Why It Works
- Soaking the rice for several hours produces a softer, fluffier texture and reduces the cooking time.
- Finely chopping the chocolate helps it melt consistently, preventing lumps.
- A combination of chocolate in varying percentages helps dial in the chocolate flavor so that it’s perfectly bittersweet.
- Spicy candied anchovies are the perfect complement to this dark, earthy, bitter chocolate rice porridge.
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.
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.
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.