Pospas / Arroz Caldo / Lugaw / Congee / Rice & Chicken Gruel

Talk about comfort food… perhaps better known in our house as “sick food.” pos1Growing up, I only ate “pospas” 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 mom’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. pos2Calming 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 congeeOh, 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. It’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 mom’s brew. pos3I am certain everyone has their favorite recipe, consistency, flavorings, etc. but this is one that does well in our home. It’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 ½ 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 sauté 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 abroad…


35 Responses

  1. pospas is comfort food to me. cebuana na, chinese pa. hehehe MM, did you ever get to watch that feature on discovery channel regarding how the chinese from guangzhou make their congee? i was fortunate to have seen it and have tried their formula. fyi, they said to soak the rice for 2 hours after washing several times then add a little oil, salt and minced century egg( i used a blender). then use pork broth made from pork bones and cook for several hours. this becomes their congee base in their restos. since i make it from scratch, i saute ginger,garlic, onions and the bones. i then add the marinated rice and boil away till it becomes almost “lanot” which is how the chinese like it. then i add sliced century eggs when cooked. my aunt who’s married to a cantonese uses dried scallop for her congee base,soaking them overnight in hot water then shredding them the next day. Congee/lugaw/pospas is definitely food for the soul…. :-)

  2. Arroz caldo was (wonderful!) “sick food” for me as well.

    I think it’s a crime though to leave ginger bits in a bowl you serve to an unsuspecting child who will inevitably end up chewing on the hard bitter tasting stuff. =)

  3. I’m one big congee fan and love having this for breakfast,I sometimes use pork broth like molly’s version and I drop in some meatballs and let it simmer till cooked, top it with century egg, chopped spring onions, and fried wonton skins. Other times, I use beef broth and add some ground beef. When there’s a seafood bounty, I use fish broth, add slices of lapu-lapu, a few fresh scallops and medium sized shrimps. Yum.

  4. Lovely stuff, MM. I just don’t like seeing the ginger and worse, bite into it. In our home, my Mom would cut it up julienne or minced to miniscule and then fried toasty like the ginger sauce you see in Chinese restaurants. Sounds maarte I know but it really makes a difference for me. I love it too with a lot of fried garlic and of course, served with tokwa and baboy (and by that, I just like the texture of the tenga cartilage and none of the hairy chopped up snout).

  5. i am not really a fan of pospas, congee, or linugaw as what we call it here but i really like the add-ons. i love century eggs. One good example of “sick” food is skyflakes and warm royal tru-orange, for whatever medicinal properties the combo has i will never know

  6. Another childhood memory of arroz caldo, usually made with chicken stock. But for really bad fevers my mom (or the yaya) would make it with just water, and it would have that extremely bland consistency (very white too). I remember going with my dad to a restaurant in China, where you got a big bowl of congee (the blandest mixture they could make), then chose from a range of accompaniments like baby oysters sauteed in garlic, or vegetables, fish, chicken. The congee was just a thick soupy foundation for the flavors of the other food. Of course, if you ordered too many other dishes, you get this muck at the end, but it was a lot of fun, cheap too.
    Nowadays, I get a bowl of fish congee at gloria maris or when on a budget Hen Lin.

  7. I was actually taken aback when my wife said she only eats lugaw when she’s sick. I always had this for breakfast as a kid, alternating with champorado. What tuyo is to champorado, tokwa’t baboy is to lugaw. Some weird folks pair it with pandesal too.

  8. Yup, I remember the Royco Chicken Noodle Soup and the Royco Arroz Caldo mixes in pouches. Used to have them all the time for lunch.

  9. We also call it Pospas in Bataan, specially if it is made with chicken. With tripe it becomes Goto. The unflavoured plain lugao though was what nourished us when we were sick, partnered with preserved bean curd (tauhure). A cousin married a poet from San Miguel, Bulacan who avoids pesa because they consider it convalescent food there whereas to us pesa is a special treat and even more so if apahap is involved since apahap is the equivalent of a really “big catch” to us.

