Laswa originated in the farm, where our forefathers used what was fresh and accessible. Having access to edible food makes people even more creative and since a hot dish, preferably soup-based, was always considered comfort food, when mixed and eaten with rice, it can be completely satisfying. It was no surprise to find a dish as simple as this when one has a backyard or garden where vegetables and fruits abound. Laswa takes the flavor from the freshness of the ingredients and with only a little saltiness for flavor.

The ingredients can vary but there are traditional favorites, like alugbati (malabar spinach), squash, patola (sponge gourd) tugabang (jute leaves), okra (lady’s fingers), shrimp or guinamos (shrimp paste) young papaya, malunggay (moringa leaves), or takway (taro stem). As the vegetables are usually in season or ripe for the picking, either from the backyard or bought in the market, they are sweet on top of their respective distinct flavors. Most combinations are according to the cook or family’s preference.

 Laswa is the Negrense’s answer to the Ilokano’s dinengdeng and the Batangueño’s bulanglang.

Whenever a vegetable is unavailable, it can either be replaced with another kind or the dish is just done without it. Either way, the laswa can still be complete; one can still make laswa with just two or three ingredients, or as many as there are in the garden.

Laswa is a rich mix of flavors and textures. The squash brings sweetness to the pot, while okra and the alugbati leaves are mild and earthy. There’s a slippery texture about the soup, which is owed to the jute leaves and okra. Since fish sauce is not a common Negrense condiment, shrimp paste is added, giving the laswa a briny flavor. Sometimes, fresh shrimps or dried small shrimps, known as kalkag, are used.

Laswa uses in-season vegetables that are ripe for the picking or bought from the market.

In other kitchens, dried fish or uga is preferred. The use of dried seafood is probably due to the longer shelf life as compared to fresh seafood. One might find dried seafood kept in a basket hanging from the kitchen ceiling. Whatever the traditions, to balance out the briny flavor, laswa is best paired with grilled pork or fried fish.


Laswa takes its flavor from the freshness of the ingredients with only a little saltiness from the kalkag (dried shrimps).

Putting it all together, one can have a healthy delicious soup with distinct flavors that are sweet, earthy, and robust. Moreover, laswa is high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Who would have thought that this simple dish would be one of the healthiest vegetable soups ever created?

4 cups of water
1 cup squash, cubed
10-12 okra, cut diagonally
Half an eggplant, cut in rounds
1 bunch alugbati (malabar spinach) leaves
1 bunch tugabang (jute leaves) or takway (taro stem)
1 cup patola or sponge gourd, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch rounds
1/2 cup  malunggay or moringa leaves
4 medium-size shrimps
Salt to taste

Note: Kalkag (dried shrimp,) guinamos (shrimp paste,) or uga (dried fish) can be used as a substitute for shrimp.

Boil water.
Add the squash.
When halfway cooked, add okra and eggplant.
Add alugbati (malabar spinach) leaves.
Add the tugabang (jute) leaves or takway (taro stem.) Keep boiling.
Add patola (sponge gourd).
Add the malunggay (moringa leaves).
Add the shrimp or its substitutes (kalkag, guinamos, or uga).
Add salt to taste.
Serve hot.

Makes 6 servings.

Text by: Massah Gonzales-Gamboa
Photography by: Project Twenty Six
Food Styling by: David Dadivas

Kalkag are dried small shrimps that give the laswa a briny flavor.

The tugabang (jute leaves) gives that slippery texture that its trademark to the Laswa.

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