Arroz By Any Other Name

Lp22_2

When spending Christmas at my parents' house, we adhere to quite a few traditions:

  • My brothers and I challenge each other's manhood via video games.  This past year it was Guitar Hero.  I'll admit that my brothers are better than me at virtually rocking.  But I rock literally. So there.
  • My dad challenges everyone's religioushood (I just made that word up) by not attending Midnight Mass. While my mother, my brothers, my wife and I attend church late Christmas Eve, my father stays home and practices his finger jabs and throat punches on a wooden dummy in the garage.  He then practices his striking with the business end of his belt, jangling the metal buckle like a jingle bell (he's festive like that).
  • My mom challenges my wife's stomach-hood (again, another awesome made-up word) by telling her to eat more and more at the dinner table. Any Pinoy who has ever brought a non-Pinoy home knows what I mean:

Mom: "Why don't you eat?"
Wife: "I am eating."

5 minutes later…

Mom: "Are you OK? Why don't you eat some more?"
Wife with mouth full: "Um, yes. Ok, I'll have more pancit."

2 minutes, 39 seconds later…

Mom: "You're not eating! Have some more rice! Rice! Eat! Eat! Eaaaaaaat!"
Wife with gastrointestinal pain and no other choices: "Ummm. Uh. Yes. Please."

And so it goes at my parents' house on Christmas Eve.

As fun as all of that sounds, and it really is, there is one other tradition that I look the most forward to: Arroz Caldo.  And seeing as the theme for the latest Lasang Pinoy event is rice, I see no better entry than my mother's Arroz Caldo.

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Arroz Caldo is perhaps the most comforting (at least to me it is) of all Pinoy comfort foods.  Arroz translates to "rice" and Caldo means "soup", so Arroz Caldo is essentially a rice soup. Despite the literal translation though, my mother's Arroz Caldo is less like a soup and more like a runny risotto (I'm sure versions of Arroz Caldo from other households run the gamut of thickness).

Also, in spite of it's Spanish name, Arroz Caldo is very similar to Chinese Congee (as seen at Steamy Kitchen) and Vietnamese Chao (as seen at Wandering Chopsticks).  According to Wikipedia, Arroz Caldo

"… is often mistaken for a European dish due to its name. Arroz Caldo is actually a Chinese congee that was adapted to the tastes of the Spanish colonial settlers who patronized Chinese restaurants in the Philippines. As the Spanish could not pronounce Chinese, they gave it a Spanish name for easy reference."

Strange, that.  I'm not sure how accurate Wikipedia's description is, but no matter the origins, Arroz Caldo has become a distinctly Filipino dish.

My mother makes Arroz Caldo every Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve (I haven't spent New Year's at my parents' since high school).  Since Arroz Caldo takes a few hours of simmering on the stove, it makes complete sense as a late-night snack.  My mother usually starts making Arroz Caldo early evening (around 6 or 7), and by the time we leave for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve the rice porridge is ready–we just wait till we get back from church to enjoy it.

Arroz Caldo provides a nice pick-me-up after spending an hour and a half in a stuffy church looking at my watch, trying to stay awake, and wishing I had enough juice like my father so that I could evade my mother's nagging and skip the whole Midnight Mass thing.  Alas, I must attend lest my mother pray for my eventual downfall to arrive that much sooner. Ironic.

Anyhoo, like my experience with Pinakbet, I watched my mother make Arroz Caldo for the first time and found that it was a very easy dish to prepare.  All it takes is some chicken, some rice, ginger, soy and patis, and some water.  As is the usual with anything my mother makes, there is no recipe for Arroz Caldo.  You just throw everything in a pot and cook it!

But I did take pictures, so here goes…

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Start with a whole cut-up chicken, with most of the skin removed.  Heat a little bit of oil in a large pot and add the chicken pieces.  My mom didn't actually brown the chicken, she just cooked it through.

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After the chicken has cooked through, add some sliced ginger and a couple tablespoons each of soy and patis.  Cook for a few minutes more until ginger becomes fragrant.

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Then, add enough water to just cover the chicken.

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My mother then did something she has never done in my entire lifetime.  She added a couple pinches of saffron threads! WTF!  She never adds saffron to her Arroz Caldo.  No one told her to add saffron. I don't know what got into that lady.

