Everything You Need to Know About Bulalo

IMAGE Bianca Laxamana

You will be hard-pressed to find a list of Filipino comfort food that doesn't include bulalo. Rich and irresistibly flavorful, this simple beef soup is perfect for cold days, as a bowl (or two) is sure to leave you warm and full.

What is Bulalo?

Bulalo is a classic Filipino beef soup that is made by simmering beef shanks and marrow bones in a broth seasoned with salt, pepper, and patis or fish sauce. It also usually includes vegetables like cabbage and corn.

Bulalo is often confused with another Filipino beef soup, the nilaga. While bulalo and nilaga do bear a lot of similarities, the key difference lies in the cut of beef used in both: bulalo uses beef shanks and marrow bones while nilaga features beef chunks. Both can be served with cabbage, but bulalo usually has corn while nilaga will have potatoes and green beans.

Table of Contents

• History of Bulalo

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How to Cook Bulalo

• How to Serve Bulalo

• Bulalo Recipes

• Tips for Making the Best Bulalo

• Bulalo Storage Tips

History of Bulalo

bowl of bulalo with mountain view in the background
Most bulalohans or bulalo restaurants in Tagaytay have picturesque views.
Photo by Pamana
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This Filipino ulam dish is named after its main ingredient: the bulalo, which is the Filipino word for beef shanks. This part of the beef is collagen-rich, and the method of slow-cooking along with aromatics such as garlic, onions, ginger, and sometimes scallions, infuses the broth with a rich, savory beef flavor.

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Bulalo is largely considered to have originated from Southern Luzon, and its history can be traced back to the 16th century when Spanish colonizers and Chinese traders brought cattle to the PhilippinesBatangas is known for its cattle trade and prides itself in its abundance of beef dishes. Meanwhile, Tagaytay is famous for its colder climate, and it is no wonder that it's a hotspot for bulalohan or bulalo restaurants; the cool air and the warm beef soup are a perfect combination.

How to Cook Bulalo

bowl of bulalo with stainless ladles in it
Bulalo is best served with hot rice!
Photo by Shutterstock
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Making bulalo is a fairly straightforward process, but it is one that requires patience! The good news is that this patience is always rewarded with a rich, flavorful broth that will leave you craving for more.

To cook bulalo, it's important to clean the beef shanks first. This is done by boiling the beef for about 10 minutes, which will draw out the impurities from the beef. The water is then discarded and the shanks are rinsed.

Next, in a pot over medium heat, place the cleaned beef shanks and add enough water to cover the meat. Bring to a boil, and remove the scum as it gathers. When the broth is clear, the onions, peppercorns, and other aromatics can be added.

Now the waiting begins: let the broth simmer over low heat for about 3 hours or until the meat is tender. When the beef can be easily pierced with a fork, add in the corn and simmer for another 20 minutes. Lastly, turn off the heat, add the cabbage, and cover the pot to let the steam soften the leafy greens. If you add big wedges of cabbage, however, you may need to simmer it slightly for a few minutes to fully cook through the core before turning off the heat. 

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How to Serve Bulalo

bulalo in a ceramic bowl
It's basically a sin not to serve bulalo with rice!
Photo by Majoy Siason

Bulalo is traditionally served with hot steamed rice, as is common for any Filipino food. It can also be served with a dip made with patis and sliced sili, or vinegar and sili. Another option could be to combine all three: patis, vinegar, and sili! The salty and sour dip serves to cut through the rich fattiness of the meat and broth, and the spiciness makes each bite more appetizing.

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One of the most distinctive features of bulalo is the bone-in beef shank that is filled with marrow, which is called "utak" or brain by Filipinos because of its appearance and texture. The best way to enjoy a fresh, hot bowl of bulalo is by scooping out the marrow with a knife (or chopsticks), and consuming this mixed with hot rice and maybe a dash of the patis, vinegar, and sili dip. The way that bulalo is cooked extracts all the fat and collagen from the beef shanks, so the broth and marrow are usually covered with a sheen of tallow that Filipinos call "sebo"; the sebo can cool quite fast and form clumps, so it's best to eat the marrow while it's hot!

