April 19, 2024


Free For All Food

This is not a recipe: The case for box champorado

One often-dubbed highlight of the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearings is when Senator Amy Klobuchar questioned her about “superprecedents”. “Is Roe v. Wade superprecedent?” Klobuchar asked.

Explaining the term, then circuit judge Barrett answered the Minnesotan senator, that by definition, superprecedents are cases that are “so widely established and agreed upon” that “no political actors and people seriously push for their overruling.” Barrett said, “I’m answering a lot of questions about Roe, which indicates that it does not fall in that category.”

#Sorrynotsorry for the far tangent analogism, but here’s a superprecedent for the law books: champorado.

At least in my book, champorado falls in that category of a short list of food that simply cannot be improved upon.

Champorado belongs purely in the realm of nostalgia. If Pinoys were to ripoff Ratatouille, this could be the contender for titular dish. One has champorado on select occasions. Not special occasions per se, but also never on bad days, prepared by one’s grandmother (or grandmother-figure), on rainy or chilly weekends. This is not so much food history as it is a kind of Monet food painting, in impressionistic strokes of nether-dimensional brown and milky white teetering on the edge of burnt cream.

Champorado is rich simplicity in a bowl: chocolate-flavored glutinous rice porridge, served with a swirl of milk, never stirred.

What happened, then, when Big Snack decided to put this all in a box, plucking its soul from our Sundays of innocence, mass-marketing a ghost in a shell?

It is rich simplicity in a bowl: chocolate-flavored glutinous rice porridge, served with a swirl of milk, never stirred. Illustration by Jed Gregorio

Champorado at home was always cooked in a large pot, as if for twice as many people, like everyone had a secret, fatter twin. Today’s box champorado supposedly makes five servings, so that’s really just a measly two when you take into account second helpings.

I guess this was Nick Joaquin’s lament in “A Heritage of Smallness” in 1966. He wrote: “And commerce for the Filipino is the smallest degree of retail: the tingi. What most astonishes foreigners in the Philippines is that this is a country, perhaps the only one in the world, where people buy and sell one stick of cigarette, half a head of garlic, a dab of pomade, part of the contents of a can or bottle, one single egg, one single banana. To foreigners used to buying things by the carton or the dozen or pound and in the large economy sizes, the exquisite transactions of Philippine tingis cannot but seem Lilliputian. So much effort by so many for so little.”

I’d pay a Hollywood medium to get to séance with Joaquin, and ask him just how irksome the thought of box champorado would be. Will it make him roll in his grave?

I first found myself in possession of box champorado after receiving a quarantine care package from a most thoughtful relation. Box champorado, I’m assuming unlike the “instant” variety, has two ingredients that perfectly mirror the real thing: glutinous rice and cocoa. It is prepared like the real thing, too. In a pot, with water, heat on until the rice is cooked. After you throw away the box, you conveniently forget that it came from it, too.

On a recent grocery run I picked up a box champorado on my own volition, along with a can of evaporated milk, so tiny I could’ve just shoplifted it. And some Sundays ago, as fate would deem it to be one that is gray with a light drizzle, I made the first champorado to come out of my apartment’s ergonomic kitchen.

Thank God for such smallnesses, I must have uttered under my breath, as I had my perfect meal on my perfect day. My grandmother couldn’t be there, but it’s alright.

And although I had no plans of improving the champorado, something on hand made for a pleasurable tweak. I sprinkled toasted sesame seeds on top, which I had previously prepared for another recipe. And I guess it does make sense, since it’s also something you do to some Thai rice desserts, like sticky rice with coconut cream. That toasted nuttiness imparts an additionally warm flavor and fragrance to an otherwise sweet, plain meal.

And while we’re on the subject of coconut, wouldn’t that be a nice idea, too? I imagine some toasted coconut flakes and sea salt would be a glorious champorado sprinkle. Consider this free idea: champorado with a side of coconut macaroon. I’m ordering that if a restaurant would do it.

This reminds me that the folks at Kanto Freestyle famously serve champorado with chocnut and tuyo flakes in their all-day breakfast menu. I have yet to try it myself, but it seems to be a simple enough idea that anyone can attempt to replicate at home. The enterprise to remix a kind of champorado 2.0 seem to stem from that same intuition: an instinctive dash of nuttiness and a whiff of salt for contemporary tastebuds.

You can, of course, do it the proper old-fashioned way of stocking your pantry with a bag of glutinous rice and your choice of quality cocoa. They are, after all, just two common ingredients that don’t quickly expire. And if you live alone and that sounds like an unreasonable commitment, you have the 21st century option of going box.

With our messed up climate, a rainy day is always around the corner.