After consulting with my buddy, The Goog, I found that many Filipino recipes for Arroz Caldo actually call for saffron.  I guess it's another connection to Spanish Colonialism.

Anyways, after covering the chicken with water, bring the pot to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Place the lid on the pot and continue simmering the chicken over low heat for the next 2-3 hours.  You are pretty much making a quick chicken stock here.

When the chicken becomes tender, add a few cups of uncooked and rinsed rice to the pot and stir well. My mom added three cups of rice here, but keep in mind that it was a big pot of chicken and water.  Continue cooking until the rice is cooked through and the porridge reaches the desired consistency.  Depending on how much rice is added, times will vary.

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In the above picture, the Arroz Caldo was still a bit too soupy for our tastes. So it cooked for a bit longer on the stove.  If you find that your Arroz Caldo gets too thick, you could always add more water.

When your Arroz Caldo reaches the desired consistency, taste it for seasoning and add more soy and patis as desired.

Ladle into individual bowls and serve with fresh ground black pepper and Kalamansi halves on the side. You can also garnish with chopped scallions and fried garlic if that's how you roll.

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After my brothers and I tasted this Arroz Caldo with the new addition of saffron, we were still quite pleased with it.  We all preferred the old version sans saffron, but this version was still tasty.

"Arroz by any other name would smell just as sweet!" my younger brother exclaimed.

I then accused him of stealing my joke as I remembered saying the exact same thing a few years earlier.  He then argued that he was the one who once uttered these words. We then went back and forth for the next few minutes arguing over whose joke it was.  Good times.

Even though I think I came up with this high-larious saying, I will give my little brother credit for this one.  He is surly by nature and a likely candidate for depression and despair. So, with that credit, he will cry himself to sleep for one less minute tonight.  Sweet dreams Jean Luc, sweet dreams.

(Inside jokes make no sense in the blogosphere, but I am dying of laughter right now.)

The allusion to Shakespeare is right though.  Arroz Caldo, no matter what is in it, will always be a warming and comforting dish for us.

Depending on how inebriated I get on New Year's Eve, I may try to make Arroz Caldo for my wife and myself.  Perhaps a new tradition can be started for the two of us.  I just won't force her to eat more than her stomach can handle.

  • Manggy December 28, 2007, 9:48 pm

    Nooo, thin Arroz Caldo is not right :) For some reason, this is the only dish where ground WHITE pepper almost seems like the better choice!

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  • b December 28, 2007, 10:05 pm

    Yummy pics! My lolo makes a vegetarian version for me with lots of ginger. ^____^ But d’you know if “arroz caldo” is the same thing as “lugaw”, or do they have slight differences? In my family, the terms are used interchangeably.

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  • Janice December 28, 2007, 10:26 pm

    God, i look forward more to arroz caldo on Christmas Eve after Midnight Mass rather than the presents i’m allowed to open afterwards.
    this year, my white friend (unfortunately, she had to work so she was stuck in Florida while her fam is up in Wisconsin) got to experience a Filipino Christmas Eve. she saw the bickering and gossiping between the fam (including my uncle’s fam next door) and of course, arroz caldo. and yes, my mom offered many refills. she felt a little sick the next morning, but i think that was due to the beer my dad was offering everyone.
    yeah, i roll with some chopped scallions and fried garlic…it’s the only way to go, with a squeeze of kalamansi and a shot of patis…hmm…i think there’s some leftover from Christmas eve *evil grin*
    my dad is also the only person who doesn’t go to Midnight Mass…but i always thought it was because it would give him time to be “Santa Claus” by eating the cookies and stuffing the stocking while we were at Mass. No wonder we were never allowed to stay home on Christmas Eve >:(

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  • desie the maybahay December 29, 2007, 2:08 am

    yum, marvin, i’m with you on arroz caldo being the best filo comfort food. i just love it.
    Mum makes it thick, using sticky rice.
    My hubby also gets the same treatment when he eats at Mum’s-non stop nagging to eat more. He’s taken her trick and turns the tables on her when she’s visiting us.
    as for b’s question, we use ‘lugaw’ when referring to plain congee (no meat, or only with some dried prawns). arroz caldo always has chicken.
    Have a great 2008 marvin.

