Philippines Cuisine: KBL Soup

On Sunday morning, I was feeling a little adventurous. Over the weeks, I’ve made Sunday my go-to for trying new places – be it the day I had my first bowl of Batchoy at Ted’s, sinking my teeth into a greasy burger at Zark’s, or a getaway to the land of mango, Guimaras.

I had heard about KBL soup, a Filipino classic that often gets overlooked by tourists, and I was intrigued. KBL stands for Kadios, Baboy, and Langka, which make up the primary ingredients in the soup. Kadios are “pigeon peas”, tiny black beans that are native to Southeast Asia, primarily harvested in India, but is also readily available in the Philippines, especially the Western Visayas. Baboy is usually pork hock (but can be other cuts depending on who is preparing the dish), which is chopped up into stew like pieces. Finally, langka is what we call jackfruit; a pineapple look-a-like but starchier and more bitter.

Because I’m a tourist, and usually travel alone, I have been careful to avoid a lot of smaller restaurants in the downtown area, simply as a safety precaution. However, a little research showed me that I could get KBL at Cafe Iloilo, at the SM City Mall.

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I arrived relatively early, and was happy to see that Cafe Iloilo caters to a lot of the native dishes I keep hearing about. I do need to spend more time learning Tagalog, because a lot of times I’m left with little understanding of the menu options; and while the servers often do their best to explain dishes to me, the broken English can sometimes lead to confusion – and given my aversion to mayo (and more importantly, the Ilonggo zealous use of mayo), I need to play it safe. I’ve been burned a few times with inedible meals.

Thankfully, the KBL was hot and ready to go – arriving up just minutes after I ordered. This would be about the last nice thing I could say about KBL, as the rest of this review is NSFE – not safe for eating.

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I started with the broth. It wasn’t what I was expecting; with more of a vinegary sourness to it than a more traditional salty meat broth. I bit into one of the peas, expecting a thick, black bean flavor to hit me. My mouth was immediately overtaken by intense sourness, packing the kind of god awful punch that the makers of Sour WarHeads would kill for, assuming “sour ass” flavor is marketable. I drank enough water to get that repugnant crud out of my mouth to fill a bird bath.

I moved on to the jackfruit. Visually, it looked like a pineapple. Flavor-wise, it’s best described as nauseating regret. How do people eat this? The soft flesh gets stringy like celery, the rind is hard and off-putting, so basically you’re left with what feels like a mouthful of hair and a bite of the scalp it came from. Cannibals would LOVE jackfruit.

With virtually no hope, I bit into the pork and … found myself chewing through a gelatinous, thick piece of fat. With a piece of gristle the size of a golf ball lodged in my cheek, I was sitting there looking like an old school tobacco chewing ballplayer. I’m fairly sure I’d have had an easier time getting through an old tennis ball.

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I’m all in favor of trying new things, but KBL was a disaster. I have no idea what people see in this dish, as none of it works, and all of the ingredients are revolting. In fact, it’s so bad that I’m surprised Jollibee doesn’t have it on their menu.

The lone positive: I never have to eat it again.

 

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