In Filipino cooking, bulalo refers to three things: the cross-cut of bone-in beef shank, the marrow in the beef shank bone or the slowly simmered meat and vegetable soup it is often cooked into.
Bulalo soup in a nutshell
While bulalo is essentially just beef and vegetable soup, a dish found in most beef-eating regions in the world, what makes it so special is how it is served. Instead of cutting the beef into serving-size pieces, the cross-cut of shank is served whole with the bone marrow exposed.
And, when no short cuts are employed, the broth is a joy to behold. Beef shank contains planty of tendons that partially melt into the broth during the long and slow cooking. Seasoned with fish sauce at various stages of cooking, the gelatinous broth is rich in flavor and texture.
Where did bulalo soup originate?
There is no clear documentation as to where and how the dish originated. It is associated with the province of Batangas where beef production is an important industry.
Bulalo is also identified with the city of Tagaytay in the province of Cavite. Mostly situation on a ridge overlooking Taal lake and volcano, bulalo joints — from humble carinderias to posh touristy restaurants — can be found in Tagaytay.
How is bulalo soup eaten?
As with many soup dishes in the Philippines, bulalo is served as a main course rather than as a starter. It is served in an oversized bowl with a generous amount of broth and vegetables. Rice is served alongside it, the meat and vegetables are scooped into plates with rice, and broth is ladled over everything.
Who gets the marrow? In fancier joints, each diner gets a shank bone with marrow inside. Long narrow spoons (much like bar spoons) or popsicle sticks are provided for scooping out the marrow.
At home, someone picks up the whole bone, invert it on a plate or bowl and tap it until the marrow falls off. Then, the marrow is divided into as many people sharing the meal.
- Place the beef shanks in a thick-bottomed pot.
- Cover with water.
- Set over high heat and bring to a boil, removing scum as it rises.
- Add the whole onion, garlic (pierced in several places with a sharp pointed knife), bay leaf and peppercorns.
- Stir in two tablespoons of fish sauce.
- Lower the heat, cover and simmer for two hours (longer, for a more flavorful broth) or until the beef is fork-tender. It is important to taste the broth every half hour or so and adding more fish sauce, as needed.
- Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove the beef shanks and transfer to a tureen or serving bowl.
- Strain the broth, pour back into the pot and reheat to boiling point.
- Add the potatoes, cabbage, another tablespoon of fish sauce, and simmer for another ten to 15 minutes.
- Scoop the vegetables out and arrange around the bulalo.
- Pour in piping hot broth and serve at once.