Enjoy These Fluffy Filipino Rice Cakes With Every Meal

These palm-sized Filipino steamed rice cakes are ideal to dip into your favorite stew, serve with a sweet or savory topping, or enjoy all on their own as a satisfying snack.

Side view of puto
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Where Americans have cornbread and dinner rolls, Filipinos have puto, a steamed savory cake most often made of rice flour. It’s usually served as a side for stews, especially dinuguan (Filipino pork blood stew), or eaten by itself as a satisfying snack. Spanish speakers might do a double take at the name, but it has nothing to do with the Spanish slur that it sounds like. The name, like the dish itself, has indigenous roots and comes from the Tamil word “puttu,” which means “portioned”, referring to how the individual cakes are pinched off and portioned from one large dough. Puto—along with dishes such as bibingka and kare-kare—is living evidence of our vestigial ties with India, which date back to precolonial times.

Overhead view of finished puto
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

While “puto” is often associated with being made from rice flour, it is actually a blanket term for indigenous steamed cakes made with various types of flour or grated vegetables, not just rice. Puto can vary in shape, ingredients, or cooking method from region to region. For example, puto lanson, from my region, the Visayas, is made with grated cassava, while puto lusong from Pampanga is flavored with anise seeds, as is puto Manapla from the municipality of the same name—although the two snacks differ in shape and presentation. Popular during the Christmas season, puto bumbong is another puto variety found throughout the Philippines. The name bumbong refers to how the heirloom variety of black sticky rice called piruritong is steamed in bamboo tubes called bumbong.

Side view of puto
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

This recipe is for one of the most popular iterations of puto found throughout the Philippines, puto bigas (rice puto) or puto puti (white puto). Before the American occupation of the Philippines, rice puto was traditionally made by soaking rice for at least a day, grinding it in a stone mill, and then making a batter called galapong. The batter then would sit and naturally ferment until small gas bubbles developed in the dough which produced a light and fluffy puto texture and its slightly sour flavor. It was then divided and shaped into individual round portions using a specialty mold known as a putuhan before steaming until light and fluffy.

Side view of molds
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

My version of puto puti is inspired by this traditional method, but relies on store-bought ground rice flour (not glutinous or sweet rice flour) and instant yeast—commercial yeast was introduced to the Philippines after the American occupation and is now commonly used in rice puto. Sure, you could still grind your own rice to make puto, using a stone grinder or a Vitamix, but I found that using store-bought rice flour is easier and the result is just as good. The stand-in of instant yeast for the traditional longer fermentation saves on time, and the yeast still emparts the desired slight tang and fluffy texture to the dough.

To ensure a tender and fluffy puto texture once steamed, a cooked flour paste, also known as a tangzhong, is incorporated into the dough. Adding this gelled starchy paste is a great way to add a high amount of moisture without making the texture of the dough too wet and difficult to shape. The final dough is supple and pliable, but still easy to portion into small individual molds.

Overhead view of puto with a variety of toppings
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Once steamed until puffed and firm, puto is delicious as-is, but can also be used as a jumping-off point for variations: shaped raw puto can be topped with cheese, salted eggs, halaya (purple yam jam), or stuffed with stewed meat before steaming, or cooked puto can be topped with flan to serve. With puto, the possibilities are endless.

In a 2- or 3-quart saucepan, whisk 2 tablespoons rice flour and 1/2 cup water together. Set over medium-high heat and cook, whisking constantly, until a sticky paste forms, 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Overhead view of whisking puto batter
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine remaining 1 1/2 cups rice flour, sugar, yeast, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low speed until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute. Add cooled rice flour paste, coconut milk, and remaining 3/4 cup water; increase speed to medium and mix, scraping down sides of bowl as needed, until a smooth, pancake-like batter forms, 5 to 7 minutes.

Overhead view of batter in standmixer bowl
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Remove bowl from stand mixer, cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel, and let stand at warm room temperature until the dough rises slightly and a few bubbles form on the top, 1 hour. 

Overhead view of bubbles formed on batter
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

In a clean wok with a stacking bamboo steamer or another steamer setup, bring about 2 cups water to boil over high heat. (If using a wok with stacking bamboo steamers, you can cook 8 puto at once; if using a different steamer setup, you may only be able to cook 4 puto at a time.) Spray 2 1/2-ounce silicone baking cups with cooking spray (the number of cups will depend on how many you can fit in your steamer setup at once). Fill baking cups with puto batter about three-quarters full and arrange them in your steamer. Stretch a clean kitchen towel across steamer, then close lid to hold towel in place (the towel will prevent condensation from dripping down onto the puto below). Steam until puto are puffed, firm, and have a pearlescent sheen, 20 minutes.

