A Bowl of This Filipino Chicken-Garlic Soup Is Like a Hug from My Grandma

Learn to make tinola— a healthy and flavorful soup that's pure comfort.

Tinola (Filipino Ginger-Garlic Chicken Soup)
Photo: Lisa Cassell-Arms

Pictured recipe: Tinola (Filipino Ginger-Garlic Chicken Soup)

As temperatures drop in the Midwest, where I live, I constantly crave a warm bowl of tinola with steamed jasmine rice. Tinola is a fragrant garlic- and ginger-based chicken soup that has variations throughout the 7,467 islands of the Philippines. My mother always anticipated my request for this dish when it was my turn to suggest an entree for lunch or dinner—to the point that she asked me if I was growing feathers because of all the chicken I have consumed.

Tinola is considered an "everyday" dish in the Philippines. It is not as popular in the United States because most Filipino restaurants here typically serve what we consider "party" food, such as lechon (whole roasted pig), pancit (various noodle dishes typically served during celebratory occasions) and crispy pata (twice-cooked deep-fried ham hock). This is the reason that there is a perception that Filipino food is just "fried" and "brown," when in reality, we have one of the most colorful, flavorful and thoughtful arrays of dishes throughout our islands. The ingredients for tinola can be found in someone's backyard in the provinces of the Philippines: malunggay (aka moringa), green papaya, ginger, garlic and, yes, even the chicken—just ask the neighbor for it or barter with them.

bowl of tinola with rice
Lisa Cassell-Arms

In 2018, I was asked to partner up with a local Chicago organization, AFIRE (Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment), to build a six-month-long series about Filipino food in relation to our community's health and wellness and to debunk the notion that all Filipino food is unhealthy. The series was called Usapang Pagkain (Food Conversations). For our first workshop, we had the theme of "Healing and Comfort." We focused on a common ingredient in Filipino cooking, ginger, and its healing properties—especially during the winter in the Midwest—and tinola was one of the recipes we shared as part of the workshop. During the not-so-ideal season for a woman whose DNA is not equipped for the cold in the Midwest, I always have tinola broth at hand, as well as salabat (a raw ginger tea with lemon and honey) to ward away any type of sickness and boost my immune system.

As my good friend will always say, "Tinola is equal to chicken noodle soup for Filipinos," and I definitely agree with her, as it just feels like your Lola (grandmother) giving you the warmest hugs when you don't feel good. The tinola I make now is as close as I can remember to the one I ate growing up, though I do replace a few ingredients I can't generally find in the Midwest—I substitute spinach or bok choy for malunggay leaves and replace green papaya with chayote. With those substitutions, tinola is easy to make at home. The best tip I can give you is eat it with the people who matter to you. I always feel weird eating this soup by myself when I can be in company of my family.

Natalia Roxas is a Filipina-American food, travel and culture photographer based in Chicago, and the founder of Filipino Kitchen. She is the primary architect of Filipino Kitchen's Kultura Festival, an annual Filipino American food and arts festival. Roxas is responsible for the photography that appears on the organization's blog and the Filipino Kitchen Instagram account. Her work and photography can be found on the Filipino Kitchen website, and on her personal Instagram.

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