Lengua, or beef tongue, is a common Filipino dish. Some people might get grossed out intimidated by eating tongue, but it tastes delicious and it is one of my favorites. Filipino cuisine is heavily influenced by centuries of Spanish colonization (among other influences) so it is rich, hearty, flavorful and usually requires long hours in the kitchen. The Filipino lengua is most commonly prepared two ways (both are slow-cooked): with a thick, creamy mushroom gravy, or in a tomato sauce with potatoes and carrots and sometimes, black olives and green peas. I prefer the first one because that is how my family makes it. It is a dish I crave for, but have not even attempted to re-create – particularly because of the hard work associated with cleaning the tongue (have you ever seen a full ox tongue? It is huge and requires very thorough cleaning), cooking it for hours (even with the help of a slow cooker, it still takes hours) and perfecting the mushroom sauce (although sometimes I wonder how it would taste like if I just use canned Campbell’s mushroom soup).
I am lucky that I have friends who cook Filipino food very well. A couple of months ago, Sabs gave me a big tupperware filled with braised lengua in tomato sauce (thanks Sabs!). I love eating lengua with rice, but at that time I didn’t have any rice in my kitchen so I dug right in and ate it with some crusty bread, using the left-over pieces to mop up the rich sauce. It was fragrant and melt-in-my-mouth tender (the tongue melted onto my tongue!) and I savored every tantalizing bite of it.
There are some restaurants in Boston that serve lengua, particularly Spanish and Mexican ones. My favorite is La Verdad in Fenway Park for the lengua tacos. Yummmm. Some fast food Mexican joints also offer it (Anna’s Taqueria) but I find their version to be plain-tasting and a little too chewy.
Every time I go back to the Philippines, I always make it a point to have some lengua. Sometimes I even request my family to prepare it in advanced, so that it will be my first meal back home (what can I say, I like planning my meals). After a 21-hour flight, sometimes I am too tired to eat when I get home, but once I see the oddly shaped pieces of lengua on the table, steaming in a creamy mushroom sauce, with hot rice on the side, I immediately hunker down for a taste of home.