  10. Molly, you are right, you can do a version where the water is soaked or washed first… the blender for the egg must really make the soup thick and tasty!
    Wysgal and Gigi, I agree with the ginger comments. That’s why I do really big slices that can easily be removed before serving if you like. I like the sound of fried ginger, so savory and the aroma…
    ichabod, all those different variations with broth and mixings…who would have thought. I guess this is a really good dish to create personal favorites out of…
    lee, skyflakes and coke works for me. There is an explanation… the crackers are dry and uncomplicated, easy on the stomach, the salt replenishes that lost on fevers and sweat. The carbonation in the sodas seems to calm the stomach as well. I was just so thrilled I could have a coke that I felt better instantly!
    Mila, all of those variations sound great. Frankly, I am less of an avid fan than many of you…but I do like it.
    Oscar, funny how stuff becomes familial “sick food” – the other terrific thing I would get when really sick was a few Hershey’s chocolate kisses. In the 1970’s that was a major treat. I had to be deathly ill and there was no medical reason, just the joy of seeing those familiar foil wrapped goodies and the silly piece of paper with Hersheys printed on it!
    Maricel, Royco must have been our equivalent of Lucky Mie instant noodles!
    Apicio,how luxurious apahap had become ever since the rivers became polluted and the fish disappeared. Now apahap are raised in Mindanao and are more readily available in Manila from certain dealers. Apahap, btw, is closely related to the much vaunted barramundi of the Australians!

  11. i made a potful of arroz caldo the other day and gave it to my indian friends at the grocery store for their “iftar” and they liked it! i suggested they warm some “pandesal” at the cafeteria next door, which they did and have the arroz caldo with the pandesal and butter! they loved it! he he he … i usually have mine too with pandesal n butter…alongside the tokwa :) … (pork is not available in small eateries here in dubai). he he he, oscar, they are a lot of weird folks here in dubai, me included !!!

  12. wow, aleth! that’s another comfort food – pandesal with butter. i must say though that they don’t make pandesal like they used to. the one that pugon sells is good for an hour at most then it turns to a dense, high involvement chewing that can pass as an olympic sport type of thing. horrible.

    my question now is — what do you drink with the congee? i like Coke light now. when i was little, it was just water.

  13. being of chinese descent- highpoint of my childhood was having dimsum breakfast in ongpin (far eastern restaurant was THE place to go back then) with a bowl of bola-bola congee (it was still called lugao back then) with a drop of raw egg. aaahhh… chicken feet, siomai, hakaw, radish cake and lugao.

  14. During the 70’s everytime our driver would go somewhere in Laguna, she would send him a big empty “caldero” and make him buy some “popas” somewhere in Binan (I think). My mom said it’s made with “itik” and it was really delicious. The taste still lingers and I do wonder if that little roadside stall is still around.

  15. MM,
    Yum yum! Nothing like to warm your tummy on a hot rainy day…I love this congee topped with fried garlic…

    Ive tried that type of lugaw in China and I absolutely loved it! The simplicity of the dish(plain white lugaw) as well as the miracle of the condiments (preserved radishes, eggs, dried veggies and what have you!) make it one of my all-time best breakfasts to look forward too when i visit the Middle Kingdom. Very hearty indeed!

    Im not sure you guys are familiar with this but as a kid, I used to really like plain white lugaw with a spoonful of Bovril (a beef essence of sorts)…Havent seen that brand for the looonggest time!

  16. A really good economical and delicious idea for a Saturday or Sunday lunch is to do a congee buffet. Have lots of the base rice cooked up then put out 10-20 different things to mix in… everybody can make it the way they like it and you can really ratchet up this humble bowl of comfort food to a new level!

  17. ‘Arroz Caldo’ is the first home-cooked food that my kids tried. I have a 15-month old son and he loves it. I strayed a bit from the usual ingredients though. I’ve added spinach, carrots, bokchoy and celery to my arroz caldo. That way, my kids get a well-balanced meal.

  18. I remember having this on those mornings when classes would be suspended because of a typhoon. We’d be in the school uniform (because the announcement would always come late :D ), hair still damp and eating bowlfuls of arroz caldo. Good memories!

    Everytime I eat arroz caldo now, I always say “kulang na lang, signal number two!”

  19. for the same ingredients BUT substitute your meats with steamed crabs. for soup stock – use the liquid from steaming (pass through the sieve). separate the cooked aligi (crab fat) and saute in tons of garlic, seasoned with salt, freshly ground pepper and a little salt. use this mixture as your topping.

    Yep. It is Capampangan dish – “Lelut Talangka”

  20. I’ve never thought of Pospas as sick food, more of recess food. :) That’s what I had each day in Sta. Catalina when I was in kindergarten, because that was all my 25-centavo baon could buy. :) The pospas I knew was yellow (due to kasubha) but also had chicken and some tripe.

