Filipino Meatball Noodle Soup: Misua Bola-Bola + 5 Years
When this all started, I was shopping in the toddler section, dressing my son in adorable little jeans and pint-sized plaid. He would wear them, no questions asked. My daughter was still reading her way through Junie B Jones, and tumbling every week at gymnastics.…
When this all started, I was shopping in the toddler section, dressing my son in adorable little jeans and pint-sized plaid. He would wear them, no questions asked. My daughter was still reading her way through Junie B Jones, and tumbling every week at gymnastics. Somewhere along the way, I wrote my first post, and five years later, one of the questions I still get is, “why did you start a blog?” And I realize that what it boils down to is this: my children.
Yes, I do love to cook, and I love finding ways to express creativity, whether it is through a recipe, writing about my experience and photographing it. Writing this blog was simply something I had to do. It was an idea I couldn’t shake, and something I just had to try. But at the heart of it all, all I wanted to do was preserve these recipes and our family stories for them. I know my time on this earth is borrowed, and when I am gone, I want them to have this journal of the food we ate, so that one day, they can recreate it for their own families, and remember.
I want them to remember pancakes and waffles each Sunday, the summers that we grilled and the chickpea salad that was always on the table, the smoothies after school, and the arroz caldo I would make when they were feeling sick. I want them to remember Papa’s chicken and his banana bread. I want them to taste it all and share it, so that those memories live on.
I turned 40 last year, and I can’t help but think of my own mother. She was a brilliant baker but not quite a passionate cook, but each time I make something that reminds me of her, I am comforted to know that she is still with us. I lost her before I could ask her how to make her lumpia or how to make her cheese pimiento. Thankfully, I have pieced together how to make many dishes of my childhood, either from her scribbled notes and recipes that I keep close in a folder, or from my aunt, who is truly the one who taught me how to cook. And though it pains me to say so, it is because of my mother’s loss to cancer that I found my way in the kitchen. Cooking for my family out of necessity taught me that there is joy in cooking, each recipe bringing me back to her.
Five years of blogging has brought me so much – it has been personally and professionally rewarding, in ways I never imagined. I have cooked and photographed, and learned from many mistakes along the way. Something is missing, though, and that is this: I haven’t shared enough of the recipes that mean the most to me. There’s still so much more, particularly the recipes with flavors that I grew up on.
Let’s start with this. Filipino Meatball Noodle Soup: Misua Bola-Bola.
When I was a little girl, if I could ask for any dish, I asked for Bola-Bola. Partly because the name gave me a chuckle. Translated, bola-bola means balls, or meatballs. And what kid doesn’t like meatballs? But it’s much more than that. Imagine meatballs swimming in a noodle soup, with bites of shrimp and zucchini. The best part, though, is the rich broth. The secret to this dish is that there are so many, and I mean many, layers of flavor. The broth is made with a homemade shrimp stock, and blended with a little beef stock and a splash of fish sauce. There is an umami, for lack of a better word, that I can’t describe. You can taste the garlic and onion and tomato that is sauteed, and when the little pork meatballs cook in the stock, there is even more flavor that is added to the dish.
I introduced Misua Bola-Bola to my family as the Filipino version of Italian Wedding Soup. If you think of it this way, it’s not so foreign. But personally, I think it’s better. My husband decided he loves it more than pho, and believe me, that says a lot. I don’t know how other Filipino families eat their Misua Bola-Bola, but growing up, we ate it over rice. So I leave it up to you. Enjoy it as a noodle soup, or like I do – a steaming bowl of noodles, rice and meatballs, with lots of “sabaw” or broth.
Five years of blogging and there is still so much to introduce to my family. I guess that’s the best part of food, isn’t it? There’s always more. The kids are much older now. My son has begun to impose his own fashion sense and my daughter is growing more passionate about her own creativity. I’m grateful for each day that I have with them, that I can feed them, and teach them. Bola-bola was important for me to share with them, and with you.
Filipino Meatball Noodle Soup: Misua Bola-Bola
This personal favorite features pork meatballs, and a flavorful broth rich from homemade shrimp stock. This soup was one my favorite meals growing up, and now my children love it, too. If you are familiar with Italian Wedding Soup, then I like to say that this is the Filipino version. Misua (pronounced “mee-swa”) noodles are Chinese wheat noodles; If I can’t get to the Asian market, I often use Japanese Somen noodles, which are readily available at most grocers.
For the bola-bola/meatballs:
1 lb ground pork or beef
1/2 cup finely minced onion (about 1/2 onion)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tsp cornstarch
For the shrimp stock:
the shells and heads, if possible, from 1 lb of shirmp, mashed
4 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
For the soup:
2 tsp canola oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tomato, diced
1/2 cup finely minced onion (about 1/2 onion)
4 cups shrimp* or beef stock
2 cups beef stock
1 lb shrimp (optional)
2 tablespoon fish sauce (patis), or more, to taste
freshly ground black pepper
2-3 zucchinis, sliced
6 oz misua or somen noodles
2 stalks of scallion, finely sliced
In a large bowl, mix together the ground pork or beef, onion, salt, pepper, egg and cornstarch. Form into 1 inch meatballs. This should yield about 45 meatballs. Let it sit in the refrigerator while you make the soup.
Make the shrimp stock by combining the shrimp shells, water, salt and pepper in a medium sauce pan. Bring to boil over high heat, then lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for at least 10 minutes. Strain the broth and discard the shells. Set aside.