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  • Ruy December 29, 2007, 5:13 am

    Its perfect for the after New Year’s Eve hang over.=)

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  • bernadette December 29, 2007, 5:47 am

    Happy New Year, Marvin! For a Pinay, I am not really a rice-eater. I rather eat pasta as everyday staple:-). Weird but true. But Arroz Caldo is an exception for me! It’s just as good for cozy rainy days—merienda or any meal time for that matter.
    I also just recently found out that fried garlic and saffron is how I like my arroz caldo cooked with! As well as some chopped hard boiled egg as topping…:-)

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  • Lea December 29, 2007, 6:45 am

    Hi! Been reading your blog for quite some time now. I love the humour! Anyway, in PI people usually add “kasubha” not saffron which is too expensive. I saute garlic, ginger and onions first and add the chicken to and pan fry for a minute or so. Calamansi + fried garlic + spring onions for topping! Good winter food…

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  • JMom December 29, 2007, 6:52 am

    Hi Marvin,
    Thanks so much for participating in LP-22. I love arroz caldo and actually made some a few days before Christmas just to tide me over :) You commenter, Lea, is right. Kasubha is used regularly in arroz caldo. It’s the poor man’s version of Safron. Just don’t ask me where it’s from. I may have to research kasubha next.
    Take care and happy New Year to you and your family!
    JMom

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  • Wandering Chopsticks December 29, 2007, 9:43 am

    I chuckled over your use of Shakespeare so it’s only right that you two fight over who garners the laughs. 😀
    My first job out of college was in a large Filipino community and the women were forever trying to feed me and set me up with their sons or nephews. I thought “Did you eat?” was a Filipino greeting? 😉

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  • steamykitchen December 29, 2007, 4:19 pm

    my mom does the same to me too! then she bitches about me needing to lose 10 pounds.

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  • molly December 29, 2007, 4:20 pm

    i identify with your famil holiday completely. only instead of arroz caldo it’s ham and mash potatoes. hey, my parents are simpletons (word not made up).
    Helpful Hint: search yummy recipes from your mobile phone using Boopsie.
    http://www.boopsie.com
    perfect for recipes on the go.

    Reply
  • krq December 29, 2007, 8:19 pm

    My family usually has palitaw and some other similar dish I never knew the name of. (Little balls made out of mochiko flour, sugar, and water and simmered in coconut milk.)
    And just like you, my dad never went to midnight mass. If he did, he had an extended smoking break outside of the church along with all the other dads.

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  • caninecologne December 29, 2007, 8:41 pm

    hi there! our family also makes arroz caldo for new years day, along with palitao (or is it spelled palitow?). i’ve never tried making arroz caldo with saffron, but i’ll give it a try this year. we eat our arroz caldo topped off with chopped green onions and fried garlic. arroz caldo is definitely one of my top comfort foods along with pinakbet and chicken adobo.
    have a happy new year!

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  • Katrina December 30, 2007, 1:21 am

    Hope your Christmas was meaningful, and you have a fantastic New Year!
    I agree — few things are more comforting than Arroz Caldo. I’ve never had it as part of Noche Buena, though; usually as either merienda or midnight snack. And Manggy’s right — it has to be thick! The picture above looks perfect. :-)
    Krq, I think the little balls you refer to are called bilo-bilo, and when served in the coconut milk, it’s Ginataang Bilo-bilo. Love that, yum!

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  • Ed December 30, 2007, 9:15 am

    On the flip side (no pun intended – OK, dat was not berry punny – alright, I’ll stop):
    About Filipino families, you’ll never hear the “go to bed without dinner” punishment – that’s just plain unforgivable in many Filipinos’ eyes.
    I always thought that punishment was weird anyway…

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  • Mila December 30, 2007, 8:25 pm

    At home, arroz caldo was always what we ate when we felt sick. Lots of calamansi, green onions, and a side dish of patis for flavor. I think the main diff between pinoy rice porridge and the chinese version is the latter tends to be plain rice with water, cooked still sludgy, then served with various toppings (like stinky tofu, or fermented cabbages). Ours is cooked with flavor! I like adding slices of hard boiled egg to my arroz caldo, and some garlic peanuts.

