Comfort Food

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Poets in the Kitchen


There’s no requirement to gather
what you might need in the heat
of noon, or under the watchful eye

of a full moon. Neither is there need
for ritual, certainly not for festive
occasion— Hunger has its own pure

logic: working from naked intuition,
giving shape to what flickers faintly
at first in the hollow of the mouth

then plucking raw, as you wake,
as if at a nerve— Head and chest
packed in cotton, bones fevered,

you know what you crave most
is comfort: some soup for simmering
away your hurts, as when a voice

first broke through the fog, lifted
you from a swamp of bedclothes,
coaxed a spoon to your mouth—

And you found you could open,
you could taste again the salt
and the heat of the world.


One of my comfort foods is Arroz Caldo— Filipino rice soup with chicken. The way we make it, its consistency is not as thin as gruel, but a little thicker and more substantial than congee. It’s the food we think of when someone is sick or convalescing. Its basic ingredients are unfussy and soothing and hence a perfect go-to food if one is not feeling well— rice, chicken broth, pieces of chicken (and the latter may be dispensed with or not served to the one who has not quite recovered his or her full gustatory powers). The side notes struck by toasted garlic and ginger, and the finishing touch of a splash of citrus, also contribute to the aromatic, head-clearing effects experienced when sitting down to a hot bowl of this food. Arroz Caldo is also a great rainy or winter day food; perhaps that’s why, in my family, it has become one of the foods that we traditionally prepare for the media noche (midnight) feast on New Year’s eve— when we’re all up and bundled in sweaters, watching the frosty curls of our breath as we light sparklers in the yard and wait to toast the new year.

Arroz Caldo
(Filipino Chicken Soup with Rice)

2 Tbsp vegetable or olive oil
6-8 cloves crushed and minced fresh garlic
1 knob of ginger, washed, peeled, and sliced into thin discs
1/2 of a small onion, diced
1 1/2 c uncooked “Milagrosa” or white jasmine rice, washed and rinsed
1-2 pounds chicken, washed and cleaned, chopped into pieces
8-10 cups water
1 – 1 1/2 tsp salt and several pinches white pepper

Garnishes (to arrange in small bowls):

Soy sauce
Fish sauce or patis
Washed halves of kalamansi or wild lime
Toasted garlic
Toasted matchsticks of ginger
Chopped green or spring onions


In a large stock pot, heat the oil, but not to the point of burning.

Saute half* of the minced garlic, the onion, and the ginger until just beginning to brown.

Pour in the uncooked jasmine rice and turn frequently with a spoon to coat with the oil and herbs.

Add the chicken pieces; continue stirring, with the heat on medium.

Add water, and turn up the heat.

Allow mixture to come to a boil, frequently stirring to loosen rice from the bottom of the pot.

Add salt and white pepper.

Cover and simmer (stirring frequently) until the rice is tender and almost porridge-soft.

Check frequently and see if you need to adjust the amount of water remaining.

Adjust seasonings.

Serve hot in wide bowls and top off with garnishes.

*Note: you will toast the remaining half of the garlic in a smaller saucepan and set this aside for garnish.

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