Bong’s Arroz Caldo – an Iloilo favorite
Arroz caldo is a Spanish name for a Chinese rice congee, made in the Philippines. Congee is kind of a gruel… without the dungeon that implies ha ha. A thick, hearty rice soup. One of my favorite lunches.
One of the complaints I hear the most, from expats here, is about the food. Unfortunately most food here is rather bland. It is not a great place for those with an adventurous palette. So today I want to talk about my favorite local soups – arroz caldo. Yeah… it is kind of bland… but it is good!
Caldo is served by many local restaurants but by far my favorite is at a local joint, Bong’s. In the town center we have 3 within 100 meters of each other, and down near our house, 5 km away, is a 4th. In town they have a big 2 story place at the plaza, a small (4 table?) place at the wet market, and another (4 table) ½ block away. Then down near our house is another with probably 8 tables. I am not sure why there are so many right next to each other but they are all doing great business, so they must be doing something right.
Not only does Bong’s have the best caldo in town, they have the cheapest caldo. A big bowl of plain caldo, with a boiled egg, is p22. About 50 cents US. Most places charge double that. Their menu does show more options, like adding chicken or beef (some places add chicken feet). I almost never see anyone order any options. I have seen people order it without the egg (my wife, for example). The caldo is pretty bland, as I said, but is really good. The rice is almost mush, like it was either cooked a very long time, or in a pressure cooker. There is enough water to keep it runny. The main flavor is garlic and ginger, but not overpowering. We make our own and it is good – but nothing like Bong’s. I would love to get their recipe!
It comes out topped with chopped chives and fried garlic. To eat the caldo we add a sprinkle of ground pepper and a splash of soy sauce. Cut up the boiled egg and enjoy.
The serving size does confuse me, though. For p22 you get a huge bowl of soup, so far so good. When we order it takeout they put in a plastic bag and for the same p22 you get almost double what they serve for dine in. I am not complaining… just a bit confused.
To go with the soup we usually order a siapao, also of Chinese origin (I never realized this was a Chinese restaurant). The siapao is kind of a sandwich. A stuffed, and sealed, bun made of rice bread, and steamed. Inside the bun is either shredded pork or chicken. It has a barbeque’ish sauce on the meat. It is served with a thin sauce, they call ketchup… but it is not ketchup. It is a thin red sauce, kind of sweet, kind of spicy, very sticky. No idea what it is… they call it ketchup. The bun is kind of sticky so it is served on a piece of wax paper. The wax paper keeps it from sticking to their heater, and your plate. It sticks to the siapoa horribly and will remove the out layer of the bun, such is life. You tear a hole in the side and liberally pour in the sauce. The siapao is also super cheap. The pork is p14, the chicken is p16 (about 30 cents US).
Another 10 or 12 pesos get you a drink, depending on your drink choice. Mt Dew is p12 (25 cents), Miranda orange soda is 9 or 10 pesos.
So for p49 pesos – barely a $1 – you get a great lunch!
The food is so good even the lizards wants some… of the flies the food attracts! Welcome to the Philippines.