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  • Prac December 30, 2007, 9:31 pm

    I love the humor in your writing! It also reminded me of the Filipino Thanksgiving I had this year. My husband and I got invited along by one of his friends to this huge Filipino-American Thanksgiving dinner. Everything was delicious; even though I am mostly vegetarian and they hadn’t expected me, I was stuffed. They had this awesome coconut and pineapple dessert, and another dessert made with purple yam or ube. No puto, though :(. The host, when she heard I was vegetarian, kept pointing out which dishes I could eat, and under her urging (and others’) I ended up getting 3rds plus dessert. After awhile we all went to another Filipino-American home, where we were exhorted to eat more! The pandesal was yummy even with my stomach close to bursting. Awesomest Thanksgiving ever. :)

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  • raissa December 31, 2007, 1:43 am

    arroz caldo is most definitely the best comfort food ever especially when I am sick or in cold weather like we have been having in SoCal or after a whole night of drinking like New Year’s Eve. With so many family members who make this, I dont know how many versions I have tried but I make it the same for me – with lots of kalamansi =) Happy New Year!

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  • Burnt Lumpia December 31, 2007, 7:56 am

    Hi Manggy. I love my arroz caldo with black pepper. That’s just what I’m used to;)
    Hello b! Thanks so much for visiting my blog. Based on the other comments for this entry, I’d say lugaw is just congee and a vegetarian version of arroz caldo.
    Janice, arroz caldo after midnight mass is what keeps me going. And your theory about your father staying home is one I never considered for my dad. Nah, that couldn’t be why my old man stays home;)
    Thanks for the tip on lugaw vs. arroz caldo, desie! I didn’t know that. Happy New Year.
    Even more reason for me to make it then, Ruy!
    Not a rice eater bernadette? That’s ok though since you eat arroz caldo;) I’ve never had it with boiled eggs before, but that sounds good!
    Thank you very much Lea, I appreciate your comments. I’ve never heard of kasubha before, but I guess it’s similar to saffron?
    Hi Jmom! Thanks for hosting this edition of LP-22! I can’t wait to read your roundup of everyone else’s posts.
    WC, “Did you eat?” IS a filipino greeting;) And what? You didn’t meat any nice filipino boys at that time:P
    Hi Steamy. It must be a vicious cycle with Asian moms, telling us to eat more and then telling us we’re fatasses. Stop the insanity!
    Thanks for stopping by molly! I will definitely check boopsie out.
    Thanks for the comment krq. My mom makes something similar with mochiko balls and coconut milk, but she also adds tapioca–we call that “Tambo-Tambo” or “Tombo-Tombo”. Not sure if it is the same thing you are referring to.
    Hello canine! I love green onions and fried garlic on arroz caldo, though my mom doesn’t usually have time for those last two additions. Maybe I’ll give it a try when I make it.
    Hi Katrina! Even though I joke about my family quite a bit here, Christmas was indeed meaningful for me:) Do you know if Bilo-Bilo is the same thing as Tambo-Tambo?
    Good call Ed! I’ve never thought about it till now, but I’ve never been punished that way, I’ve only seen it on TV. I guess I would have had to have done something very very very bad for my mom to send me to my room without dinner;)
    Very true Mila! All that chickeny goodness is cooked right in to arroz caldo!
    Thank you very much Prac. It sounds like you had a great Thanksgiving!
    Hello raissa. Arroz caldo is especially good for this cold weather right now. Happy new year to you.

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  • Cynthia December 31, 2007, 5:50 pm

    What is it with mothers and over feeding? (lol)
    Happy new year to you and the family.

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  • Ruth January 2, 2008, 8:29 am

    How funny – I was home for Christmas and my dad made arroz caldo for dinner one night too. We had just gone to a Filipino restaurant that afternoon, but his cooking is always way better. It was the first time that my white husband had tried it and he loved it too. It definitely is a comfort food, and it’s so delicious. It’s one of my favorite Filipino dishes.

