A Hankering for Home–Arroz Caldo

We have had a spell of cold weather lately, which kinda sucks because it was already so warm! I always want a bit of home when I get the blues, so I made Arroz Caldo. It is basically the Filipino version of Congee, that much-beloved Chinese rice porrige. It is normally served during cold days, for breakfast, or when one is having a meh day.

It is quite easy to make, the only thing that you need to look out for is the kind of rice that you are using. Filipinos normally use a mixture of normal and sticky rice, but risotto rice or German Milchreis is also an acceptable variety.

First, finely mince three cloves of garlic and dice an onion finely. Chop about an inch’s length of ginger into matchsticks. In a large, deep casserole, sauté the onion and garlic in about four tablespoons of oil, then add half of the ginger and about three to four pieces of chicken in the pot and slightly brown them. When the chicken pieces are slightly brown, throw in a small amount of water (about fourth of a cup) into the pot and let the juices seep out of the chicken (this is a technique I picked up from Burnt Lumpia), about 10 minutes. Season the chicken with salt or fish sauce and soy sauce for some color and pepper, then wait another five minutes to let all the juices seep out because of the salt. Then I add enough water to fully submerge the chicken, and wait until the water comes to a boil. 

When the water starts boiling, add a cup or two of rice and the rest of the ginger and lower the heat. Cover the pot. Stir occasionally to check if the rice is done, about 30-40 minutes. Boil a little longer if it is too watery, or conversely, add more water if the porridge is too thick. Season with salt or fish sauce and pepper, and garnish with chopped chives, safflower, and a sliced hard-boiled egg. Sprinkle the porridge with a touch of calamansi (lemons and limes are acceptable substitutes) and more fish sauce, and you have the Filipino comfort food in a bowl!

And there are many different variations to this basic recipe. If you take out the chicken pieces from the stock before adding the rice, and omit the soy sauce and fish sauce, you are making lugaw, which is what we feed babies, the elderly, and the sick. Use pig or cow intestines instead of chicken, it’s called tripa, because of well…tripe. The local version of Blutwurst can also be used as a garnishing.

As for me, I prefer eating one-day old re-heated Arroz Caldo.


Pinoy-style Empanadas with Puff Pastry Shells

I love empanadas! The Spanish version of the sandwich is a shared culinary legacy among all Hispanic countries, and this quick recipe is even made easier because ready-made puff pastry (Blätterteig)  is available in German supermarkets. No more making my own dough! I would, however, not recommend re-rolling to re-use the rest of the pastry because then they puff up too much.

I was under pressure to make these empanadas and clocked myself making them in 1 hour and 30 minutes total, from start to finish including waiting time. It also helped that cubed chicken bits are available pre-packaged in supermarkets here.

I normally use 4 rolls of puff pastry from the supermarket. 3 garlic cloves and 1 small onion, finely chopped, 1 (about 420 g) pound cubed (maybe 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch?) chicken breast,100 g frozen green peas, 100 g raisins (could be less, or optional), 1 small potato and 1 small carrot, diced

Pre-heat oven to 200° C and bring out the green peas to defrost. Sauté the garlic and onions in about 2 tablespoons of oil, then add the chicken, and fry until no longer pink. Add two to three dashes of salt to bring out the juices from the chicken. Add the potatoes and carrots, letting them absorb the liquid from the chicken. Stir fry for about five minutes, add the green peas and then the raisins, and season with salt and pepper. The raisins should absorb the rest of the liquid from the chicken, and maybe the remaining ice/water from the peas. When the potatoes and peas are done, put the mix in a collander and let the excess liquid drip off. Wait for the filling to cool! Puff pastry is mostly butter, and the heat could weaken the dough.

empanadasMeanwhile, I got to work on the shells. I used a small bowl about 7 inches across to cut out circles into the unfurled puff pastry. A Tablespoon of the filling in the middle, fold the dough in half, then crimp and seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Pierce the shell three times, and bake for about fifteen to twenty minutes, until golden. The filling is enough to make 35 empanadas, or you can only buy two puff pastry rolls, set aside half of the filling, then add tomato sauce and a bay leaf to make Philippine-style chicken menudo from the leftovers. I am getting better at this waste not thing.

Puto Bungbong

Puto Bumbong is one of the things I miss the most about the Philippines. I guess it also has something to do with the fact that I miss Filipino Christmastime, and Puto Bumbong is the thing that reminds me the most of it. It is made of coconut milk, rice flour, and purple yam, called Ube in the Philippines, and steamed in the hollow of a bamboo reed (hence the name Bumbong, the word for bamboo reed.)