Bulalo Recipes

pork bulalo in a white bowl, surrounded by a wooden bowl, a plate of bok choy and onions
This bulalo is made with pork shanks, but it's just as flavorful as its beef counterpart.
Photo by Stephanie Cueva
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Ready to make a hot, comforting bowl of bulalo? Try this classic bulalo recipe

And if you're not a fan of beef, you can swap it out with pork to make this pork bulalo recipe

Regional Bulalo Recipe Variations

Pochero - Cebu/ Visayas

Not to be confused with the Tagalog pochero which is a pork stew made with a tomato-based broth, pocherong bisaya or simply pochero is what bulalo is called in the Visayas region.

Cebuano pochero in a gray bowl
In Cebu, bulalo is called pochero!
Photo by Bianca Laxamana
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Here's are some pochero recipes you can try:

Sizzling Bulalo Recipes

Swapping out the flavorful broth for a rich, savory gravy and serving the bulalo on a sizzling plate makes these recipes a meal to remember.

sizzling bulalo topped with toasted garlic chips
This mouthwatering dish is an absolute must-try.
Photo by Miguel Nacianceno
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Other Bulalo Recipe Variations

bulalo lugaw in a ceramic bowl
Bulalo meets lugaw in this creative comfort food mash-up!
Photo by Majoy Siason
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Tips For Making the Best Bulalo

bulalo in stainless steel pot
Trust us: good bulalo comes to those who wait!
Photo by Patrick Martires

1 Go low and slow when cooking bulalo.

Simmering the bulalo over a low heat is the best way to cook bulalo as it ensures that the beef is tender and flavorful. It allows the collagen enough time to melt and infuse into the broth, which is made more savory with the addition of the aromatics.

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2 Season in stages, and don't be shy with the patis.

While it's perfectly acceptable to season the beef shanks with just salt, the rich, umami flavor of bulalo actually comes from the addition of patis or fish sauce. Seasoning the bulalo in stages allows you to better control how salty the broth will be, as opposed to only adding the seasonings at the end. This also gets rid of the fishy taste of patis and will leave you with a richer, umami-filled broth.

3 Let the steam cook the cabbage to keep some crunch.

Nobody likes soggy veggies, and the best way to avoid this is by adding the chopped cabbage last, and after the stove has been turned off, letting the residual steam and heat cook the cabbage. This technique will soften the cabbage, draw out its natural sweetness, and give it an al dente, crispy bite.

Of course, you can skip this tip and cook the cabbage until your desired tenderness. 

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Bulalo Storage Tips

close up of bulalo with lemongrass
Bulalo keeps well in the refrigerator or the freezer, so making a big batch is no problem.
Photo by Michael Angelo Chua

1 Bulalo can be refrigerated for up to 3 or 4 days.

Let the bulalo cool completely before transferring it to an airtight container and refrigerating. It's best to separate the veggies to keep them from getting soggy.

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2 Remove the sebo while it's cold.

If you want to avoid the tallow or sebo that forms on top of the broth, the best time to remove it is when the bulalo is cold. The sebo will form a solid, yellowish-white layer on top which can be easily peeled or scooped off without any trouble.

3 Bulalo can be frozen for up to a week.

For longer storage, you can freeze bulalo in an airtight container for up to 7 days. It is best to remove leafy greens like the cabbage, as these do not freeze well.

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Thinking about what to cook next? Join our Facebook group, Yummy Pinoy Cooking Club, to get more recipe ideas, share your own dishes, and find out what the rest of the community are making and eating!

Got your own version of the classic dishes? Pa-share naman! Get your recipe published on Yummy.ph by submitting your recipe here.


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