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  • oggi January 2, 2008, 3:56 pm

    Ack, I prepared a post for the Lasang Pinoy which is in draft complete with photos. I was too busy kasi cooking and organizing my kitchen and forgot the deadline.
    I love lots of calamansi and patis in my arroz caldo. I use kasuba which has a different flavor. Hmm, I’ll try adding saffron next time I make arroz caldo.
    Happy New Year!

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  • dhanggit January 3, 2008, 4:39 am

    OMG i want this arroz caldo..i would put lots of kalamansi,patis and roasted garlic!!and top it with hard boiled egg!!its been a long time since i had my arroz caldo :-(
    ooops oggi too love the way i love it hehehe
    happy new year marvin!!

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  • Julie January 3, 2008, 9:29 am

    you … you … you’re breakin’ my low-carbing heart!!!
    I love arroz caldo so much. I’ve made it for friends, and they’ve liked it so much, they’ve even excused the smell of patis required to make it taste right. It’s amazing how such a little amount of rice can starchify such a huge pot of stock. My mom never used saffron, either. Treason!

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  • Pat January 3, 2008, 11:27 am

    Hey Marvin, I’ve never heard of arroz caldo! I’ve had my mum’s bubur (Indonesian version), congee (Chinese), kao tom moo(Thai) and chao (Vietnamese). Now I know :). Thanks for sharing!

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  • elmomonster January 4, 2008, 10:52 am

    Arroz caldo…one of my faves. I like all porridges, but arroz caldo, with that ginger flavor beats ’em all. Can’t imagine what heights the saffron would take it too.

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  • Mike January 7, 2008, 5:03 am

    Your mom’s arroz caldo looks yummy! We had arroz caldo a year ago and used kasubha (toasted) as garnish . . . I’d love to try it with saffron next time . . .
    http://lafang.mikemina.com/index.php/2006/12/01/remings-arroz-caldo-rice-porridge-with-chicken/#top3
    Thanks for joining LP22 with a great entry!

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia January 8, 2008, 9:04 am

    Your mother too, Cynthia;)
    Hi Ruth! Homecooking is always better isn’t it? And my wife loves arroz caldo too.
    Hi oggi, with all these comments about kasuba I’m really going to try and find some now. Hopefully you can participate in the next LP event.
    dhanggit, lots of kalamansi is always good with arroz caldo;)
    Hi Julie. I never thought about it, but I guess that is a lot of carbs! But arroz caldo is too good to pass up for any diet.
    Hi Pat. I guess most asian cultures have some sort of rice porridge.
    elmo, it’s pretty good with the saffron, but i still prefer it without.
    Thanks Mike! Your arroz caldo recipe looks great too.

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  • stef January 9, 2008, 12:31 pm

    You are the funniest Pinoy food blogger ever. Love the part about your mom — sooooo TYPICAL!!! Can’t say I feel bad for your wife though 😀

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  • DST June 7, 2009, 5:42 pm

    Arroz caldo and lugaw are very similar – both are rice porridge. Arroz caldo is made with chicken. Lugaw is made with pork stomach and/or tripe.
    Kasubha is dried saffron flower – saffron is the dried stamen of the flower. Kasubha is inexpensive and used in Mexican cooking as well.

    Reply
  • Kawa June 18, 2009, 10:54 am

    Lugaw is one of my favorite Filipino dishes. I’ve never seen it with saffron before. My mom uses slices of beef instead of chicken, since I’m allergic, and makes it in the pressure cooker so it takes a lot less time. She used to make it whenever I was sick, which was awesome.
    I’m thinking about trying it with slices of pork for the ultimate Filipino effect. And I finally own a pressure cooker! I was hoping to inagurate it with bulalo, but I can’t find beef shanks here in Florida, so this may be a perfect idea.

    Reply
  • Ruan Legaspi June 13, 2010, 9:53 am

    my mom always uses saffron in her arroz caldo. =]

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  • ML - 20YS July 6, 2012, 1:47 pm

    I miss, so miss eating Arroz Caldo! I could eat bowls after bowls of it growing up!
    My nanny used to make me one with boiled egg, chicken and chicken liver! And yes, with saffron! =)
    oxo,
    ML
    TWENTY YORK STREET
    Follow @20YS on Twitter : @20YS
    Follow @20YS on Facebook: TWENTY YORK STREET

    Reply

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