Updated as of June 19, 2023 by Camille Georgia Uy.
If you’ve been confused by the many names of rice porridge, you’re not alone. A lot of cultures around the world have their own version of rice porridge or lugaw. In our country alone, we have many versions of lugaw with different names — and differences in their ingredients.
The most popular kinds of rice porridge in the Philippines are called lugaw, congee, arroz caldo, and goto. They have a lot of similarities between them, but they also have key differences that set them apart from the others.
Here’s how lugaw, congee, arroz caldo, and goto are different from each other:
1 Lugaw (Rice Porridge)
Lugaw is the umbrella term for most rice porridge-style dishes in the Philippines, champorado being an exemption. In essence, lugaw is rice cooked in water until it disintegrates into a thick consistency.
The most basic lugaw is simply flavored with patis (fish sauce) and a little ginger and sometimes, contains tenderized pork intestines. Often associated with sick days, lugaw is the nation’s comfort food. Garnished with a sprinkle of spring onions and toasted garlic bits, it often also is cooked with a hard-boiled egg and served with tokwa’t baboy.
Here, in the Philippines, you usually find lugaw referred to as congee in Chinese restaurants. There, you would find different variants that use quail egg, century egg, seafood or dumplings. China’s history of rice gruel goes back thousands of years. Our lugaw may be inherited from Chinese merchants landing on our shores.
3 Arroz Caldo
When the Spanish came, they gave lugaw another name — “hot rice” or arroz caldo — while infusing flavor that’s more familiar with them. What made arroz caldo different from our basic lugaw is the prominent ginger flavor and the chicken pieces. Often, it would have a pinch of saffron that colors it to a beautiful yellow. Kasubha is our local version of the pricey saffron, making it easier to replicate the yellow hue that arroz caldo is known to have.
The actual translation of “goto” is “tripe,” referring to the meat used to flavor it, ox tripe. The meticulous cleaning and preparation of ox tripe, a honeycomb textured part of the beef found in the stomach, is what truly makes this variation special. Because of the meat of choice, goto is often known as the beef lugaw. While goto is fairly popular all over Philippines, there is a version of goto that originates from Batangas that is actually more like soup than porridge: it omits the rice and instead is made by infusing the flavors of pork and beef meat and innards and aromatics in a slow-cooked broth.
The way these three different rice porridges have evolved from the simple lugaw is testament to how history can influence us and our food, as they blend into our everyday lives. Just like there are many versions of adobo, so too does the lugaw.
The simple bowl of lugaw can tell a story of your life, probably of your mother caring for you while sick and serving lugaw to fill an upset yet empty stomach. It’s this connection that makes it comforting, makes it taste like home, makes you want to crave for it—sick or not.