The dictionary defines comfort food as “food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any with a high sugar or other carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking”. The food gives emotional comfort to the one eating it. Most of the time, these are favorite foods of childhood, or linked to a person, place or time with which the food has a positive association.
Filipinos are very hardworking and hospitable people. Anywhere they are, there are always occasions after working the whole week when they will prepare food for friends especially relatives and loved ones. And there will always be a special dish or two that remind them of childhood or home. Let’s look at some of these comfort foods.
Unofficially referred to as the national dish of the Philippines, adobo is the first comfort food that comes to mind of every native of the Philippines. It is not only the dish itself (which was adopted from Spanish cuisine) but the traditional way of cooking it.
This basic method requires the meat (chicken or pork) to be simmered in a marinated sauce of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic. The most traditional way is to add whole black peppers and bay leaf to make it aromatic. More adventurous variations use both meat and add vegetables like carrots, potatoes, green peas and button mushrooms, or hard boiled eggs and pineapple to make the dish more savory.
Adobong manok (chicken adobo) and rice will surely bring back memories of your mother’s or grandmother’s cooking when you were a child.
A very popular comfort food especially during rainy days, sinigang is a Filipino soup or stew characterized by its sour and savory taste most often associated with tamarind. The meat could be beef, pork or chicken with tomatoes and onions added to make a sour based soup. To this, vegetables such as kangkong, radish, eggplant, and string beans are added.
The three most popular main versions of this much-loved dish are pork sinigang, beef sinigang, and fish sinigang. The vegetables may vary according to preference, and the souring agents of the broth aside from tamarind may be green mangoes and calamansi. To enhance the taste of the soup, green finger peppers are added to give the dish a spicy flavor.
This dish is a popular comfort food for Filipinos abroad who are able to prepare this dish from ingredients found in most Asian grocery stores worldwide.
This national favorite, kare-kare, is a thick peanut stew made with an assortment of meats and vegetables. Originally from Pampanga, in the region of Central Luzon, it borrowed from Indonesia and Thailand the use of peanuts in the stew to create a base. The meats commonly used for this dish are ox trail, ripe, and pork leg. The basic vegetables are young banana flower blossom, eggplant, string beans and Chinese cabbage.
This dish is best enjoyed with a little side dish of bagoong (shrimp paste): the peanut flavors and the saltiness of the shrimp paste give you very satisfying taste.
A favorite during rainy days, tinola is also the dish our mothers prepare when we are sick and need to have warm soup in our stomach. It is a chicken broth with onion, garlic, and ginger. Chili leaves or malunggay are added with either green papaya or sayote.
The best tinola is the one that uses native chicken for the meat. It is cooked in low heat for a long time to slowly tenderize the meat and bring out the best flavors. This is very simple and easy to prepare with ingredients bought from the nearest grocery store. Try serving this with fried fish like tilapia or bangus on the side.
Bulalo is a hearty and richly satisfying beef broth with corn and vegetables. This is a favorite comfort food during cold, rainy days especially in high, mountainous areas in the country.
The original way of cooking this dish is by slowly stewing the beef shanks and bone marrow until it falls off the bone with only salt and pepper for flavoring.
With many different variations for every region in the Philippines, bulalo can now be cooked with vegetables such as string beans, pechay, cabbage, potato, corn and whatever vegetable suits your palate.
To add a different flavor, you can use calamansi and chilli peppers in your fish sauce dip.
A popular dessert and snack in the Philippines, halo-halo is a mixture of shaved ice and evaporated milk and various ingredients.
It is usually served in a tall glass with layers of boiled sweet beans, coconut, sago, gulaman, tubers and fruits filled with shaved ice and evaporated milk topped with a scoop of ube (purple yam) ice cream. Literally translated to ‘mix-mix’, the characteristics of halo-halo are its colorfulness and mixed flavors.
It is a favorite comfort food for Filipinos here and abroad who try to cool down in hot humid weather. Again there are many variations of this popular dessert with many varying ingredients. Its assortment of exotic taste brings memories of childhood days of home.
7. Arroz Caldo
Arroz caldo is a hearty Filipino congee made from sautéing ginger, onion, garlic and chicken. The result is a quick, comforting bowl that’s a perfect wintertime meal that can rival chicken soup for its ability to sooth anyone suffering from a cold.
Using malagkit rice and water, pieces of chicken are sautéed in ginger, garlic and onion and cooked into a thick soupy mixture, seasoned with salt, pepper, and fish sauce. Variations use fried garlic, slices of boiled eggs, and green onions as topping. To add a kick, you can also add red chili peppers and flavor with the juice of calamansi or lemon.
Arroz caldo is best to give warmth during rainy season and the best comfort food when someone is sick at home.
Champorado is the sweet version of arroz caldo. The dish uses malagkit rice cooked with water and mixed with tablea, cocoa power, or any chocolate powder into a thick porridge. Served with a drizzling of milk on top, it is best eaten with fried dried fish on the side.
It is the best comfort food during the rainy days, or during lazy weekends at home. The combination of sweet and salty exotic flavors will surely bring back memories of home and bring comfort to anyone.
Sopas is a Filipino version of soup with basically, pasta (spaghetti noodles broken into smaller strips or any macaroni) sautéed in garlic and onions mixed with cooked chicken strips.
Vegetables such as carrots and shredded cabbage are then added to the soup. Lastly, it is seasoned with salt, pepper and fish sauce then served with evaporated milk.
This sumptuous Filipino comfort food can be found in most Filipino homes during Christmas noche buena (midnight meal) so it will surely bring back memories of home cooked meals prepared by our mothers for the family during these special occasions.
10. Leche Flan
Leche flan is the number one dessert of all time in the Philippines. During special celebrations like fiestas and parties, no dining table is complete without this special dessert. There are so many memories attached to this sweet dessert.
Crème caramel, flan, or caramel pudding is a custard dessert with a layer of soft caramel on top, as opposed to crème brûlée, which is a pudding with a hard caramel top.
Who would ever forget the leche flan that our grandmothers or aunties make during our town fiestas and special occasions at home? It really tasted rich and heavenly, that we keep on asking them to prepare some more.