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The Theoretical Cook


Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Bulalo is god's gift to Filipinos.

There was a time when we traveled all the way up to Tagaytay to eat bulalo in the Mahogany market, next to the slaughterhouse. The idea is that - well, the meat has got to be fresh because the eatery is right next to the slaughterhouse. For a long time we endured the stench of meat while eating bulalo because we thought that authentic bulalo had to be served in that sort of environment. I learned this theory from the expert: watch where the taxi drivers or tricycle drivers eat because that's where real good food is.

Sometimes this theory fails completely. In cooking school, my chef instructor asked me: what makes good food/ food good?
"When it is cheap?" I ventured.
"No Ms. A, " He retorted. "Good food has nothing to do with cheapness! Good food is about good quality. And quality comes at a price!" And he then proceeded into a detailed account of how he prepares a simple meal for himself by sandwiching good ham and plum tomatoes and fresh lettuce leaves between two slices of excellent wheat bread. "With real Dijon mustard sauce, of course!" He said.
My other chef teacher, on the other hand, mooned over spending hard earned cash to buy caviar at Santis. Then he relayed how glorious portobello mushrooms can be when baked with fish.

But I am getting off tangent, as usual. The point is that I always thought that good food had to be part of the local landscape, so I remained skeptical about my instructors' exaggerations about 'foreign' food. However, I remain a willing student and every once in a while, I indulge in whimsical recipes but I remain a staunch fan of local recipes.

Anyway, I was talking about the journeys we used to take for the love of bulalo. Then one day, while touring guests, we ended up at Cecilles in Tagaytay, one of those restaurants lined up along the ridge. And good god, the bulalo was heaven on earth. All memories of the mahogany market bulalo got buried by the incredible taste of Cecilles' bulalo meat. What on earth where we doing in the market all these years? When Cecilles sold infinitely better bulalo for just a little more?

Bulalo is one of the easiest beef soups ever. My version is a little more fancy because its being cooked for a sick person. (See my nilaga recipe) Its just really like nilaga except I used fancier cuts with the requisite bone marrow.

So here it is, my bulalo.


1 kg beef shanks
celery, stalks only
carrots, sliced
onion, sliced
pechay leaves, sliced
potatoes, diced
black pepper
bay leaves

1) Boil the beef shanks. Throw away the water/ or skim the surface until water becomes clear.
2) Boil the beef pieces in new water. Add some black pepper and salt to the water.
3) Add the carrot, onions, and celery to flavor the simmering beef stock.
4) Leave for 2 hours, checking every once in a while to see that there's still plenty of water.
5) Add the corn.
6) When corn is tender, add the pechay leaves.
7) Serve immediately.



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