What To Eat: 7 Filipino Rice Dishes and Snacks We're Craving Right Now
Have you ever noticed that Filipinos have a multiplicity of words for “rice”? Within the Tagalog lexicon, there’s kanin, bigas, tutong, palay, and bahaw. Yet, the list goes on as we continue to explore the culinary expansion of rice in local delicacies and recipes. As the world’s biggest rice importer, you can bet we enjoy a diet that’s full of this delicious and versatile grain that’s been the backbone to decades, if not centuries, worth of fare.
Champorado may seem strange to people who aren’t Filipino. A sweet chocolate rice porridge, it’s often made with nuggets of pure chocolate known as tablea and then topped with milk. Served warm, some foodies often like to mix it with dilis or tuyo, both types of dried fish. Needless to say, champorado is a truly unique recipe that some may consider to be an acquired taste.
Nothing beats arroz caldo as a midnight snack, especially when you’re on an all-night road trip. Found in various pit stops and bust stations all over the country, arroz caldo is a simple yet delicious dish made with rice, chicken, and chicken stock. It’s usually infused with ginger and garnished with pepper, calamansi juice, and toasted garlic. A hardboiled egg accompanies these ingredients to create a hearty meal that’s perfect at any time of the day.
Arroz caldo may be considered a type of lugaw, a type of congee dish. But while lugaw is usually served plain, the trademark of arroz caldo is the use of chicken as an ingredient. This is not to be confused with goto, which usually has an added ingredient of beef tripe, not chicken.
One of the main ways Filipinos get creative with rice is by incorporating it as an ingredient to dessert. One of the most famous ones is biko, a sweet rice cake made of coconut milk, brown sugar, and glutinous rice. Unlike some desserts, the rice in biko is not ground into a paste. This gives it a very distinct texture as each individual rice grain can still usually be distinguished. Topped with latik, a sticky, caramelised coconut cream syrup, biko is both filling and easily recognisable as one of the Philippines’ most traditional rice treats.
A personal favourite, sapin-sapin is a layered rice cake that’s made with rice flour, coconut milk, and sugar. Its colourful presentation is perhaps one of its greatest trademarks. It usually comes with three brightly coloured-layers that come in different flavours such as ube, coconut, and jackfruit. Drizzled with latik and topped with a sprinkle of coconut flakes, sapin-sapin is a true sweet treat that can’t be missed.
Puto, simply known as a rice cake, is one of the Philippines’ most notable snacks. It comes in various sizes and flavours and can be topped with cheese, dipped in dinuguan, or eaten on its own. True to its versatility, many variants can be found all over the country such as Puto Calasiao (from Pangasinan), Puto Bagas (from Naga), Puto Manapla (from Negros Occidental), and Puto Saluysoy (from Bulacan).
Not many people may know what kalamay is. It’s surely not as popular as sapin-sapin nor is it as well-known as puto. But kalamay is one of the sweetest delicacies in the Philippines, each bite is full of true island flavours. Made with sugar, glutinous rice, and grated coconut, kalamay is a popular treat in both Bohol and Ilocos. Sometimes found in coconut shells, but sometimes also found flattened and packaged in plastic wrap, kalamay is a sticky rice treat that can be made with both white and brown sugar.
Suman is a steamed rice cake that’s famous all over the country. Made with glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk, it is often wrapped in banana leaves, steamed, and then dipped in sugar or latik for flavour. One of its most significant characteristics is its shape, which is often rectangular. However, other regional varieties of suman may differ.