So imagine my delight when my friend prepared some puto bumbong for me, with enough left over to take home! She made it in her rice cooker, which has left me contemplating whether I should get one. As I said, I must be the only Filipino on the planet who is rice cooker-less.

East and Southeast Asian desserts, in general, are an acquired taste for Europeans because many are made of rice. The gooey, chewy texture is very weird for them. I completely understand! I guess it is one of those things you have to grow up with to love. My friend’s husband gave me the side-eye as I enjoyed my Puto Bumbong with grated coconut and muscovado sugar.

With my puto bumbong craving satisfied for the meantime, I think I’ll make more of these in the future!


Tokwa and Togue

Photo by: K. Simbulan

Sorry for the long silence, I’ve been very busy juggling a couple of projects. This weekend is all about me and my bed, uh-huh.

I had to cook a meal for 200 people! It had to be easy to make, cheap, vegetarian, and Filipino! It’s surprising that Filipinos would spice up any vegetarian dish with meat, it was difficult to think of something where all ingredients are found in Germany. I ended up with making Togue and Tokwa, or bean sprouts and tofu, a very easy vegan stir-fry.

To make enough for four to five people, you’d need a block of tofu and about 150 g bean sprouts. One can use more to strech the dish to feed more people.

First take the tofu block out of water, strain, and blot with a towel until the tofu is dry-ish.

Take a large clove of garlic (or more if desired), smush it up with a pestle or the back of a knife, and chop it up. Cut up the tofu in 1 inch blocks. Warm up three tablespoons of oil in a pan with higher walls. Sauté  the garlic in the oil and remove when brown. Fry the tofu blocks to brown, for five minutes, stirring every so often. Add the sprouts, then add four tablespoons of soy sauce. Add the garlic, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Other veggie strips like carrots and bell peppers can also be added.Eat with steamed rice.

Bangon Pilipinas!

Filipino students from the Erfurt Willy Brandt School of Public Policy will hold an Information evening on Tuesday, the 19th of November at Engelsburg. A fundraiser will take place on the 26th of November at the Offene Arbeit, Alllerheiligenstraße 9.Details soon.

It Kinda Feels Wrong…


I was supposed to write about something else today, but it just feels so wrong after knowing what happened in Leyte, my grandmother’s home province. She meant a lot to me and to know that her home town is in shambles makes me feel quite sad. I’m trying to help any way I can by donating and hopefully, we’ll get a fundraiser going in Germany too next month.

Please donate to the Philippine Red Cross using the key words “Supertyphoon Yolanda.” After the 7.2 earthquake in Bohol last month, this is the last thing the Visayas needs. If you already have donated, thank you!

Mainstream Media is Hurting My Kid’s Language Immersion

As you all know, I am trying to raise a tri-lingual kid. Raised bilingual myself, I place a premium on language learning, just like my grandfather had with me. We have got English down pat. Tagalog is an area we need to work on. His German is fluent. He still makes mistakes, but it won’t be long before he starts correcting my German.

Now my kid loves nothing more than Cars. Like a typical kid, he seriously has fallen for the merchandising Disney trap that I am trying to keep at bay.

So he was watching his Cars 2 DVD a month ago when he requested that we watch it in German. Now I insist that we watch things in their original language, since German is the community language and I have a short time frame to pump the two other languages into him.

When I asked him why, his answer was so clear and mature that it surprised me. “Because only the bad guy speaks German.”

Which is completely understandable. Hollywood still has a tendency to assign a non-American accent to peripheral players and villains. You would never see a gun-toting secessionist from Alabama as a movie bad guy. Now if the only character that my son can relate to is evil, of course he’d rather see the movie without this prejudicial lens.

And if the only Tagalog movies gaining European attention are poverty-core galore, how would that affect my kid’s identity as a Filipino? Is he to think that all Filipinos are violent slum-dwellers? Which is what most Europeans think about us anyway?   It’s not a big leap of logic that he may one day completely reject his Filipino side, as I see many Germany-based mestizo kids do.

If American/Western based mass media is to be believed, my son is a nazi slum-dweller with a mail-order bride for a mom who can’t speak fluent German. That ultimately hurts us all, and hopefully, We will get to experience a more inclusive media landscape, where an accent is not considered the proverbial black cowboy hat.

For more information on raising a multi-lingual child, go to multilingualliving.com.

