“Secrets” of the Filipino Fighting Arts
Words from a Modern-Day Warrior

Good Soup Takes Time

I remember my mother taking all day to make her soups–my favorite being a soup called “sinigang”, a salty and sour soup. I watched her recipe over the years and have become pretty good at making my own style of sinigang. The base of a good sinigang isn’t the tamarind (which makes the sour taste), nor the salt–but the meat, which gives the soup its umami (savoriness). What makes the meat so special in a good soup is that it is cooked long enough to draw out most–but not all–of the flavors of the meat to season the soup. If you don’t cook it long enough, the soup stock is only flavored by the seasoning you add, while the meat is tough and undercooked. If it’s cooked too long, the stock absorbs more umami than is necessary (which over powers the salt and the sour and hot, if you like to add peppers) and it leaves the meat bland. The meat must be nearly perfect so that it (1) lends the perfect amount of flavor to the stock, (2) is cooked fully but not too much, and (3) gives the perfect combination and percentage of salty, sour, umami and heat. In order to achieve this balance, you cannot just buy a book and get the exact recipe–you must have made this soup many times. And this will include experimentation, failing several times, modifying your method, getting feedback from your dinner guests, tasting/testing the soup during the cooking process, and finally:  perfecting your version of this soup. It takes time, you must be patient. You must know this recipe like the back of your hand. But don’t take my word for it; you must have this experience yourself. Because if you come to my house to try a bowl of my ox tail sinigang, you will turn your nose up at anything that comes out of a can. And I’m sure you will be looking through my kitchen to see if your grandma is hiding back there. Not trying to sound arrogant, but my sinigang is world-famous. Even vegetarians like it. 😉

Uh, what were we talking about?  Oh, so good martial arts skill takes time…  Funny how everything I say seems to come back to either religion or martial arts.

Every month, it seems I meet martial arts students who inquire about my school because of my website, blog or reputation. Often when they come to join or see the training, the mystery is gone and they lose interest. Yes, it is not like the movies.  Yet often, when I get to know some of these men I realize it isn’t that I dress in baggy jeans and timberland boots when they were expecting a robe and long beard. No, what keeps many students from joining and staying at my school (or any other school) isn’t the teacher–it’s the student. The external things brings them here. The internal things drive them away.

See, the martial arts student is the kind of guy who wants soup, and he goes to the cupboard to fetch a can, empty its contents into a bowl and nuke it for 2 minutes. The kind of martial artist who becomes a real master is more of the wait-6-hours-for-a-good-bowl-to-simmer kind of guy. The one who uses the can will have his black belt in 2 or 3 years, might even rack up a nice resume in 10 years, have a school, a reputation, and even a lot of students and money and titles. And no matter what kind of things you add to his repertoire–chopped onions, garlic, a bjj certification, a jkd/kali instructorship, a USA Boxing Coach certification, fresh ground pepper, or sour cream–what you have before you is still canned soup. And the guy with the canned soup, with all his ranks, titles and croutons–will always fear the guy with the slow-cooked sinigang in his bowl, on the mat.

Martial arts students all want the same thing:  fighting skill and to look good in a T-shirt. But they are not all willing to do what it takes to get it. So we end up with guys who train like senior citizens on the mat, but they supplement with weight training, Insane workouts, P90X or kettle bells. While others are patient because they know that, in time, they will have everything they dreamed of when they were 12 year old boys watching Bruce Lee videos. It is important to understand that the training of a serious martial artist will not yield results right away. It won’t look like Jean Claude Van Damme’s training in “Kickboxer”. And you may not always look like LL Cool J with your shirt off. Hell, your teacher may not look like LL. Skill is something like soup, in that at the first stage it just looks like water, raw meat, and some stuff that looks like twigs and dirt in the pan.  Simply by hanging out long enough, you will discover that your pan full of wierd stuff will taste better than any crap you get out of a can.

Or as my Dad would say, just eat it and you’ll grow hair on your chest. Whatever it takes to get you motivated, understand that your training will pay off handsomely if you keep doing it, and keep doing it long enough. You may not see the results before those around you notice them. Or you could just fill up on that canned stuff and then watch with envy when I show you what I have 6 hours from now.

Below, I am going to do something most of my students know is rare for me! Forget martial arts secrets–asking Mustafa Gatdula for a recipe is like asking me to show you my underwear or sing Kareoke in front of strangers. This is a watered-down version of my famous ox-tail soup (you didn’t think I would actually give the real recipe did you?). Try it on your own, and if you can stomach the idea of eating a buffalo’s tail (it’s actually pretty darned good), you may have to try it a few times (make the kids eat it first, until you perfect it) but you will impress the in-laws with this Filipino comfort food!

And thanks for visiting my blog.

Boil about 3 to 4 pounds of ox tail in a big pot of water. Ox tails take about 1.5 to 2 hours to cook fully. Make sure not to let it go too long or the meat will be bland. A good test would be to see how easily a fork will go into the meat. If the meat comes off the bone easily, then it’s done (you can always taste one piece. if its easy to chew, you’re good. you should be able to get everything off the bone easily). During the first hour you boil the meat with nothing but a large onion diced, about 4 or 5 slices of fresh ginger, a hand full of garlic, a small handful of bay leaf, and a hand full of black pepper. I would recommend waiting for the meat to boil for 30 minutes before adding those things, so that you can skim off the foam that comes to the top first–then add the spices.

At the one hour mark, add another diced onion, three diced tomatoes, and root vegetables. I like taro, but you can add carrot, radishes (yuck!) or yucca. Make sure you dice them. Add about two hand fulls of salt, or if you’re really daring, try salted fermented shrimp. Also, add a handful of fresh tamarind (or if you’re the McDojo type, just add a packet of the premade stuff) and three or four dried chillis. Leave the chillis and tamarind on the top, and cover for ten minutes.

In ten minutes, take out the chillis and tamarind and put them in separate bowls. Split them open with a spoon and scrape all the meat out of them and then mash them with about a cup of soup. Get rid of the seeds and peel. Add them back to the soup.

Right after you begin stirring the soup, add a bid bowl of cabbage, or chopped bak choy, or my favorite:  Chinese Broccoli and sitaw (stringed beans). Also, egg plant and squash is a good thing to add. Try the sweet kind (squash). These veggies only take about 10 minutes to cook and then serve it immediately. The vegetables may look undercooked, but I like mine crunchy and they will be perfect.

If anyone reading this blog tries out the recipe, please post a comment! I’d love to hear how it worked out. Thanks for visiting my blog.

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2 Responses to “Good Soup Takes Time”

  1. mmmm…I love Ox tail soup! My grandmother made the best, but it’s a Central American recipe, but pretty similar to yours.

  2. Patient martial art student will learn so much in addition to martial arts skills. I try to explain this to the kids in my classes, that the best things are hard earned. Thank you for this insightful articale. And the sinigang recipe sounds great! I guess I’m the “McDojo” type because I do use the Mamacita packets. I guess it’s time to upgrade to the real thing (although I’ve never tried ox tails, it sounds delish!) Maybe this weekend I will!


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