Aside from lechon, bagnet, empanadang Vigan, and longganizas by the score, Philippine cuisine has another calorific dish that goes down a treat when the weather is cold, the rain falls in sheets, and the wind howls like a wolf in the wild.
Kare-kare, a rich stew of beef or pork cooked in a sauce traditionally made with toasted and ground peanuts and rice, has its origins in the royal cuisine of the Maranaos of Mindanao where it was served as one of several courses during regal banquets among datus and sultans. The coming of the Spaniards brought the dish north to Luzon and the Visayas, specifically the provinces of Pampanga and Cavite whose versions of kare-kare are considered the standards by which all forms of the dish are now judged.
A classic kare-kare is made solely with oxtails or a combination of oxtails and beef offal – the soft, velvety cheek and tripe mixed with a few tendons to add a deliciously chewy, sticky texture. In some homes – and mine is one of them – the beef offal is replaced by equally rich, and deliciously fatty pork legs or bellies. (I understand that some health-conscious chefs are flogging a seafood kare-kare, but the culinary purist in me shudders at the notion.) All that rich protein is balanced by the addition of such rustic vegetables as pechay (bok choy), banana blossoms, sitaw (snake beans), and eggplant. All these ingredients are cooked in a rich sauce thickened with ground peanuts or, more conveniently, with peanut butter in this harried day and age. The resulting stew is served with some pungent, salty bagoong alamang to counteract the richness and to give balance to the sweetness.
All you really need at this point are generous cupfuls of steamed white rice for a meal that will certainly keep you warm no matter how strongly the storms outside may blow.