Two image collage of puto batter in molds in steamer basket and lids wrapped with towel
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Line a serving platter with banana leaves, if using. Take out the first batch and place them on the platter. Cover puto with additional banana leaves (this imparts flavor).

Overhead view of covering puto with banana leaf
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Repeat with remaining batter and transfer to the platter when done (or store extra batter in the fridge for future batches). Serve.

Overhead view of finished puto in a basket
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Special Equipment

Stand mixer with whisk attachment, wok, bamboo steamer, 2 1/2-ounce silicone cupcake/muffin molds or muffin liners

Notes

Traditionally puto are steamed in banana leaves, but silicone molds are convenient, work well, and are reusable. Feel free to line the molds with banana leaves if you have them, for more of the flavor they impart.

You can add shredded cheese (such as cheddar), grated coconut, diced salted duck eggs (adding them after about 10 minutes of steaming), or other toppings before steaming.

You can also opt to steam the batter in one big mold or loaf pan (this will take roughly 45 minutes); let cool before unmolding.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The batter can be made ahead of time; it will keep in the fridge for up to 1 day.

Steamed puto can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for up to 3 weeks. Reheat refrigerated puto in the microwave for 30 seconds on high; reheat frozen puto in the microwave, covered with a damp paper towel, for 1 minute on high.

Forget Lemon Meringue Pie. Make This Citrusy Meringue Custard Roll Instead

This pillowy Filipino meringue roll filled with rich lemon-scented custard is a true celebration of eggs.

Side view of slice of brazo de mercedes
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Based on the title alone, I personally wouldn’t eat a dish called the “arm of Mercedes,” named after Our Lady of Mercy, even if it promises some divine gift. But this pillowy meringue roll filled with a rich citrus-scented custard is irresistible. It is a true celebration of eggs: A dozen egg whites are whipped up to make the baked meringue and a dozen egg yolks enrich the custard. In the past, this meringue custard roll was reserved for special events and gatherings, but in recent times, bakery chains have made it widely accessible. It is now often served as a merienda (snack) or an after-dinner panghimagas (dessert).

I have a deep connection to this saccharine treat. As a kid I had such a massive sweet tooth that my lola (grandmother) used to hide and ration chocolates and candies at home. That didn’t deter me from grabbing a sweet snack from a panaderia on my way home from school. I used to drool over these custard-filled meringue logs and would beg my aunt to buy me a slice to take home, although it rarely made it all the way home intact. The version I remember best from one particular panaderia had custard with a distinct citrusy tone. I later found out it used the zest from dayap, popularly known as key lime. In further research I learned that zests from native citrus like calamansi or pomelo are sometimes used as well.

Side view of Brazo de Merecedes
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

The core of this dish is the sweet and citrus-tinged custard that is enveloped in the airy meringue. The inspiration for the custard is yema (Spanish for “egg yolk”), a sweet, soft confection made with egg yolks and sugar that’s thickened and shaped into balls or pyramids and wrapped in colorful cellophane. Some variants of yema include chopped peanuts or cashews, and milk or condensed milk.

It’s believed that yema originated in the Philippines during the Spanish colonization. Egg whites and egg shells were mixed with limestone and crushed coral and used as construction material to build churches. The eggs’ albumen proved to be such a strong adhesive that a lot of these colonial churches are still standing today. To use the surplus of discarded egg yolks, Filipinos incorporated them into custard confections such as yema.

Overhead shot of eggs of in milk
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Sadly, as an adult, I no longer have the same palate for indulgently sweet desserts. So in my yema-inspired custard, I’ve used ground cashews and a generous amount of lemon zest to cut through the sweetness. The addition of heavy cream ensures a smooth and creamy texture. Toasting the sugar for the meringue provides welcome caramel notes that transform the final dessert from a cloyingly sweet confection to a more balanced dessert I now savor as an adult.

Despite its grown-up refinements, my brazo de Mercedes recipe still calls back to the flavor of those rainbow-colored balls of yema, the egg yolk candy I loved as a child. This sweet arm of Mercedes may not be divine, but it magically makes me feel 7 years old again.

Side view of slice of brazo de mercedes
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

For the Custard: In a food processor, pulse cashews with the sugar, scraping down as needed, until cashews are finely ground, about 6 pulses. Reserve 1/4 cup ground cashews and save remaining ground cashews for another use. Wash and dry food processor bowl and blade, then set aside.

