The arroz caldo is a classic Filipino go-to (not goto, LOL) when we’re on the lookout for comfort food or we’re feeling under the weather. The Philippine Airlines arroz caldo, however, is a different kind of comfort altogether—it’s one of the last familiar things we experience before we’re off to a place where less familiar experiences await.
In the last decade, with the popularity of social media, the PAL arroz caldo became a kind of status symbol when people started posting pictures of their little arroz caldo bowls before boarding their PAL flight. Served only in the PAL Mabuhay Lounge, an arroz caldo post could only mean they’re flying Business Class.
The pandemic, of course, changed all that. When the flag carrier shifted to “new normal meal service standards because of the pandemic,” says Dang Rayos, Manager for Food Planning and Standards for PAL, “the arroz caldo along with other dishes were removed from the menu to comply with the requirement of limited galley preparations and passenger engagement of the crew.”
But the PAL arroz caldo is back, and fans don’t even have to book a flight to enjoy it’s goodness and all the nostalgic feels attached to it. Just send a message to the @flypalcafe account on Instagram to order a PAL Arroz Caldo kit which is composed of porridge good for two to three people, toppings and condiments, limited edition wooden bowls and spoons, and the necessary instructions. Now all you need is to imagine you’re off to somewhere magical.
Not just lugaw
With the PAL Arroz Caldo’s almost iconic status, we’ve often wondered how it all started—and we’re fortunate to have Rayos speak to us about it’s beginnings, or at least what she knows about it.
Maria Criselda Abantao Rayos started working with PAL in May 1983 and has been Manager for Food Planning and Standards since 1997. “There are varying stories about how the arroz caldo became a staple,” she says. “Some say that the serving of arroz caldo began during the 80s when PAL flights were hardest hit by so many delays that passengers at the Mabuhay Lounge were grumpy as grumpy could be.
“Then VP for Marketing Martin Bonoan instructed PAL Catering Services to serve arroz caldo at the lounge to appease the passengers and appease it did. Because of the favorable response, an instruction was given by Mr. Bonoan to make the Arroz Caldo a standard offering not only at the Mabuhay Lounge but also on First Class and Mabuhay Class cabins of long haul flights.”
The original arroz caldo recipe came from PAL's kitchen pioneers Leon Salivio, Cesar Samson, Cesar Estopace, Rafael Valerio, Ely Go, and Wilfredo Quilatan. “The recipe has gone through several modifications as senior executives would pass on their comments and suggestions,” says Rayos. “When PAL stopped operating its own kitchen, the recipe was also handed over to third-party suppliers.”
Some people might say we’re making so much fuss out of simple lugaw, but it’s hard to think of a more satisfying sendoff meal. Rayos says there’s no secret preparation to the PAL arroz caldo. What comprises the dish, she says, is just the “proper proportion of two types of rice, fresh and powder stock bases, quality pieces of chicken, and the coming together of flavors from the toppings of green onions, fried garlic, salted egg, fried anchovies, and calamansi.”
As to how it got it’s iconic status, Rayos says it’s a combination of the flavor and our preferences when it comes to food. Nostalgia plays a part, too, and emotion. “And social media helped in giving the arroz caldo a popularity boost,” she says. Now whether the arroz caldo will help save PAL from another crisis like it did before, that’s a lot to ask of a bowl of porridge.