Heat the oil over low heat in a large pot. Brown the garlic in the oil, and set aside. Saute the tomato and onion for one minute over low heat. Add stock plus 2 cups of beef stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, then add the meatballs, one at a time. Season with fish sauce and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Let come to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Add the browned garlic and cover. Let the soup simmer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the misua or somen noodles separately according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
Add the zucchini, shrimp and noodles to the soup. Garnish with scallions and serve over rice if you wish.
* Note on the shrimp stock: While the making a quick shrimp stock is not at all difficult, if you are pressed for time or need to eliminate the shrimp for allergy concerns, the dish can be made with all beef stock. If you can, however, I would highly recommend including it!
If you can not find somen noodles, udon noodles also work in a pinch!
Such a great variety of scrumptious looking soups. I agree, they’re all drool-worthy! Thank you for including my recipe. Have a great time on vacation…. you deserve it!
Congrats on 5 years, Liren! This is such a beautiful post and recipe. Love that you are sharing a dish that brings you such wonderful memories when you were growing up. I’m sure your kids will have these same fond memories of all the amazing dishes you make for them now too. I’ve never tried bola bola before but it looks amazing!
I grew up with this Misua Bola-Bola soup. My paternal grandma was Chinese and my mother’s side is Filipino. So this Misua Bola-Bola is a true reflection of the fusion on these two cultures in our family. Sadly, I haven’t had this in a long time. I think I’d have to change that – need to make this soon.
Just wanted to say that same here. I started my blog because I needed a place to record the recipes and food I cooked for my family. It’s been a creative outlet for me as well. Cooking used to be just cooking. I enjoyed it, but it can start feeling like “work” when you do it day in and day out. But since I started blogging and started taking photos, etc., cooking has become a creative process. Blogging has given me so much personally and professionally. It’s given me inspiration :) and motivation :)
And Liren, your work is just fantastic! Keep it up! Your fans and friends appreciate all the work and attention put into Kitchen Confidante. Kudos!
I love MIsua! Esp with Bola Bola. But now that we’re here in Riyadh, we had to content ourselves with ground beef meatballs or just the shrimp only. I would make this one of these days! I’m so happy I chanced upon your blog. :)
Congratulations on the big 5 year mark! Kind of hard to believe that much time has passed! So happy to gotten to know you through blogging and being able to call you my good friend! Loving this soup!!!
I’m so excited to try this!! First, it sounds ultra delicious. Second, I always save my shrimp shells in the freezer to make stock, but all I’ve done is a fish soup with the stock so far. This will give me another option. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to more of your family recipes.
My husband is allergic to shellfish. Is there any substitute for the shrimp stock? Would it have the same umami to it if it was all beef stock?
This looks delicious. So even if you tell me there’s no substitute, I’m making it all for me!
Hi Erin! Well, it would be a shame if your husband couldn’t taste it! It might not be quite the same without the shrimp stock, but it will be fine if you use all beef stock! (Maybe one day you can indulge in a batch with the shrimp stock, just for you!)
His allergy reminds me that I have lots of relatives and friends who have a shellfish allergy. I’ll update the recipe so it’s clear that all beef broth will be ok :)
A BIG 5 year anniversary hug to you Liren. I’m so glad our paths have crossed by way of sharing things that mean so much to both of us – food, blogging and preserving family recipes for our children. Also, you have so lovingly and beautifully kept your mother’s spirit alive through your writing and recipes. Such a gift!
I look forward to more recipes from your childhood. They provide culinary education for your readers, including me.
Here’s to the next ‘5’!
Mary, I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have met you. I went to a photography workshop and came away having met a friend. That was more meaningful to me than anything else!
congratulations Liren. Your kids are extremely lucky have a mother like you. With the way things are gong in todays world, its really nice to see people putting effort and dedication to cooking at home, sharing and rejoicing family recipes…
That means so much, Dixya, thank you. I’m just doing my best, like every mother. I feel blessed that I can put the effort into feeding them as best as I can!
This sounds amazing!!! I know won’t be as good- but is there a substitute for the shrimp stock? I’m not sure I could pull that off!
If you’re in a pinch, you can substitute beef stock for the shrimp stock. I assure you, it’s much easier than it sounds! If you’re peeling the shells off the shrimp for the soup anyway, all it takes is boiling them in water for 10 minutes, and ta da, you’ve got a simple stock with extra flavor! I know you can do it :)
I don’t know what I like more, the post or the recipe? It’s been a pleasure following your blog and having a window into your past and future!
Aw, Liz, that is so sweet! Thank you! You are very much part of this delicious journey – thank you so much for sharing your recipes with me!
Congrats on 5 years Liren! I’ve so enjoyed getting to know you through your blog posts. You’re writing is just wonderful and I always look forward to reading your posts. I love that you are thinking of this space as a journal for your family. Because I agree that food is so much more than just plain old calories. Cheers, friend!
Liz, isn’t this little world wonderful? It makes me happy that I get to meet people who share the same love for food, I’m so glad we have met…I hope we get to meet in person one day!
Congratulations on the big five! It’s been such a pleasure getting to know you through your writing and in person these last few years. I hope you keep on on’ing, sharing your family’s meals and adventures :)
Azmina, meeting you has been one of the highlights of the last five years! So glad this wacky world of food blogging introduced me to you!
5 years! What a milestone! And thank you for sharing recipes that are special to you… keep em coming! ;)
Thank you so much, Christina! I hope to!
Delicious looking soup; especially for the cold weather.
Thank you, Catherine! It really is – cold weather makes me crave nothing but soup!