What's The Difference: Bulalo vs Nilaga

Which is your favorite?

IMAGE Majoy Siason/Riell Santos
ILLUSTRATOR Roselle Miranda

Do you love bulalo? If you love bulalo even more than you do a beef nilaga even if both have similar ingredients, there's a big reason why. It's all about the soup. 

Think about it: bulalo and beef nilaga are essentially the same kind of beef dish but with a few differences: 

1 Bulalo has corn. Nilaga has potatoes.    

Tagaytay is the undisputed home of the bulalo. Almost every restaurant that serves main meals will have bulalo on its menu. Order one of these and you'll see that while it does have bulalo or beef shanks, it also comes with wedges of cabbage or pechay and cut-up corn on the cob. 

Nilaga on the other hand is quite different. You'll see the requisite beef chunks as well as wedges of cabbage or pechay but also cubed potatoes. 

2 Bulalo uses beef shank. Nilaga uses beef cubes. 

The big difference between these two seemingly similar soup recipes is the kind of beef cut that is used. If you use the same ingredients but without the vegetables, you would basically make a beef soup. The bulalo is named after the main ingredients, the beef shank, while the more generic nilaga is made with meaty beef cubes. 

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However, it's the kind of soup that is made that matters to your taste buds. Bulalo is a beef stock and nilaga is a beef broth. 

The bones are what make a stock like bulalo different from a broth like nilaga.
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What makes stock different from a broth? 

Both are made by simmering meat pieces in water. It's the kind of meat is used that makes these two so different The bulalo is a stock because it uses meaty slices that still contain the bone from the shank while the nilaga is a broth since it commonly simmers meaty beef chunks without the bone in the water. 

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This is why the bulalo is commonly simmered for longer periods of time compared to nilaga. The bones of the bulalo contain collagen which is extracted the longer it's simmered, making the soup thicker in texture. The soup of the nilaga is lighter in texture since the flavor of the soup is extracted from just the meat. 

Bulalo serves patis on the side. Nilaga is already seasoned.

The best bulalo dish is the bulalo that lets the beefy taste be the star. While some cooks may season the stock with seasonings including the patis, it's usually only lightly seasoned so the taste of the sabaw is enhanced. It's common to see bulalo with the patis served on the side, together with the calamansi and the siling labuyo at the table. 

This is what makes the nilaga more flavorful: the broth is commonly seasoned perfectly before it reaches the table. The calamansi and the siling labuyo is also served on the side and sometimes more patis, too, for those who would like their soup with more salty flavors.

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