In this part of the world, porridge is the food of choice on days when there are gale-force winds howling outdoors and the rain beats a savage rhythm on rooftops and closed windows.
But this isn’t the thick oatmeal porridge eaten for breakfast in the West, not the sweet type you spruce up with a splash of milk or a splodge of cream, sugar or honey, maybe a dolloped spoonful of stewed or chopped up fresh fruit on top. This is more like the Chinese congee: rice cooked in a flavorful broth till the texture isn’t quite soupy but isn’t quite the classic boiled rice, either.
But despite its Oriental origins, savory porridge in these parts is referred to by its Spanish name arroz caldo – which pretty much translates as “hot rice”. A rather plain-Jane sort of name, it doesn’t quite convey its savor nor its appeal.
Arroz caldo is relatively simple to make and the principle is similar to that for, say Hainanese chicken rice, in the sense that the rice is cooked in chicken broth. The difference, however, is that the rice is cooked into a thickish gruel and the chicken is cooked with it instead of separately.
In addition, rather than the white-and-green aesthetic of Hainanese rice (white rice, green chives), proper arroz caldo in my home has always been yellow with darker yellow flecks. This is due to the addition of kasubha (native saffron) which colors the broth and the rice a pale yellow. The darker flecks are kasubha blossom and the bits of ginger used to flavor the broth and remove the gaminess of the stewing fowl used to make it.
If chicken isn’t your thing, however, and you’re up for something more robust to help you through a dismal-weathered day, there’s goto. Another savory rice porridge, goto involves replacing the chicken broth with one made with pork, onions, garlic, and ginger. The stewing fowl is also replaced with beef tripe which has been pre-cooked till meltingly tender before being sliced and added to the rice. Crisp-fried bits of garlic and minced spring onions are used to top the dish, adding both color and savor to the stark white porridge with its grayish bits of offal.
I assure you that there is nothing better than to come to the dinner table and ladle a generous helping of arroz caldo or goto into one’s bowl. The former needs no further embellishment than a few drops of salty patis (fish sauce; nuoc mam) and a squeeze of kalamansi or lime juice. The latter is a more baroque affair demanding the same condiments as well as a vinegar-soused and chili-spiked saucer of tokwa’t baboy (fried tofu and diced fatty pork or chopped pork-face/ears dressed with garlic and spring onions).
Either way, you’ll end your meal feeling warm both inside and out – and just let the rain pour down outside the house.