Filipinos are frugal right from the get-go. We come from an Asian developing country that is not economically affluent. Frugal habits are hard to forget. Generations of Filipino parents have taught their kids to be money-wise. Bringing lunch to work, stretching suppers to several meals, cutting corners are all a way of life.
So in my quest to cut expenses, I turned to trusted sources : budget-conscious friends in Manila. I was delighted to hear from another Budget Buddy TRACEY of @TangledNoodle who quickly gave me a budget-friendly recipe .
Tracey came to the rescue, not just with a frugal recipe, but a superbly delicious Filipino Menudo, from her family files, a recipe of her parents’ loyal and talented cook, Lyn.
I first met Tracey of @TangledNoodle on Tweeter during one of our food challenges early this year. Since then, I’ve been an avid follower of her beautiful blog. Her insights on food and wine, cooking, knitting, reading, history and all her fabulous interests are intricately woven and so well-written that you’ll be hooked and keep coming back to her blog.
Tracey recently completed a self-designed degree at the University of Minnesota, combining food studies, anthropology and history. Recently, Tracey relocated back to the Philippines . From Manila, Tracey diligently keeps me abreast of food events from my old home city. So get ready to enjoy a magnificent MENUDO and be charmed by what Tracey has to tell about the origins of this Filipino favorite. And if you find yourself wanting for more, head on over to her blog Tangled Noodle and meet Tracey.
The Filipino Menudo by Tangled Noodle
A little over a year ago, I was an ‘Asian in America’, just like Betty Ann’s blog name (or, more accurately, I was an ‘Americanized Asian in America’). On my own blog, Tangled Noodle, I chronicled my attempts at retaining my Pinay identity by cooking and eating Filipino food. Today, I’m a ‘Filipina in the Philippines’, after moving lock, stock and Dutch oven to Manila, but I’m still cooking up my identity. This time, however, I’m often making our favorite American dishes with local Filipino ingredients.
Moving to a new home is difficult and it’s more so when you’re relocating to the other side of the globe. Thank goodness for food, which allows us to carry our cultures, identities and memories wherever we go, creating a comfort zone until we can get our bearings and create new cultures, identities and memories. Food feeds our intellect and emotions as much as it nourishes our bodies, and it challenges as well as comforts us.
When Betty Ann invited me to write a guest-post for her blog, she asked that I feature a Filipino dish that is economical and adaptable to Western palates and ingredients. I found a perfect candidate in menudo – an easy, tasty dish with more to it than meets the eye (and appetite). It would have been easy enough to type up a quick description and recipe, but why take the shortcut when there are so many ways to approach even this most simple of dishes?
For instance, I could discuss its rather uncertain history. All that’s known for certain is that it shares a Spanish name with a traditional Mexican soup, but not much else. The word menudo likely comes from the same root as menuts, the Catalan word for ‘offal’ – perfect sense for a dish made of beef stomach and posole (hominy) in a spicy, chile-based broth. However, Filipino menudo is a thick stew of pork, potatoes, carrots and sweetish tomato sauce – entirely different Its other name, menudillo, is no more accurate as a description: The plural form of this Spanish word means ‘giblets’, as in chicken, while the singular means ‘fetlock’, or horse’s ankle. Neither of these animals is found in Pinoy menudo. How, then, this Filipino dish come by a name that bears no similarity to its etymology? Well, that remains to be uncovered…
I could also tell the story of this specific recipe and about Lyn, my parents’ former helper and cook. Still in her early 20s, Lyn was already a master in the kitchen; Mr. Noodle and I shamelessly angled for lunch and dinner invitations at my parents’ home, knowing that whatever she served would be marvelous. I begged Lyn for her menudo recipe, no longer content with simply taking home leftovers. One afternoon, she shyly handed me a single sheet of paper: there were no measurements, no temperatures, no cooking times. She had put on paper, as best she could, what she had learned by watching and doing, just as generations of cooks had learned from mothers and fathers, grandmother and fathers, aunts and uncles.
Her instructions were imprecise (“Kapag mapula na lagyan ng tubig [when it’s browned add water]”), reflecting the generations-old oral tradition of recipe sharing and the intuitive style of cooking that, in some home cooks such as myself, have been stunted by an overreliance on the exactness of cookbooks and written recipes.
But then again, there was a flexibility to Lyn’s menudo handwritten recipe – a sense that she did not claim this recipe as her own, as celebrity chefs and well-known cookbook authors might do with their creations. Instead, its lack of detail was like an invitation for me to make it as I preferred. And in doing so, perhaps someone else might ask me to share the recipe, too…
(Adapted from Lyn’s recipe)
Filipino menudo differs from its Mexican counterpart in so many ways, especially in flavor. Whereas the Latino soup is spicy from its chile base, this Pinoy stew is savory laced with sweetness – a hallmark of Filipino cuisine. Many recipes will call for raisins to add that taste of sugar, while others will actually have a certain measure of the granular stuff. Mr. Noodle is not as fond of this flavor pairing, so I opted out of the sweetness altogether. I also opted to substitute the preferred cut of pork – liempo, or pork belly, is favored for the way the fat is slowly rendered during the cooking process and lends a delicious unctuousness to the sauce. But fat is fat and one can only eat so much, so I used pork chops (from the loin section) that still had a bit of fatty rind to provide some of that lovely, sticky texture. Finally, I added fresh chopped tomatoes instead of relying entirely on premade tomato sauce.
As mentioned, this menudo recipe friendly to many palates, thanks to basic ingredients that are familiar to nearly any kitchen around the world – pork, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, onions and garlic. Keep to these elements and add others that appeal to you!
1-2 Tbs cooking oil
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced small (approx. 1 cup)
1 large potato, peeled and diced small (approx. 1.5 cups)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1.5 to 2 lbs pork chops, sliced into 1”-long strips
2 tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
8 oz/250g tomato sauce
Salt and pepper
Optional: green peas, beans or bell pepper (diced small)
Preheat a large Dutch oven or heavy pot on medium-high, and then add one scant tablespoon of oil. Add carrots and potatoes, and sauté until soft; remove from pot and set aside. Pour another scant tablespoon of oil to the pan and heat; add onions and garlic, and sauté until soft and fragrant.
Add pork to the garlic-onion mixture and cook until meat is nicely browned. Spread pork in an even layer and top with chopped tomatoes. Add enough water to just cover the meat and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then immediately turn down heat and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes.
Return carrots and potatoes to the pot (as well as peas, beans or bell peppers, if using), then add tomato sauce and stir well to combine all ingredients. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring stew back up to a boil, then again turn down the heat to a slow simmer for an additional 20-25 minutes, until the sauce is thickened.
Serve with steamed rice.