Growing up with Filipino food, I am naturally a big fan of the yummy delights that filled my growing up years in Manila. However, since leaving the Philippines almost 13 years ago, I don't get my fill of Pinoy food. Unlike many Asian cuisines, you see, Filipino food isn't as accessible as, say, Chinese, Malaysian, Thai, Japanese, or Korean food.
A lot of the dishes are either a bit "too exotic" or too similar with other cuisines. That's why Filipino restaurants aren't very common in many countries overseas, unless there's a huge number of Filipinos or Philippine-heritage citizens in the area.
That's why it took a while for my British husband to get used to the idea of eating Filipino food. Sure, he's taken to lechon and inihaw easily because they are basically just roasts or deep-fried meat. He loves lechon manok (roast chicken), just as much as he loves any of his favourite Sunday roast meal from his childhood.
When I first cooked Chicken Tinola (a soup-based chicken dish) for the hubby in our first year of marriage, he wasn't too crazy about it. So, I never cooked it again for him. And, basically, I ended up hardly ever cooking it at all.
A few years later, we attended a pot luck dinner party with a group of Filipinos in Australia. And, one of the couples brought a Chicken Tinola dish. The husband devoured it. Yes, even if it had fish sauce (he often refused to eat anything with a hint of fish sauce). Told everyone he loved it.
I was indignant because I said that I once cooked it for him and he said he didn't like it. He was adamant that he certainly liked that Tinola.
Then, we ended up figuring the main difference: I used sayote (aka chayote or pear squash, amongst other names), as that was one of the ways I cooked it back in Manila. However, the Tinola he loved used the alternative vegetable instead: green papaya (aka green pawpaw).
Since then, I started tweaking the Chicken Tinola recipe that I grew up with into something the husband would love. In fact, something that he now considers as one of his favourite dishes.
Both the kids have fallen in love with this dish too. The boy says Chicken Tinola is his third favourite dish (next to roast chicken and roast pork; yep, he loves his roasts). And, the girl claims this is her favourite dish, even beating lasagna and spaghetti Bolognese (yes, she loves her pasta).
So, here is my version of Chicken Tinola:
- 1 whole chicken, cut in to pieces
- 1 green papaw/papaya, peeled, de-seeded, and cut in to pieces
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 small red onion, sliced
- 1.5 tbsp sliced ginger
- 1 bunch baby spinach, cut in half (or thirds) across
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
- 3-4 cups boiled water
- 2 cups chicken stock (or 2 - 3 chicken stock cubes dissolved in 2 cups of water)
- Put the oil in a large frying pan in medium heat.
- Fry the chicken on both sides in batches for 2 to 3 minutes each side, or until the outside part is slightly browned. Season with salt and pepper.
- Set the chicken aside when ready.
- In a large saucepan, put the oil used to fry the chicken.
- Sauté the garlic quickly and then add the onions and ginger. Sauté the garlic, ginger, and onions until they're slightly caramelised or soft.
- Add the chicken.
- Then, add the sliced green papaya or papaw.
- Put in the boiled water and chicken stock. Make sure that the chicken and papaya pieces are submerged in the liquid. If not, add more water and/or stock as needed.
- Cover the saucepan and lower the heat.
- Leave to boil for about 15 to 20 minutes.
- When the soup is boiling, test the papaya if it's soft with a fork or knife. It should be easily pierced, without being too mushy.
- When the papaya is soft enough, add the baby spinach. Mix. Cook for another 3 - 5 minutes.
- Add salt and pepper. You can also add the fish sauce, if you like. Mix.
- Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
Filipinos often love to eat Chicken Tinola with a condiment. Some prefer soy sauce. But, I love it with fish sauce and chopped fresh chili.
This meal is perfect for cold or rainy days. But, since it has become a family favourite, we have it all year round. It usually makes it to our menu every 3-4 weeks.
Many say that Filipino food is an acquired taste or something that you have to grow up with. But, I hope you enjoy this as much as my family does.
As an aside, sharing this recipe is a much-delayed response to Yvonne Russell's request to share a favourite Asian dish two years ago.