Talk about comfort foodâ€¦ perhaps better known in our house as â€œsick food.â€ Growing up, I only ate â€œpospasâ€ when I was sick. And pospas seems to be the Cebuano or Boholano term for the stuff. Only as a teen did I see it in restaurants as congee or later as a merienda option under the name arroz caldo. My momâ€™s pospas was unbelievably bland. You might even call it blond. Made with chicken parts, ginger, rice and water, it was all stirred together to make this thick gooey porridge that you had in bed when you were down and out with a cold or flu. I used to add lots of kalamansi (calamondin) and toyo (soya sauce) before I would eat it. It made its appearance twice in one day and if left in the pot too long, the stuff became positively glue-like and you felt like making Christmas lanterns or papier mache with it.
At any rate, the ingredients suggest everything restorative in nature. Calming rice for an upset stomach, chicken and broth for that cold or sniffle, ginger, etc. This must be the Asian equivalent of chicken noodle soup. Doreen Fernandez wrote that in the 19th century Chinese restaurants were set up in Manila and to make things easier for clients, they gave Spanish names to Chinese dishes, hence arroz caldo or hot rice for congee… Oh, that reminds me, did you ever have Royco chicken noodle soup out of a foil packet? Whatever happened to that brand? Anyway, my early experiences with pospas were not particularly good. I associated it so much with sickness that I never had it at any other time. Itâ€™s only in the last 10-15 years that I have re-learned how to enjoy this favorite but I must say I like it with the flavor really jazzed up. Much more patis, more ginger, garlic, yellow and green onions, etc. I can have this for breakfast on a cold morning but prefer it as merienda food. I still have it when I feel under the weather.
The following recipe is a highly flavored version compared to my momâ€™s brew. I am certain everyone has their favorite recipe, consistency, flavorings, etc. but this is one that does well in our home. Itâ€™s patterned after a recipe in a great book on rice written by a friend. Heat up a heavy casserole or soup pot and add about 3 tablespoons of oil. Saute 8-10 thick slices of ginger and Â½ a white or yellow onion for a minute or two over medium heat. Wait for the smell to waft up to your nostrils. Add 3-4 cloves of garlic finely chopped and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Add chicken parts (I like putting a lot as it becomes a full meal in a bowl for me, and I use parts with bones to add flavor) say 4 drumsticks and 4 wings or about one small chicken. Add 3-4 tablespoons of patis (fish sauce) and sautÃ© another 2 minutes or so. Brown a bit, the more browning you do, the darker the final gruel. The aroma should be pungent by now. Add 1.5 cups of rice and 5 cups of water and 2 cups of chicken broth. Add more water later if it needs it. Stir it all up to prevent sticking. Boil over low heat for about 15-20 minutes until the rice is cooked, stirring occasionally. Serve with a garnish of chopped green onion. Serve with kalamansi, patis, fried garlic, soy sauce, etc. If you want a color flourish add kasubha (local saffron equivalent) or if you want color and rich flavor, add real saffron. This dish can easily be replicated abroadâ€¦