08 July 2016


Tinola at Home!

As I was saying, if you came to visit my country and stayed with me, I'd feed you at home. That is, I'd get my brother to feed you. I'm a decent cook, but he is something else.

One classic Filipino dish he does really well is tinola--chicken and greens in a broth flavoured with onion, garlic, ginger, and fish sauce--the ginger being (in my humble opinion) the star of the savouries. Or as a former friend and her brother like to call it, "green chicken." (You can tell they grew up abroad.)

The greens are usually green papaya and the leaves (dahon) of the little red chili (sili) plant--and by "usually," I mean that my particular family has only ever had it at home with one or both of these two. But as you can imagine, substitutions abound and most are just as traditional. These days, no one at home cares for papaya, so we just double the dahon ng sili. My brother likes his tinola with an extra kick to it, so he crushes an actual sili into the broth at some point near the end of the cooking process. It's a great twist for the cooler monsoon months we're currently having.

You can cut up a whole chicken for this dish or use thigh and leg parts like we do these days. Serve it up with (what else?) white rice.

Tinola is such a classic dish that it has a cameo in a classic Filipino novel. The very same one I mentioned in the previous food post, leaving me grudgingly impressed. It is a favourite of the main antagonist, who believes himself entitled to the meatiest part of the chicken whenever tinola is served at a dinner party. One day, someone unthinkingly serves him the scrawniest part of the chicken. He doesn't take it well. Of course he's the nasty Spanish friar type. Sigh.

If you're enjoying the food posts, you may be interested in one of the food books in the Philippine Literature Giveaway, like Option #35: A Taste of Home: Pinoy Expats and Food Memories, edited by Edgar B. Maranan and Len S. Maranan-Goldstein. This anthology of essays includes the story of a woman determined to recreate her late grandmother's tinola and the recipe she was finally able to make peace with.

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Belfry Bat said...

You classify ginger as a savoury? Weird... or maybe not! To be sure, it is among the very best. Over here it finds its way into a fair number of sweets, but of course it is not a sweetness itself...

Emily J. said...

Looks delicious!

Itinérante said...

En! This chicken looks so yummy! Do you have a favourite recipe for it?

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat -- Haven't you used it in a meat or vegetable dish? I wonder if most entrees or sides which require it are Asian in origin . . .

Emily -- It was! =) Drop by any time!

Itinerante -- My brother's recipe is my favourite. =) Dice an onion, two or three cloves of garlic, and a "thumb" of ginger; sautee them in oil until fragrant, then add about a tablespoon of fish sauce (patis). Warning: it's going to smell awful for a while after this point! =P Add the chicken and water to the pot, and let the whole thing simmer until the chicken is soft. Add the dahon ng sili (or whatever leafy greens you want to use to turn the broth green) about a minute before you turn off the heat, so that they are still a bit raw at dinner time.

The spicy version is a "second day meal," because my brother's favourite "technique" of using sili in tinola is making it explode in the microwave, at some point during the reheating! =P Note that one small sili is enough for a family-sized bowl!

Please let me know if you've tried making it. =) Remember that it's basically "ginger chicken" in greenish broth!

Belfry Bat said...

I certainly have. Ginger chicken is delicious! Also with pork, occasionally, and white fish... all of those go well with steamed broccoli, as it happens.

It's just that ginger tea, gingerbread, ginger jam ("marmalade" for some reason...), candied ginger... they usually come to mind first.

Sheila said...

I cook chicken with ginger a lot. But I doubt I could get my hands on those greens!

Enbrethiliel said...


Honestly, any greens will do! They're really just there to give the broth some colour and every tinola is different! As long as you have the ginger, onion, garlic, and fish sauce, you're good to go. =) I know that Filipinos in the US have used spinach as a substitute . . . but I confess that's something I would never do! =P

Why don't you try it with broccoli, as per Bat's non-suggestion?

Sheila said...

I would probably use chard, since I have scads of it. Though I'm sure it's just as inauthentic as spinach. Or perhaps kale? I like kale in soup.

The real problem is, I have never liked fish sauce. Perhaps I need to get over this. They say small amounts, you can't taste, but I always convince myself I can. (Though I eat Worcestershire sauce, which is really no different if you think about it. The difference being it doesn't taste or smell like fermented anchovies.)

Enbrethiliel said...


My expert brother says the fish sauce is to make it salty without using salt, so I guess you can just salt it. That doesn't help you with the authenticity, I know . . .

I've been looking up what Filipinos abroad use as substitutes. For some reason I will never know, spinach is the choice of Filipinos in America. So if you do use it, you won't have a Filipino dish, but you will have a Fil-Am dish! I normally love spinach, but I just think that it would compete too much with the chicken and the ginger in tinola. (Then again, how would I know? I refuse to try it! =P)

One intriguing suggestion is paprika leaves, reportedly used by a Filipino in Austria. Both sili and paprika are in the pepper family, so this makes some sense. You can also use moringa, which I should have mentioned so much earlier. I know a lot of Filipino families put it in tinola; mine just happens to be in the dahon ng sili camp.

Can you get chayote? It's the traditional substitute for the green papaya. A moringa-chayote combo would be very authentic!