Overhead view of processed nuts
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Fill a large bowl halfway with an ice bath; set aside. In a 3- or 4-quart saucepan, whisk egg yolks and condensed milk until combined. Whisk in heavy cream, lemon zest, vanilla, salt, and reserved 1/4 cup ground cashews until well combined. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until custard thickens, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer custard to a heat-proof bowl and place plastic wrap directly on its surface to prevent skin from forming. Nestle bowl of custard into ice bath to chill.

Four image collage of whisking eggs and mixture for egg custard
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

For the Meringue: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350℉ (175℃). Spread superfine sugar evenly into a 10-inch oven-safe skillet and bake until sugar has a strong caramel aroma and is light beige in color, 15 to 30 minutes. (Read about this quick-toasted sugar method for more tips and pointers on the process.) Scrape sugar onto a rimmed baking sheet and let cool completely, about 15 minutes.

Overhead view of toasted sugar
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

In now-empty food processor, process toasted sugar until finely ground, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; set aside.

Overhead view of toasted sugar in a bowl
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Line a rimmed half baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease with baking spray. Using a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low speed until white and frothy, 5 to 7 minutes. Increase speed to high and gradually add toasted sugar in thin, steady stream. Continue mixing on high speed until sugar is fully dissolved and the meringue holds stiff peaks, about 7 minutes.

Two image collage streaming sugar in and stiff peaks formed
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Pour meringue onto prepared baking sheet, using an offset spatula to spread into an even layer. Use the tines of a fork to make a wood-grain pattern lengthwise over entire surface of meringue, running the length of the pan. Bake until the top of meringue is light golden brown and the fork pattern is well defined, about 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to wire rack and let stand until fully cooled, about 30 minutes.

Two image collage of running a fork along the meringue before and after being cooked
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

To Assemble and Serve: Run a small knife along edge of baking sheet to loosen meringue. Use a fine-mesh strainer to dust top of baked meringue evenly with confectioners’ sugar. Place a clean sheet of parchment paper on top of meringue, then carefully invert meringue onto a clean inverted baking sheet.

Overhead view of dusting egg meringue with sugar
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Carefully remove parchment from now-top side of meringue. Spread custard filling evenly over meringue, leaving a 1/2-inch margin on each side. Starting with the long side, gently roll the meringue and filling into a jelly roll shape, leaving the parchment paper behind as you go. Cover with parchment paper and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Cut into 1-inch-thick slices and serve.

Four image collage of spreading egg custard and rolling
Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Special Equipment

Stand mixer with whisk attachment, 2 rimmed half baking sheets, fine-mesh strainer, food processor, parchment paper, offset spatula

Notes

Take note that baking spray is different from cooking spray, as baking spray contains flour, while cooking spray does not.

Be firm when rolling the meringue to create the desired coil shape, but gentle enough so that you do not squeeze the custard filling out of the ends.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The custard can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

The finished brazo de Mercedes can be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Suman (Filipino Steamed Sticky Rice Cakes)

Banana leaf gives suman—a steamed sticky rice cake—a distinct tinge of green and imparts a floral fragrance. Serve it with a generous sprinkle of muscovado sugar or a side of sweet ripe mango.

Overhead view of suman next to a cut mango topped with sugar
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Growing up in the Philippines, I was often woken from my siesta by the rhythmic chanting of street vendors, whose voices echoed through the empty sweltering streets in the late afternoon. This is how I knew it was time for merienda, otherwise known as a meal in between meals or, you know, snack time. I used to rush to our balcony, craning my neck as if I were a giraffe, to find the street peddler. If they were close to our house, I would chant back to them. Soon after, I was rewarded with the privilege of choosing first from their warm steaming basket. Tucked inside was suman (a steamed sticky rice cake), mwasi (a boiled rice patty topped with shredded coconut and muscovado sugar), baye-baye (a mochi-like cylindrical cake made with toasted young or glutinous rice, grated coconuts, and muscovado sugar), and sometimes a version of a donut twist called bicho-bicho. It just depended on the day and the peddler’s whims.

Three stages of suman
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik


The suman I often got from the peddler—which is the recipe I'm sharing here—is made from glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk, then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. It's then served hot with a generous sprinkle of muscovado sugar on top and/or with a side of sweet ripe mango. The banana leaf gives the suman a distinct tinge of green and imparts a floral scent to the rice cake.

