Say “tinola” and most Filipinos think of a chicken soup with green papaya and sili leaves in gingered broth. But I grew up with bangus (milkfish) tinola too. If both chicken and fish can be cooked as tinola, it stands to reason that any meat or seafood can be cooked as tinola. So, why not pork ribs tinola?
And why not chayote and spinach instead of the usual green papaya and sili leaves? If the meat or seafood can be anything — chicken, pork, fish, prawns… — then the choice of vegetables can be anything that your heart desires.
But why pork? Why bother substituting? Two reasons.
First, chicken tinola is only good when native chicken is used. The kind that takes hours of simmering to make the meat tender. It is the long cooking time that makes the broth so rich. Tinola cooked with caged chicken means a bland broth. The thing is, native chicken is not sold in groceries. We have to go to the market real early to get it. And real early isn’t my lifestyle. I eat breakfast after 12.00 noon.
And, second… Because why not? Is there any earthly reason why tinola can have chicken or bangus, as tradition teaches us, but not pork? Unlike grocery-bought chicken that cannot withstand long hours of simmering, you can simmer pork ribs for two hours to squeeze as much flavor into the broth without the meat turning into mush.
If the very traditional puto topped with salted egg can be tweaked by food sellers into modern concoctions like puto flan and puto pizza and ube halaya can come layered with custard and Graham cracker crust, why can’t home cooks be more adventurous with making new versions of traditional dishes too?
It’s a brave new world of cooking, really, and insisting that tinola can only be either chicken or bangus is just too limiting.
So, there. If you’d rather stick with the bland broth of tinola cooked with grocery-bought caged chicken… well, it’s still your choice. Personally, I like the rich broth of pork ribs tinola better.
Pork Ribs Tinola
- Rinse the pork ribs and pat dry with a kitchen towel.
- Heat the cooking oil in a large pot.
- Saute the shallots and ginger until softened and highly aromatic.
- Turn up the heat, add the pork ribs and cook until lightly browned on all sides.
- Pour in about two tablespoons of fish sauce. Continue cooking, turning the ribs occasionally, until the meat has absorbed the fish sauce and the mixture is starting to turn dry.
- Pour in enough water to cover the pork ribs and bring to the boil.
- Cover the pot and simmer the pork ribs for an hour to two hours (ribs from older animals require a longer cooking time to tenderize the meat). Taste occasionally and add fish sauce in stages.
- When the pork is done and you have a rich tasty broth, add the chayote wedges and spinach, and continue simmering until the vegetables are done.
- Serve the pork ribs tinola as a starter course or with rice as a main course.
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