 pm

    yummy this looks fabulous

    Reply
  • Susan October 30, 2011, 7:11 pm

    I too grew up eating this…until I got old and realized what I was eating. I know my mom once used ampalaya leaves to bitterize the dish but I know it’s not the same. I can’t get myself to eat this anymore : ) I did love it though.

    Reply
  • BurntLumpia October 31, 2011, 9:25 am

    Thanks fred, tasty indeed.
    Just close your eyes and give it a try Marguerite! It’s better than you think:)
    Buck up, Tracey! If you can eat blood, bile isn’t too far off.
    I’ve never heard of that “safe” version, Mike. But I like the idea of using calamansi skins!
    Hi Malou! Yes, they’ve got frozen bile at 99 ranch and smaller Pinoy markets as well. Not hard to find at all here.
    Thanks Joy.
    Thanks JMom. I’m the only one who eats it too, but that only means more for me!
    Thanks torview.
    Hi Susan. If you ate it once, you can eat it again;)

    Reply
  • Pat November 1, 2011, 12:54 pm

    I love my mom’s tripe soup and even my hubby is a convert. But err…I don’t know about bile, that’s a little much. Having said that, I think I’m going to have to look for papait seasoning at the store just because.

    Reply
  • Row November 2, 2011, 4:35 pm

    I remember having this as a kid… it makes you strong. ๐Ÿ˜›

    Reply
  • iya November 3, 2011, 12:04 am

    My dad’s from Binmaley, Pngasinan and when I was young, whenever we went there for fiestas, papaitan was always the star. GOAT PAPAITAN. I never liked it because my uncles would scare me that it has goat poopoo in it. Hehe.
    It was only last summer when I ate papaitan, in some roadside eatery in Baler, Aurora. In fairness, masarap pala. rice + papaitan + bulanglang SARAP! =)

    Reply
  • nuvali restaurants November 3, 2011, 6:57 pm

    That looks good, I love spicy goat papaitan. In bulacan they cook it with murang dahon ng sampalok and that was my favorite.
    Alvin

    Reply
  • BurntLumpia November 5, 2011, 2:12 pm

    Hey Pat! Do take a look for bile at the Asian grocer, though I don’t expect you to take any home:)
    I believe it Row! I feel like I could lift a car after eating papaitan!
    Hi iya. Probably not goat poo, but bile is close:)
    Thanks Alvin, sounds like a cross with sinigang and papaitan.

    Reply
  • She December 21, 2011, 7:11 am

    Being Ilocano, I grew up with people who love papaitan. I have never tasted it (although you convinced me that I should) but whenever I see my Dad and Mama eat it, I can see they love it to bits (no pun intended) ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Reply
  • neckromancer December 23, 2011, 8:18 pm

    I got several years worth of stroke eating papaitan in roadside canteens in college. We used to eat outside the school gates because the concessionaire prices were expensive. I remember dipping a metal spoon in one bowl in December, only to find the white grease congealed.
    Here in the Philippines, beef bile is sold piecemeal in small plastic bags (those things used to make ice candy). I remember my father and his cohorts prepare meals which started with goat murder. :)

    Reply
  • Charles April 10, 2012, 8:58 pm

    One of the must try filipino food food is papapaitan… And dinuguan also.

    Reply
  • cooking recipe July 20, 2012, 10:54 pm

    Wasp dudes! Awesome stuff keep it up.

    Reply
  • cooking recipe July 26, 2012, 11:37 pm

    Interesting information I havenโ€™t been through such information in a long time.

    Reply
  • Rosie August 24, 2012, 5:10 pm

    I”m going to try your recipe soon and I’ll let you know how it turns out. Many thanks for posting the recipe.

    Reply
  • ermitarojo August 30, 2012, 12:54 am

    we put in tanglad (lemongrass) to cut through the meaty aroma of the innards. Also acts as a souring agent.

    Reply

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