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Nilaga: Simple Filipino Cuisine

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  September 12, 2022

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Nilaga is a traditional meat stew or soup from the Philippines, made with boiled beef (nilagang baka) or pork (nilagang baboy) mixed with various vegetables. It is typically eaten with white rice and is served with soy sauce, patis (fish sauce), labuyo chilis, and calamansi on the side.

Nilaga is one of the simplest dishes in the Philippines. It typically uses tender and fatty cuts of meat like sirloin, pork belly, ribs or brisket.

What is nilaga

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What does “nilaga” mean?

The word “nilaga” refers to the Tagalog word “pinakuluan” and means “boiled” in Tagalog, the language spoken in the Philippines. So technically speaking, nilaga is just boiled meat with vegetables.

What’s the origin of nilaga?

Nilaga is a dish that originated in the provinces of Batangas and Cavite in the Philippines. It is said to have been influenced by Spanish cuisine, as evidenced by the use of beef (a common ingredient in Spanish stews) and cabbage (a common ingredient in Spanish dishes).

Nilagang is a traditional Filipino meal that has been passed down through generations.

In fact, Austronesians introduced the technique of boiling food to the Philippines well before the colonial era.

But, it’s believed that Nilagang Baka has Spanish origins. It is a brothy adaptation of a Spanish dish chickpea and meat stew. In Tagalog, the original stew is called Cocido.

Cocido is based on a taditional Spanish dish called Cocido Madrileno. It’s made with cured or fresh meat (especially beef), all kinds of vegetables including corn, potato, onion, and celery.

Sometimes sweet fruit like banana is added and then the most important ingredient is the chickpeas. These are all cooked in a hotpot style low and slow.

As you can tell, the Nilagang Baka is a soup version of this dish without the chickpeas. In fact, boiling the ingredients faster makes Nilagang Baka quicker to make. Filipinos needed quick and flavorful meals.

As a result, individuals decided to boil their beef and season it with a few spices because it was cheap and easy-to-make food.

They also included vegetables like potatoes, cabbage, and onions to round out the meal, which we still utilize in today’s dish.

The origins of boiled beef can be traced back to the cost of a beef cut. The peasant class from Asia, Europe, and America frequently used the harder sections of the cow since they were more inexpensive.

People discovered that the bony parts of the animal create a tastier, rich broth. This is why dishes like Nilagang Baka, Puchero, and Bulalo use these meat cuts in the dish.

What are the ingredients of nilaga?

The most common vegetables used in nilaga are cabbage, potatoes, carrots, and green beans. Other ingredients include: beef broth, garlic, onions, ginger, black peppercorns, bay leaves, and fish sauce.

Types of nilaga

Nilagang Baka

Nilagang Baka is a Filipino beef and vegetable soup with lots of tender meat and hearty vegetables. The overall soup flavors are subdued and the seasonings are quite basic but you won’t believe how incredibly flavorful and comforting the dish is.

The meat gets so tender it falls off the bone. The main vegetables used for this soup are onions, potatoes, corn, pechay (bok choy), regular cabbage, green Baguio beans, and carrots.

Peppercorns are the main form of condiment while soy sauce and fish sauce are added for a salty and savory flavor.

This soupy dish is the ultimate comfort food in many Filipino households. It’s especially popular during the colder winter season because it’s such a hot comforting broth.

It’s also a one-pot dish which makes it a favorite for busy households.

But the dish is commonly served as a Sunday meal where the whole family gathers around the table to enjoy this yummy food.

Nilagang baboy

The words nilagang baboy mean “boiled pork” in English and it’s a type of Filipino soup made with boiled pork and vegetables. It’s typically made with pork belly, pork ribs, or pork leg.

On ordinary days, this soup meal is frequently offered for lunch or dinner.

Steamed white rice is the ideal accompaniment for nilagang baboy, which is best served with some patis (fish sauce) and some siling labuyo (birds eye chili) for spice.

People often make the nilagang baboy recipe during the rainy season. Its hot broth, meat, and vegetables put on steaming rice makes wonderful comfort food.

However, it’s still nice to eat this dish on any day or when you’ve had an overload of salty and greasy foods.

It’s lighter than many dishes, so people who are dieting find this great. The only thing they’ll have to avoid is eating the fatty part of the pork.

The original boiled beef soup may have been for people from the lower class.

But today, it’s not that low-cost to prepare such a dish anymore. Prices have gone up, and every food item isn’t as cheap as before.

Yet this nilagang baboy recipe is still cheaper compared to the beef version. And it’s a good dish to prepare for people suffering from diarrhea or hyperacidity.

Here in the Philippines, it’s also a staple when people get sick with flu, together with sinigang (sour stew soup).

Nilagang baboy is believed to have originated from Batangas, a province in the Philippines.

It’s one of the most popular dishes in the Philippines, and it’s not hard to see why.

But in the past, this type of soup was associated with the working class and peasants. It was made with cheaper beef cuts and didn’t have any vegetables.

A few centuries ago, meat was rare, and people only had access to tougher meat cuts, so they boiled the meat to make it easier to chew.

Now, the dish has evolved and become more sophisticated. It’s made with pork, which makes it still accessible, but also a bit more luxurious.

Vegetables have also been added, making the soup more hearty and filling.

How to eat nilaga

Nilaga can be eaten on its own, but it is typically eaten with white rice. It is served with soy sauce, patis (fish sauce), labuyo chilis, and calamansi on the side, which can be added to taste.

To eat nilaga, simply spoon some soup and meat onto your plate, and add rice. Then, add soy sauce, fish sauce, chili peppers, and calamansi to taste.

What’s the difference between nilaga and bulalo?

Nilaga uses beef broth made with meat without bones, while bulalo uses beef stock. Stock is made with bones as well as meat. Using the stock results in a deeper and more fatty flavor.

What’s the difference between nilaga and tinola?

Tinola is a soup made with chicken, whereas nilaga is normally made with beef. Nilaga also has more basic flavors and uses a standard set of vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and string beans. Tinola also typically uses ginger and green papaya, which gives it a more distinct flavor.

Where to eat nilaga?

There are many places in the Philippines that serve nilaga, but one of the most popular is Lolo Dad’s Nilagang Baka in Manila. This restaurant has been serving nilaga since 1967 and is known for their beefy and flavorful soup.

Is nilaga healthy?

Nilaga is a healthy dish because it is made with lean meat and vegetables. It is low in calories and fat, and high in protein and fiber.

Conclusion

So there you have it! Nilaga is a delicious and hearty soup that is perfect for a rainy day or any day, really. Now go out and try it for yourself!

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.