  21. MM,
    Have you tried the healthy version of UCC called Oats Caldo, where they substituted oats for the rice?

    It’s quite good.

  22. Tinola has the same ingredients as the arroz caldo sans green onions. Now this gives me an idea of recycling a bowl of left over tinola into arroz caldo. Just probably need to add a little more ginger, green onions and toasted garlic. Hmmm, perfect for this cold winter in the CA central valley.

  23. hi,
    This chicken porridge / congee reminds me of how my mom used to cook it. I’m chinese and the ingredients for your recipe is so similar to my childhood :) but what i wanted to ask about was the kalamansi, is that similar to the big lime or? since im in jakarta i’d like to find this ingredient. could you share bout it? thank you.

  24. Joy, the kalamansi is a small citrus fruit that is similar but distinct from a lime. If you search kalamansi on my archives and keep scrolling down until you get to the post on the fruit, it will explain it more. I am not sure if they have it in Jakarta, the small limes there might be used instead. Saya tinggal di Jakarta kira-kira tiga sampai empat tahun…

  25. I have been down with the flu for 3 days now and this morning I just had to have pospas! I have not really lost my appetite but my stomach can’t handle food much this time. True enough, when we were sick as a child in the 70s, my mom will definitely ask our cook to prepare pospas or royco chicken noodle soup. And I do remember the Hershey’s Kisses as a treat because then it was only available when somebody comes from the USA and sells PX goods. Now, it’s available almost anywhere.
    I always thought Lugaw or Congee is different from Arroz Caldo…chinese congee had been my fave esp. from Luk Yuen in the old Glorieta…Arroz Caldo for me is more Pinoy taste or version…

  26. hi, i want to learn how to cook a crab aligi, i really wanted to learn how, i tried to cook once but the smell of the aligi is still there, can you teach me? please?

  27. you know, i always cook the arroz caldo, and it really taste best especially you put a chicken liver and an egg. i love it especially during rainy days….

  28. I learned how to cook arroz caldo only about 2 years after I moved here in NJ. I have so far perfected the technique and my arroz caldo is my husband’s and now my 2-year old’s favorite at home on cold autumn and winter nights and days. My son can’t even wait for the lugao to cool off before he has his spoonful!

    I sautee garlic, lots of finely chopped ginger, and onions. Make sure you don’t burn them. Then I dump the chicken pieces (yes, by all means add the chicken liver) and let them brown just a little bit. Add some patis and cover. After about 2 minutes, add the washed uncooked rice. I mix one part plain uncooked white rice with 3 parts uncooked malagkit (sweet rice). Mix well. Add water or chicken stock. I use a total of one cup of uncooked rice for every 6 cups of liquid. Once the lugao comes to a boil, let it simmer slowly it in very low fire. The process will let the chicken flavor really come out. Make sure to stir every once in while. Don’t worry if the lugao looks soupy. It will become thicker as it simmers away. When it’s the right consistency, I drop some hard cooked eggs in, chopped green onions, toasted garlic and shredded pork sung. The toasted garlic and pork sung are readily available in most Asian stores here in the East Coast. Serve hot with more chopped green onions, toasted garlic, pork sung, sliced lemons (or calamansi) and patis to taste. And yes, pandesal and butter will be a nice accompaniment! Enjoy!!

  29. If you don’t like the thickness of the rice. Here is another way of making it. Saute the rice first in oil until it turns alittle brown (Not too much rice) . Remove any excess oil. Add chopped onion, finely mixed garlic and ginger. Lots of ginger if you like the gingery broth. Next add boneless chicken pieces. (i cut mines up really small) Patis for saltyness. Then add your chicken broth. Let it boil. While boiling add a little cilantro. The soup should be done when the rice is cooked. Top it with green onion, fresh cilantro and fried shallots.

  30. thank you for that info about pospas/lugaw/arroz caldo.. i have this food stand in batangas docks/pier terminal 2 for a month now.. i serve lugaw/pospas, sopas, and champorado from 7am to 7pm.. filipinos really loves lugaw and they do eat it anytime of day.. XD

  31. I remember during my college days in Manila 70s we used to go to Divisoria from UE Recto just to eat lugaw. We call the store busol busol in Bicol term because the small cart is just pushed by the owner. How happy we were then. We just eat the lugaw standing with so many people passing by.

  32. thanx for the info…just cook my pospas just a minute ago…i made it for father who has a flu..and he likes it.(sweat dripping while eating)lol….\m/



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