Preparing the Pinikpikan Chicken in Sagada
Preparing the Pinikpikan Chicken in Sagada

“Okay! Enough with the chicken!” I hear someone from my back say as the two boys continue to batter the poor live chicken in front of me. It’s not really an eye candy to see a chicken getting battered lightly to death nor music to hear the pounding and the moans just to get the best tasting chicken soup one could have. The people in Cordilleras call it the Pinikpikan Chicken, a chicken-stew done Igorot-style. For some who have tasted it like myself, the broth is really flavorful and is a far cry from the regular tinola (stew). But of course the process of preparing the chicken is not easy for everyone to see.

A live chicken is lightly battered with a stick
A live chicken is lightly battered with a stick

Pinikpikan actually comes from the work pikpik which means to “batter lightly”. Lightly is the appropriate term here as the battering should be done properly enough for the blood to coagulate under the skin but not to break the chicken’s brittle bones. The battering would usually start with the wings then through the body. One could see the skin turning to blue which means the blood has already clotted under. The final blow would usually be in the head to kill the chicken.

Removing the feathers after the chicken died
Removing the feathers after the chicken died

Feathers are then plucked out, the fire prepared where the chicken would be burned lightly. The first time I saw this in Sagada, they used a blow torch to burn the feathers and the skin of the chicken. I think this wood fire was a lot tamer. This is probably why the broth has that certain smokey flavor in it.

The chicken is placed on a fire
The chicken is placed on a fire

The group didn’t hang around to find out what happens in the kitchen. An etag (itag), a smoked pork meat, is usually part of the boiled soup where the chicken is thrown in. We had this on the table for the evening and the one they’ve done at the Rock Inn was very good. The broth was and chicken was really good. Though majority didn’t try it aside from the soup, but I can’t blame them after seeing how it was prepared.

Chicken will be removed on fire when it begins to turn brown to black
Chicken will be removed on fire when it begins to turn brown to black

Pinikpikan originally was not just a process for a dish, it was part of a tribal ritual in Cordilleras. The actual ritual takes longer and is carefully done with prayers and at the end, the elder would look into the bile – depending on its condition, it could show good or bad fortune and is vital for decision making. Nowadays, Pinikpikan Chicken is prepared for special occasions and gatherings.

Some of the charred feathers are removed but it's ready for the kitchen
Some of the charred feathers are removed but it's ready for the kitchen
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Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.

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