Lugaw (rice porridge) is the first solid food to touch every Filipino baby’s lips. For some, it could be the lugaw broth called am. That begins the Pinoy’s lifelong love affair with lugaw, which is known by many names in different places.
Pinoys are most familiar with merienda fare arroz caldo (lugaw with chicken) and goto (lugaw with tripe and other innards). The Chinese prefer to serve what they call congee or jook plain with diners adding their preferred ingredients as they eat.
Rich lugaw buffet – Oriental breakfast buffets at high-end hotels often feature congee buffet with plain lugaw and dozens of add-on ingredients such as century egg, salted egg, friend garlic, green onions, pork liver, chicken, prawns, sesame oil, and pork floss. It is also customary to break a raw egg into the steaming bowl of congee.
A favorite Japanese congee side dish is grilled salmon marinated in miso.
Bigas or malagkit? – The biggest debate among Pinoy cooks is what type of rice to use: ordinary rice or sticky rice? Some solve this by using a mixture of the two types of rice. While a few sticks to plain ordinary rice for arroz caldo, it is generally acceptable to prefer sticky rice for the collagen-rich goto.
Pork liver congee – Offered in Cantonese noodle shops is pork liver congee made by adding thinly sliced fresh pork liver into boiling congee. The secret is in marinating the liver slices in ginger and soy sauce minutes before stirring them into the pot. Sometimes other organ meats are also mixed in.
Slices of boneless snakehead or dalag are a very prized addition to plain congee in many Asian countries. Curiously, the practice has not caught on among Filipinos.
Freshwater slices – Slices of boneless snakehead or dalag are a very prized addition to plain congee in many Asian countries. Curiously, the practice has not caught on among Filipinos. Of course, ginger is an absolute must in fish congee. Many cooks advice against using saltwater fish for congee, arguing that seawater produces a very fishy flavor. Hence, dalag is the universal choice.
Ever present ginger – Fresh ginger is a must when cooking goto or arroz caldo. Sliced or crushed ginger is sautéed in oil with garlic to leech out the flavor and aroma. Ginger is essential because Filipino cooks believe it necessary to counter the gamey flavors of chicken, pork, and beef. A few cooks, however, simply add the ginger to the boiling pot of lugaw with no need for frying.
Local saffron for color – The local saffron kasubha is traditionally added to goto and arroz caldo for a light orange tint and added flavor. Real saffron is never used by locals for this purpose. Sometimes kasubha is dry–stir-fried for stronger color.
Eggs, eggs, eggs – Sliced century eggs are often offered with congee, as are salted egg yolks and sliced hard boiled eggs. Raw eggs are broken into boiling congee, poaching them until done.
Better than instant mami – A new product just might unseat instant ramen as national snack: Instant pork congee. Knorr has a winner. Its instant congee comes quite close to the real thing, with tiny bits of pork fat and real rice grains in the flavorful thick lugaw. The serving is big enough to satisfy an adult’s breakfast or snack craving. Adding a raw or hardboiled egg increases nutrients and adds a home cook touch. Perhaps other flavors will come soon.
Choco lugaw – Plain lugaw becomes champorado with the addition of cocoa, sugar, and milk. Kids discovered they could add Ovaltine or Milo to plain lugaw, much to the delight of surprised adults. What’s next? Kimchi lugaw?