The Secret History of Soups

Do you want to know the story behind tinola?
IMAGE Jason Quibilan

You may think you know these concoctions by heart, these steaming bowls redolent of salt and wonder. But behind these Pinoy staples are secret histories you never suspected. 


Ginger broth soup most popularly served with chicken. A favorite of Jose Rizal, who imbued the dish with symbolic overtones in the opening sequences of Noli Me Tangere. Rizal’s personal recipe for chicken tinola was the focus of his final work, Mi Ultimo Adios, which would be entirely rewritten posthumously by his frankly embarrassed siblings. 



Prior to 1762, there were more cows than people in Manila. Then, the British invaded. Coming in from British India. Where eating the venerated cow would unnecessarily complicate the already awkward dynamic between colonizer and colonized. In just two years, the cows of Manila were skeletonized by the Beefeaters, with the locals left to scavenge on bones. As the marrow proved to be the tastiest portion of all, the Filipinos did have the last laugh, even as Krishna wept.


Derives its name from Go?tterda?mmerung, the title of the last opera in the cycle of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. Go?tterda?mmerung in turn is the German name for Ragnarok, the Old Norse myth about the final battle among the gods that signaled the end of the world. Invented by the chef de cuisine of Manila’s Hotel del Oriente in response to a patron’s exhortation that hell would freeze over first before he would be seen eating tripe.

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Ordinary Chinese wanton soup forcibly appropriated by the Hispanized hacienderos of Bacolod City. The cultural concession was mourned in a late-19th century Cantonese-language dirge, which in turn was appropriated by Chinese-Filipino haciendero Jose Mari Chan for a livelier 1980s commercial jingle for Knorr Soups.



Earthy humble bean stew renowned for nutritional value. Recipe invented in 1954 by a starving Pasay City Grade 1 public school teacher who had just been fired in the middle of a school day by Magsaysay himself after she had been unable to explain to the touring President the difference between a monocotyledon and a dicotyledon.


Pre-Hispanic settlements often went to war over which was the better soup base for sinigang–the tamarind (sampalok) or the guava (bayabas). These battles graduated in cruelty, with the pro-sampalok factions aiming their cutlasses lower and lower. These wounds proving less and less fatal, an indigenized tradition of circumcision was born, as with an alternative use for discarded bayabas leaves.

Food styling by Angelo Comsti

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Esquire Philippines. Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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About The Author
Oliver X.A. Reyes
Oliver X.A. Reyes is a writer and a lawyer. He teaches at the Institute of Law at Far Eastern University Institute of Law and at the College of Law at the Lyceum of the Philippines University.
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