Manila Chinatown Walks

I just love Chinatowns. I love the crowd, the vibe, and especially the food. Manila Chinatown is a part of my childhood, as my grandparents regularly took me here as a child. My gradfather lived in the area until his 20s, and knew the backalleys of Chinatown very well.

mandyIvan Man Dy’s Old Manila Walks, especially his Chinese New Year tours, are something I would definitely recommend to Filipinos and people who want to learn more about Filipinos. And eating really great food along the way. And burning it all of while walking in the humid Manila air. I for one am glad that Chinese New Year is now more widely celebrated in the Phlippines outside of the Philippine-Chinese community.

I’ve spoken abot the New Po Heng Lumpia House in an old entry, but we visited a lot of more established restaurants and hole-in-the-walls than I indicated. I learned a lot about Chinese New Year’s traditions, ate really good bola-bola soup at the Cafe Mezzanine, which sponsors the district’s firefighting brigade. Then off to another hole-in-the-wall to eat spring dimsum. Then a variation of dough fried in oil, which he is holding up for everyone to see, and a little stop at a lumpia house.

While eating my bola-bola soup, I got into conversation with a British expat couple who had been living in Manila for the past three years. With them was the husband’s wheelchair-dependent mother. When I asked how were they able to keep her mobile, they beamed about the helpfulness of Filipinos, who always parted like the red sea in Chinatown’s busy streets to make way for her, even carrying her up and down flights of stairs if need be. In fact it’s her second tour. Way to go Pinoy hospitality!

I’m not sure if all of his tours are like this, but at the end of his New Year tour he had a lot of giveaways, and reminded me of an Oprah’s Wildest Dreams episode. With or without the gifts, the tour was a lot of fun and yummy to boot!


Cooking with Liver

Liver. As an ingredient, I should be very familiar with it. After all, who hasn’t eaten pâté?Reno spread? German cooking? Filipino cooking. Liver, liver, liver, they have that in common.

There is a saying that disgust is cultural. If a person grew up eating rotting dried fish, he’s gonna automatically start salivating at the mere sight of it. But liver is one of those things I never really warmed up to.

As a kid, I ate everything. Balut, Betamax, Chicken feet…you name it. But as I reached the age of five I began to realize what these things really are. A duck’s egg a day before hatching. Coagulated blood cake. Liver.

menudoGrowing up, I avoided eating liver. But then I was invited to a potluck Filipino party, I had promised to cook Menudo. No, not the ’80s boy band. It’s a Philippine stew, with liver and pork belly cubes (I prefer minced pork, however). I normally omit the liver when I cook Menudo for home, but an authentic dish can’t really be  without it. So for the first time in my life, I am handling liver as an ingredient.

Handling liver felt so alien. It was slick, slippery, and lightweight. It was billowy to the touch, but surprisingly tough to cut. I needed a seriously sharp knife, it was that dense. My hands smelled like liver for hours.

Was it yucky? In the beginning, yes, but I got used to it. Would I start eating liver again? In bits and pieces, why not? As a daily dish, not really.


It’s been a humid,  wet summer, warm rain, just like in the Philippines.

Since the weather wants to play Filipino, I indulged in my favorite rainy weather comfort food: Filipino chicken soup, aka Tinola!

There are as many versions of Tinola as there are Filipinos on this planet, so don’t bother looking for the “one true Tinola.” However, what we can agree on about Tinola is that it always consists of chicken parts, water, ginger, and fish sauce. I based the technique on Burnt Lumpia’s Tinola, but basically this is my recipe for Tinola. The great thing about it is that you can use whatever green veggie you have handy, so if you have spinach, go for it!

For my version of Tinola, I use:

500 g of assorted chicken parts, 4 Tbsp. crushed or finely diced ginger, 1 clove of garlic, crushed, 1 small green papaya or chayote (known in Tagalog as sayote, available in Asian food stores), peeled and sliced lengthwise. You can use these assortment of greens: 1 cup of chili leaves, or a bunch of tatsoi, or malunggay (moringa oleifera) leaves. Two cups of water, salt, pepper, and a very liberal application of fish sauce depending on your taste is needed.

In a deep pot, heat about five tablespoons of cooking oil, and sauté the ginger and garlic until fragrant, then add the chicken to lightly sear them all around. Salt the chicken while sautéing. Add a splash of water and quickly cover the pot. When the pot stops steaming, add a cup of water bit by bit, and let the pot simmer for 20 minutes. Add the next cup of water bit by bit, then put in the papaya or chayote, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add some pepper and fish sauce, according to your liking, and then add your greens. Serve when the greens have just wilted.

This is traditionally eaten as a viand with a fresh plate of steamed rice and a small dish of fish sauce to season. Enjoy!