Let’s get cooking: Wow, Lugaw!

Elena Peña (The Freeman) - June 28, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — Damp weather calls for a bowl of something hot to eat. This is true, perhaps, anywhere in the world, whether in the cold Western regions or in a tropical country like the Philippines. There are various hot soups that Filipinos are fond of, mostly with meat, chicken or fish as main ingredient.

In the countryside, chickens – especially free-range chickens – and fish are easy to come by. Only that fish become scarce during the rainy season, because few fishermen would dare the strong winds and the rough seas. Meats are not as common in the rural areas as it is in the city markets.

Many homes opt for vegetable soup, or “utan” as Visayans would call it. Their reason for the choice is either economic or health. “Utan” is good to go with cooked corn grits instead of rice. 

And yet if people want something hot for a quick meal, they would have both soup and rice in one dish – the Asian-style rice porridge, known in Pilipino as “lugaw.” Used to be regarded as a poor man’s meal, “lugaw” has since been served at posh city restaurants, where it is referred to as congee.  On the other hand, it still remains a staple of feeding programs in depressed communities.

The difference between the “lugaw” of the rich and that of the poor are the various other basic ingredients. For the affluent, the porridge may come with several choices of flavorings: chicken, duck, meatballs, sliced fish, pork, pork liver, and giblets. There is also a delectable practice among the local Chinese community of using meat or fish floss as topping to the basic “lugaw.”

Those that cannot afford to add ‘frills’ to the “lugaw” are okay to just add salt. But, hey, there’s actually a middle ground. There’s “lugaw” that resembles neither gourmet nor poverty. An example is the following recipe:



1 cup Rice

6 cups Water

1 ½ cups shredded Fried Fish or leftover Lechon Manok

2 tbsp Cooking Oil

2 tbsp Soy Sauce

4 cloves Garlic, minced

1 bulb Sibuyas Bombay, chopped

1 tbsp Sibuyas Dahon, sliced thinly crosswise

Salt to taste


1. Rinse the rice. Set aside.

2. In a large pot, enough to hold everything else, put in the cooking oil and heat up. Add garlic and sibuyas bombay, and sauté until it turns light brown.

3. Add in the rinsed rice and mix well with the sautéed ingredients.

4. Add in the shredded fried fish or lechon manok, and mix well.

5. Add water and bring to a boil to cook the rice.

6. Add soy sauce and salt to taste.

7. When done, transfer the “lugaw” to individual bowls and top with Sibuyas Dahon.

It takes about one-and-a-half hours to cook the rice. The mix shall be occasionally stirred during cooking – to make it become more creamy. More water may be added along the way to achieve the desired consistency of the “lugaw.” When the rice is as soft enough according to one’s liking, the “lugaw” is ready.

To make a more sumptuous “lugaw,” more shredded fried fish or lechon manok may be added as topping. Reminder: It’s either fried fish or lechon manok; a mix of the two is a no-no. If lechon manok is used, one hard-boiled egg, sliced, may be added as topping. It’s better to alternate the two ingredients at different meals.

Serve the “lugaw” while hot.

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