05/15/18 10:32am

A Pinoy Porridge Primer at Woodside’s House of Inasal

The more austere lugaw (left) and golden yellow arroz caldo at HOI with crispy tofu.

My mother is from the Philippines, which is why my family called rice porridge lugaw when I was growing up. Even my father now calls rice porridge lugaw even though he grew up in Taiwan calling it mai. The lugaw we made at home was usually a bland rice-and-water-only affair, without even salt. Occasionally, my mother would make chicken lugaw by braising drumsticks in the simmering rice, a rudimentary version of the chicken porridge known as arroz caldo.

On the all-day breakfast menu at the House of Inasal in Woodside, you’ll find both lugaw and arroz caldo. (If you order before noon, they come with free taho, Philippine-style dòuhuā, extra soft tofu topped with sago pearls and arnibal, a syrup made from brown sugar, ideally muscovado.)

A rice-and-water-only porridge is a tough sell, which is probably why House of Inasal—and other Philippine restaurants—makes its “plain” lugaw with chicken broth. House of Inasal serves its lugaw with tokwa, crispy-fried tofu doused with soy sauce and sugarcane vinegar, a common accompaniment to porridge in the Philippines. The chicken broth gives the lugaw a savory moreishness, and the crunch of the tokwa contrasts nicely with the silkiness of the porridge.

The first thing you notice about the arroz caldo at House of Inasal is its rich yellow color, which typically comes from kasubha, safflower petals, which Filipinos substituted for the more expensive saffron that was more easily affordable to their Spanish colonial masters. In this bowl of golden gruel was also bone-in chicken and a hard-boiled egg. I feel the need to call attention to how skillfully this egg was cooked. Its yolk was just opaque and perfectly yellow, without a hint of the dark green seen in the yolks of overcooked eggs. That takes care and effort, which reflects well on House of Inasal.

Both lugaw and arroz caldo were topped with crisped garlic and chopped scallions. In a perfect world—or the Philippines—they would also have been accompanied by calamansi limes, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

House of Inasal, 65-14 Roosevelt Ave, Woodside, 718-429-0709

Stanford Chiou is a writer and photographer. He enjoys traveling around the world, especially when it only costs him a subway fare.

 

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