In pre-colonial Philippines, growing rice was labor-intensive and rice was therefore largely reserved for deities, leaders, and socio-religious rituals and gatherings like harvest ceremonies or honoring ancestors. After the industrialization of agriculture, the Philippines produced more rice and the crop eventually became everyday fare to be enjoyed by all, spinning off countless rice-based dishes and snacks, including a vast array of baked, steamed, and boiled rice-based snacks called kakanin, derived from two Tagalog words: “kain” (to eat) and “kanin” (rice).  

Overhead view of a gif showing how to fold and tie suman
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Kakanin, meanwhile, can be further broken down into subcategories, one of which is suman, which is a type of rice cake that is usually wrapped in something. There are many versions of suman, which vary among regions and even from island to island and are distinguished by the kind of wrapper used or the methods employed to cook them. You can change some of the ingredients, the wrapper, and the shape and still make something understood to be suman. There’s suman latik―sticky rice cake served with coconut caramel and curds―and suman sa lihiya, which is made with lye. On Panay Island where I was raised, we have at least three different kinds of suman: ibus (eeh-boos), which is the same sticky rice cake but wrapped in buri (palm leaves) and boiled; biko (bee-koh) made with whole rice kernels (not ground rice or rice flour) and cooked with coconut milk and brown sugar, then slathered with latik, a coconut caramel sauce, and baked (unlike most suman, biko is not wrapped in leaves, but it's still understood by most to be a type of suman); and alupi (ah-loo-pee), which is a grated cassava suman. There’s also a suman called moron (or chocolate suman) that’s a mix of sticky rice and tablea (native chocolate).

When I was developing this recipe, it was important to me to perfect the sticky rice itself, which is the primary component. You can always jazz up the rice by adding other flavorings like ginger, chocolate, and grated coconut, but the success of this suman sinks or swims with the rice.

Overhead view of suman
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik



The key to making a good suman is soaking the rice ahead of time to help fully hydrate the grains and cut down on your cooking time. I’ve definitely burned the bottom of a pot while making suman and that’s something we want to avoid: As you cook the rice, it releases starch that will stick to the bottom and sometimes sides of the pot if not stirred constantly.  When the rice burns, there’s no saving it, so make sure to mind and stir the rice at all times.

After the initial cooking of the rice, it's spread out to cool, then cut into portions and wrapped in the banana leaves, which then get cooked again—an essential two-stage cooking process that gives the finished suman its signature sticky texture. There are multiple ways to cook the assembled suman packets, but the primary one is to steam them. When setting up your steamer, make sure you always have enough water at the bottom and check in between batches and refill as needed. I recommend letting the water come to a boil first before you add the suman to steam, so you’ll have a more accurate cooking time than if you load the whole thing up and then wait for the steam to start. If you’re adding additional water to prevent the steamer from going dry, make sure to get it up to boiling first so that you don't drop the temperature and cut the steam off midway through cooking.

Side angle view of steam coming off of Suman
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik


Once the suman is steamed, give it a couple of minutes to cool down before opening the banana leaf wrapper, but not long enough that it's gone cold. It needs to have enough residual heat to slowly melt the topping of muscovado sugar, and also to provide a contrast with the cool mango. I almost always pair my suman with a cup of coffee to balance the sweet with a little bitter. You can even add a scoop of ice cream and make it suman à la mode. Beyond that, feel free to treat this sticky rice cake as your blank canvas and let your imagination go wild.

In a small bowl, combine rice and 1 quart (945ml) water. Using your hands, massage rice to make sure water gets in between each grain, then cover bowl with plastic wrap, and let soak at room temperature for 8 hours.

Two image collage of washing rice and breaking it up with hands
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Using a fine-mesh strainer, drain rice, discarding the soaking water. In a 4-quart pot, combine rice with coconut milk, sugar, and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent it from sticking and scorching on the bottom, until rice is al dente, about 10 minutes.

Two image collage of an overhead view of rice in coconut milk on the stove and rice fully cooked to a porridge like state
Serious Eat / Vicky Wasik

Spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray, then transfer rice mixture to prepared baking sheet, spread it in an even layer, and let cool completely. Once cool, slice into sixteen 1- by 4-inch rectangular rice cakes. Set aside.

Four image collage of an overhead of spreading rice mixture into an even layer and then cutting into 16 bars
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Wash banana leaf squares with cold water then pat dry with paper towels. Working with one square at a time, hold banana leaf with tongs about 2 inches above the medium-high flame of a gas burner, turning every 3 to 5 seconds, until soft and pliable, about 15 seconds. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining banana leaves. Alternatively spread the banana leaf squares on a baking sheet and bake for 2 minutes at 500°F (260°); this stp is to help make the banana leaves more liable so they don't crack when folded.

