Lugaw, Goto or Arroz Caldo (Filipino Rice Porridge or Congee)

>> Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lugaw, Goto or Arroz Caldo (Filipino Rice Porridge or Congee)
In Western media, New Year's Eve is always portrayed as the holiday to celebrate with the grandest of festivities, if not wild abandon. A party ensues leading to the synchronous countdown, making the anticipation more extravagant than the split-second main event. Yet there is undeniable magic -- an electricity that flows through the crowd, through TV screens, through your veins -- while numbers are chanted in unison. And the longer it takes, the stronger everyone is pulled to each other. We see it happen in the movies, in books, in real people's experiences. They end up finding themselves closer to the next person, then they touch, then look, and the magnet simply continues to pull.

This is not the New Year's Eve I grew up with, definitely nothing like it in my Philippine childhood. Perhaps mine was noisier, with hours, and sometimes even days, of booming firecrackers, the height of which cancels out any other sound before and after midnight, resulting in trash-covered streets, smoke-filled lungs and the blackest of nostrils. Sinturon ni Hudas, Bawang and Super Lolo were the stars of the night, to the delight of drunk merrymakers. One the next day, however, we would count the many annihilated fingers with whatever was left, to the dismay of the sober and the young. Even toes weren't spared.

This kind of toxic and dangerous revelry has faded through the years, leaving us with toned down fireworks and noisemakers. Yet that general mood, which only arises at this occasion, still lives on. This compelling intensity comes from the rare moment that millions of people become one. Our attention is centered on one thing, making us all part of a civilization whose existence and enormity everybody forgets during the other 364 days. And so we scream our lungs out and rip our faces with smiles, drunk in the disbelief that we are part of a whole. The phantasm of life overwhelms us as the years eclipse, although it's just another midnight, just another change in dates. But it is only on this night when reality grows too big for human understanding, causing emotions to overflow more with every glass of wine.

After all the grand celebration, the jumping-my-ass-off-while-shaking-the-coins-in-my-polka-dot-pockets, and the inhalation of the fumes of fountains, fireworks and sparklers, we would feast on food prepared the whole day of the 31st. The first thing I would get is a bowl of piping hot arroz caldo, cooked in an intentionally enormous amount so that we can also eat it for breakfast in a few hours.

Perfect food for sick days, arroz caldo literally translates to "rice hot". So I guess "piping hot arroz caldo" is redundant. But do not be confused with the terminology. Arroz caldo is the rice porridge with chicken. If it is with beef tripe, then it is called "goto". If it is plain rice porridge, then it should answer to "lugaw". Sometimes, a hard-boiled egg is added for more love. All these go well with a pinch of our own small yet powerful citrus--the calamansi. To amp up this gastronomic experience, bowls are often topped with chopped spring onions, toasted garlic and, everyone's favorite, crushed chicharon (pork rind cracklings).

How to cook lugaw, goto or arroz caldo

For us Filipinos, cooking lugaw or any variation thereof shouldn't be difficult. It's just like our traditional way of cooking rice, only with too much water.

In a thick stock pot or saingan (caldero), sauté the garlic, onion and ginger. Add in the pieces of chicken (for arroz caldo) or tripe (for goto) then patis (fish sauce) for flavor. Wait for a few minutes until the meat cooks a little. If you are using chicken, you'd want the meat to turn white, which is an indicator that it has mildly cooked. Pour in the chicken stock and uncooked regular or sticky rice. If you don't feel like preparing chicken stock, water with chicken broth cubes is fine. That's cheating, of course.

While the rice is being cooked over low or medium fire, keep on stirring for 45 to 60 minutes or until it becomes glutinous but not liquefied. You can still adjust the taste with patis, black pepper or water.

For plain steamed rice, the ratio of rice to water is usually 1:1. For lugaw, goto and arroz caldo, it's good to bring that ratio to about 1:5. You can add water later on depending on your preferred consistency.

I like my rice porridge dense and not soupy, just like my New Year's Eves--packed with emotions without turning bloody.


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