I arrived in Holland in June 1989, having just married a Dutch.
Like many expats before me, I had to learn to adjust to the cold weather, the different language and foreign food.
I was homesick especially during those first few trying months. It was not because I was having a hard time adapting to my new environment. I was missing Filipino cuisine that I enjoyed the past 17 years of my life before moving to this new country. Everything was prepared fresh back then – from vegetables to seafood and meat.
I vividly remember our first meal here in Holland. We cooked potatoes with a slice of pork chop and green salad. Needless to say, it took all my strength not to show my disappointment, chewing and pushing those potatoes down my throat by drinking lots of water. I remember staring at my food and thinking about what my family and relatives back home were eating at the same moment. I wanted to go home.
It was a while before I got used to the Dutch cuisine, which, compared to Filipino food, is simple and straightforward: Breakfast and lunch consist mostly of bread while dinner will have boiled vegetables (usually potatoes) and a piece of meat or pasta.
At that time, there were no Filipino stores in Holland. There were only the tokos or small supermarkets selling food products from Asia, South America and Africa. If you wanted to cook Filipino dishes, you could find most of the alternative ingredients you needed here. (So just imagine my happiness when the first Filipino store opened in our neighborhood.)
My husband, like most Dutch people, was not a fan of Filipino cuisine, at first. Particularly, he could not stand the smell of bagoong, papaitan and dried squid.
It was when I introduced him to my Bulalo recipe that he came to appreciate more the Filipino cuisine.
The story goes, my husband was wondering about dinner one fine day. To his surprise, I told him bulalo because I was missing it. He looked even more puzzled when I told him that I’ll be using bone marrows for it. Seeing it would be hard to convince him to try it, I told him to buy lamb chops and cook them himself. He did.
At the dinner table, everyone, except my husband, was enjoying my bulalo – slurping and mixing it with rice. Even our one-year-old seemed to be having a kick out of it.
My husband suddenly blurted, “How was the bulalo?”
“Why don’t you try it? Nobody is stopping you,” I told him. He took one slurp and to my shock, he slapped my shoulder and exclaimed, “Why did you not tell me how delicious it is?!”
Since that day, bulalo became his favorite Pinoy dish.
Here’s how to cook Bulalo with a European Twist:
– 1 kg beef shank or beef meat with (chopped) bone marrow
– 1 can of white beans
– 3 pcs potatoes (more potatoes if you got a Dutch partner),
– ½ kilo of cabbage (chopped)
– 2 beef bouillons,
red chili pepper or sambaloelek,
salt and pepper
1. Boil one liter of water with two beef bouillons in a pressure cooker. Add the beef shanks, bone marrow, onions, salt and pepper. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, boil it for at least two hours or until the meat is tender.
2. Add the potatoes then add more water. Let it boil for five minutes then taste it. Put more salt if necessary.
3. Mix in the white beans and cabbage. Let it cook for five minutes. It’s ready to serve with rice or just like, the Dutch way, soepmaaltijd!
4. To make the dish a bit more spicy, put a teaspoon of sambaloelek or red chili pepper.
Irene Esquibil Looze owns a catering business and has cooked for the Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM), C&A and other Dutch companies as well as Filipino events. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at telephone numbers +31 (0)618193765 and +31 (0)23-5654110.