Side angle view of holding a banana leaf over the flame
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

On a clean work surface, position one banana leaf square so it resembles a diamond with a point facing you. Set 2 rice cakes, one on top of another, horizontally in the center of the leaf. Starting with the point closest to you, fold the leaf up and over the rice cakes, tucking it in slightly underneath the top side of the rice cakes so that the rice cakes are tightly wrapped.

Four image collage of rice cakes placed on banana leaf then folding the bottom point over and tucking the rice cakes securely
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Fold the right and left points of the leaf over the rice cakes like an envelope (they will overlap), then roll the rice cakes up towards the top point, stopping about 2 inches short of the top point. Fold the top point in towards the center, then finish rolling to form a perfectly rectangular packet. Use butcher's twine to tie suman at each end. Repeat with remaining banana leaf squares and rice cakes.

Four image collage of overhead view of finishin folding suman
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik
Overhead view of 4 image collage of tying Suman with butcher's twine
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Fill a large pot with about 4 inches water and place the steamer insert inside (make sure water doesn't come above steamer floor). Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Carefully arrange suman in steamer in a single even layer, cover, and steam for 1 hour, adjusting heat to maintain a good steam level and adding boiling water as needed to prevent steamer from going dry. Transfer suman to a wire rack and let cool slightly, 10 to 15 minutes.

Overhead view of wrapped suman in steamer
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

To serve, remove twine, transfer still-warm suman to individual plates, and serve with muscovado sugar and mango (if using).

Side angle view of suman next to a mango
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Special Equipment

4-quart pot, rimmed baking sheet, steamer, butcher's twine

Notes

If you can’t find Filipino long-grain (malagkit) sticky rice, you can use short-grain sticky rice (a.k.a. glutinous or sweet rice). There are several varieties of sweet glutinous rice that can be used as a substitute.

Fresh or frozen banana leaves can be purchased at Asian markets and online. To store unused fresh banana leaves, wrap tightly in plastic, transfer to a zipper-lock bag, and freeze for up to 3 months. If using frozen banana leaves, defrost in the refrigerator overnight before using.  

If your steamer is not large enough to fit all the suman, you can either steam in batches, set up two side-by-side steamers to cook the suman at once, or use a stacking bamboo steamer.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Steamed suman can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months. To reheat in the microwave, cover with a damp paper towel and microwave for 1 minute.

Champorado (Filipino Rice Porridge With Chocolate)

Drizzled with condensed milk and a smattering of dried anchovies, this porridge is typically served for breakfast or as a midday snack in the Philippines.

Overhead view of two bowls of Champorado and a side plate of candied anchovies
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Champorado is a slightly sweet, chocolatey porridge topped with a drizzle of condensed milk and a smattering of dried salted fish. The salty-sweet porridge is typically served for breakfast or as a midday snack in the Philippines. 

For those familiar with Mexican cooking, the name of this dish might be familiar—and that's no accident. For at least 200 years, the Philippines and Mexico were tied together as colonies of Spain, working as ports for the Galleon Trade. That historical trade route brought on the exchange of flora, fauna, language, cuisine, knowledge, and people. That exchange, albeit forced, contributed to the evolution of Filipino cuisine to what it is now. Champorado is a derivative of the Mexican corn-based chocolate drink known as champurrado.

Side angle view of a spoon holding up Champorado with candied anchovies
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik


It’s a great example of a Mexican dish indigenized into Filipino cuisine. To make it our own, Filipinos used rice instead of corn. (Adopting grain-based porridges was something Filipinos already had experience with: Before Spanish colonization, the Chinese had introduced congee to the Philippines, which we turned into our own versions like lugaw and arroz caldo.) Cacao is not endemic to the Philippines; it originated in Mexico, arriving by way of the galleon trade. Its addition, in the form of tablea (pure ground roasted chocolate that's shaped into tablets), was a nod to the original Mexican drink. Lastly, the addition of condensed milk arrived with soldiers during the American occupation of the Philippines, who introduced canned goods into our diets. 

