kare kare

Let me tell you a quick story. I first visited Singapore about 10 years ago, flying solo to the city-state for a work trip. I loved this tiny country from the very start, most especially their melting pot of cultures and languages (the country has four official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil). I also happened to be visiting during Chinese New Year, and the whole downtown area was filled with celebrations and fireworks – quite a welcoming sight for this young and starry-eyed traveler.

My first morning in the city I awoke starving (and a little hungover), and decided to scout out some local restaurants for a late breakfast. I quickly learned an important lesson: during the daytime, Singapore basically shuts down for Chinese New Year. After miles of walking, I finally found a shopping center that was open, and headed for the first restaurant I could find, a small, cramped Filipino restaurant.

The menu was written in Tagalog, and I was too hungry and grumpy (and a little overwhelmed) to ask for an English menu, so I just worked my way through the list of dishes on my own. I settled on Kare Kare, mostly because it sounded like “curry”, and based on its description I figured the word karne meant meat (I was right). Meat curry sounded like a perfect fit for my empty stomach. I couldn’t translate the rest of the dish’s description but I figured I was good to go.

The dish that arrived held little similarity to curry, and was more like a thick, mild stew that tasted like peanuts. I also found little in the way of meat in the dish, mostly attached to weird-looking bones (oxtails) or some strange looking chewy substance (tripe). But you know what? It was delicious, and I ate every bit of it, even if I had no idea what it was.

I’m pretty sure that this meal is what started drawing me towards adventurous eating, and so I wanted to share the recipe for the dish with you this week. As you might have figured out, Kare Kare is a Philippine oxtail stew, often served with tripe and pig or cow feet. There’s a bit of variation to this dish, but it is typically includes eggplant, green beans, and Chinese cabbage. The name Kare Kare may have been introduced by Indian immigrants who settled to the east of Manila, while others believe that the dish came from the Pampanga region to the northwest of the Philippine capitol city.

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