Tablea is unrefined ground chocolate shaped into logs that are then divided, resulting in a tablet shape. Tablea is usually consumed in a hot chocolate drink, known as sikwate in some regions or just plain tsokolate. In the colonial period, tsokolate, the different ways the drink was prepared was used as a way to judge people in terms of their “worth.” Tsokolate-eh, meaning in its concentrated form, was reserved only for the higher echelons of society, whilst Tsokolate-ah, meaning in a watered down form, was served for the less important people in society. Now, tsokolate has come a long way from being the drink of the elite to the drink of the people. 

Filipino champorado was originally made by boiling sticky rice with water, mixing in sugar and tablea, and then finishing with coconut milk or cow’s milk to balance it. The salted dried fish is usually served on the side to complement the dish. It may sound unusual to those unfamiliar, but salty-sweet seafood snacks are common in much of Asia, and seafood and chocolate specifically have been known to share flavor compounds that make them taste great together.

Overhead view of candied anchovies on a plate
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik



My version of champorado starts with soaking sticky rice in water, which softens the starch to produce a fluffier texture, and shortens the cooking time. I also like to add coconut milk to the soaked sticky rice for a creamier consistency. Tablea can be found in most Filipino or Asian markets as well as online, but since it can take some effort to track it down, I used a combination of finely chopped chocolate in varying percentages for this recipe: 100%, 70% and 64%. This combination melts seamlessly into the champorado and provides a balanced flavor that's perfectly bittersweet, though any combination of chocolates that are roughly equivalent to the listed ones will also work. (I’ve tried straight-up 100% and 90% chocolate, and neither yields the flavor I was looking for, while the lower-percentage chocolates alone also fall short.) However, if you can find tablea, you can just use it.

As for the salted dried fish, it’s typical to use daing or tuyo, which are common terms for dried fish. These dried fish are usually made with smaller fish like scad, sardines, or rabbitfish, though I like to use dilis, which are dried anchovies. I take the extra step of toasting the dried fish with fresh Thai chile and coating it in caramel before serving. The candied anchovies by themselves not only pair even more seamlessly with the champorado, but they also make a great salty-sweet snack. Although I’ve made it optional, I highly encourage you to try it, just once, your taste buds would thank you.

For the Champorado: Place rice in a medium bowl and cover by at least 2 inches of room temperature water. Cover bowl and let soak at room temperature for at least 3 hours and up to overnight. Drain rice.

Overhead view of pouring water into a bowl of rice
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

In a 6-quart pot, add 2 cups (475ml) water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add soaked rice and coconut milk and cook, stirring and scraping bottom of pot constantly with a wooden spatula or spoon to prevent sticking, until liquid has been mostly absorbed and rice is almost fully softened, 15 to 20 minutes.

Two image collage of rice and coconut milk in a dutch oven and dragging a wooden spoon through the pot to rice a pudding like texture a
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, then stir in chocolate, sugar, and salt until chocolate is melted and thoroughly incorporated; make sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to prevent the starch from sticking and burning. The consistency of the rice should be similar to porridge or thick congee. Cover pot and set aside.

Two image collage of an overhead view of chocolate being added to pot and fully incorporated to the rice mixture
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Meanwhile, for the Spicy Candied Anchovies (optional): Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat a 10-inch stainless-steel skillet over medium-high heat until lightly smoking. Add anchovies and chile, and cook for 1 minute to allow the flavors to meld.

Overhead view of anchovies and chiles in a skillet
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Add sugar, increase heat to high, and cook, stirring constantly to prevent crystallization on the sides, until anchovies are caramelized and deep amber in color, 3 to 5 minutes (the anchovies should be fully coated in the caramelized sugar). Transfer candied anchovies to prepared baking sheet, spreading in as thin a layer as possible, and let cool completely. Once cool, use your hands to break the anchovies apart.

Four image collage of adding sugar to skillet with anchovies, anchovies caramelized, a sheet of caramelized anchovies on a parchment lined tray, and hands breaking apart the caramel into smaller piece
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

To Serve: Scoop champorado into individual serving bowls, drizzle with condensed milk, and top with candied anchovies (if using). Serve immediately.

Side angle view of a finished bowl of Champorado
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Notes

You can use either long-grain sticky rice like Filipino malagkit or short-grain sticky rice for champorado.

You can opt to use Filipino tablea (roasted cacao tablets) instead of the mix of chocolate bars; tablea should also be chopped finely before adding to your rice.

You can also opt to serve with daing or tuyo (other dried fish) that are quickly toasted in a skillet without the chile and caramel, if desired.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Champorado can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days. To reheat, warm champorado in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes; if using a stovetop, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency.

Candied anchovies can be stored in an airtight container for 1 to 2 weeks.