Continuing our search for the holy grail of Filipino adobos, more contributions from Filipinos, here and overseas, have come trickling in. Though they may be separated by great distances, with their respective adobo dishes so disparate in ingredients, preparation and appearance, one would realize how early memories of food as a child are carried on into adulthood. It’s the feel-good memory of home, no matter where their paths may have taken them, that makes the Filipino adobo truly a treasured dish.
Childhood chicken adobo: Chef Charles Olalia of the famed Ma’am Sir and Ricebar restaurants in LA, California, had a somewhat circuitous culinary path. His parents actually wanted him to become a doctor just like them, but his heart wanted something else. After finishing his undergrad in Manila, he asked to take a year off before he took medicine proper. Unbeknownst to his parents, he enrolled in a culinary school to pursue his “secret” love: cooking. Once he got his certificate, he left for the US on an extension of his vacation. He landed a job at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Las Vegas, and two years later at the French Laundry in California.
Charles replied to my email interview from Dallas, Texas, where he is now based. He’s currently the culinary director of Makeready Experience, overseeing all of the company’s US properties, including the historic Adolphus Hotel.
“Adobo to me is what our heart is to our bodies. Its function is so essential, so automatic, that sometimes we almost forget how important it is. It pumps life. But when our heart fails, a lot of complications happen. Just like when I don’t get to eat adobo, the Filipino in me slowly dies.
”Growing up in Bacolor, Pampanga, adobo was on the table every week. Just like a heartbeat, it was constant, rhythmic, automatic.
“However, all this changed when I moved to America. I initially lived with my grandmother. She was an amazing cook. She took her time, always made delicious food. It was a slice of home. But her adobo was so different from what we made at home. I started to miss it. I would call home, ask for details and started learning. How can a dish made with no more than six ingredients be so hard to execute? The aroma was so particular, very pointed, specific. But as a Filipino, I always just brushed it off simply as —adobo. As I moved on in my career, living in different cities, being exposed to different cuisines and cultures, I still haven’t seen anything so simple and can create such emotions.
“I remember coming home from long trips and adobo would be on the table. I remember family trips to beaches and my aunties would unpack their cars and bandehados of food would be unloaded… great memories, for sure. What I realized was adobo is not a recipe; it’s a feeling, it’s a moment in time. When I was asked why I didn’t have adobo on the menu at Ricebar, I was being selfish by not sharing a feeling that I treasured most. I was holding on to what I truly believed was mine.
Fast forward many years, I’ve got my own family; I can finally make an adobo that evokes our own feelings. When my son smells the aroma, he can’t stop but yell, ‘You’re making adobo!’
“Here’s my chicken adobo recipe: The chicken is marinated for 24 hours in toyo, suka, garlic, black pepper. Next day, simmer very slowly for one hour and 30 minutes. I like my chicken not to be falling apart. Then I pull the chicken off the braise and air it for a bit. Reduce the sauce, fortify with grilled and mashed chicken liver to thicken.
In a separate pot, I make garlic oil by slowly frying garlic with toasted bay leaves and Thai chili. I add the chicken back, baste a bit, finish with the oil and a flurry of fresh cracked black pepper.” (Photo by Charles Olalia)
Chicken wings adobo sa gata and crispy rice: Eric Pascual hosts pop-up dinners primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area and also other cities such Portland, Houston, Sacramento, Seattle, San Diego, LA, Chicago, and Honolulu.
He wrote through an email interview: “This adobo recipe brings together influences and memories from both my Bicolano and Ilocano sides, along with my upbringing in Hawaii.
“My mom’s side is from Sorsogon and my dad is from Laoag. My late paternal grandfather migrated to Hawaii to work in the sugarcane fields in an effort to provide a better living situation and opportunities for the family. I clearly remember the summers growing up that I spent in the kitchen with my grandparents in Hawaii. What I learned during those years, along with what I learned from my parents, became the foundation for the pop-up dinners and food events that I host today.
Something that began as a responsibility soon turned into a curiosity, slowly turned into my hobby, and is now one of my passions.
“The marinade is inspired by a chicken dish (Mochiko Chicken) with Asian influences that is commonly prepared in Hawaii, and I remember countless times eating it at family gatherings. The use of coconut milk and peppers in the sauce reminds me of the flavors from my mom’s cooking and my previous visits to the Bicol province. The coconut milk and spice add another layer of flavor to this dish, and pair well with the traditional sour and savory adobo flavors. I love to serve this dish with crispy rice from the bottom of the pot (ittip, as my Ilocano side would refer to it; tutong in Tagalog) and pickled radishes.
“Though I was born and raised in the Bay area, I nevertheless spent a good amount of my childhood in Hawaii. My passion for cooking started at a young age. I was introduced to cooking by my grandparents and parents. I've been told by my family that I share my grandfather's passion for cooking. My grandfather would prepare meals for large groups of people using ingredients sourced from his backyard.
To this day, I can still see his passion for cooking and food through the bountiful, 50-foot mango tree that he planted in my aunt's backyard in Hawaii nearly 40 years ago. Growing up in a household with two working parents, I had to learn independence at a young age and it began with cooking. When my mom wasn't working, she was showing me around the kitchen. Something that began as a responsibility soon turned into a curiosity, slowly turned into my hobby, and is now one of my passions.”
Grandma’s Chinese adobo: Pepper Teehankee is an avid fan of food, travel, art and dogs (not necessarily in that order). He’s also a lifestyle columnist in Philstar. In the book Our Table, Food Inspired by Family, a cookbook published last year to raise funds for the Quezon City medical frontliners, Pepper shared his Chinese grandmother’s adobo recipe: “Many in the Philippines insist that tau yu ba is the Chinese version of adobo. I don’t agree since I grew up eating both tau yu ba, which is Chinese stewed pork, and the Chinese adobo of my grandmother. My paternal grandma, Virginia Young Teehankee, cooked her Chinese adobo quite often. I loved both her version and my mother’s Filipino adobo. The Chinese version has no peppercorns or bay leaves, is sweeter, and uses ginger instead of garlic. Oh, yes, it has the vinegar and soy sauce as the primary cooking liquid. It’s a quick and simple dish to prepare.”
That distinct Ilonggo inadobong manok: Tibong Jardaleza is an advocate of Ilonggo heritage cuisine. He does catering and arranges heritage tours within Iloilo City (+63 917 620 6900). He shares with us his adobo story: “Slow cooking of Ilonggo adobo sa atsuete and tuba vinegar (coconut) has been traditionally prepared in most Ilonggo homes, passed on by our lolas and mayordomas. Preparation usually takes at least three days from marinating it overnight, with all the basic adobo ingredients of toyo, tuba vinegar, peppercorns, salt, pepper, and just a hint of muscovado sugar, to the use of atsuete oil in frying and to sauté the garlic, red onions and the meat. It is then simmered slowly in its marinade to give it an aromatic and savory flavor. Fried whole garlic bulb, onion leaves and red finger chili are added as garnish.”
Adobadong alimusan or sea eel adobo: It is to be noted that in Iloilo, all meat adobos are called inadobo, whereas when any fish or seafood is cooked the adobo way, it is called adobado. Same difference, you’d say? Although the primary ingredients — vinegar, toyo, garlic, black peppercorns, bay leaves and atsuete — are common to both, coconut milk is added in the latter at the end of cooking. Note, too, that the garnish of choice in most Ilonggo dishes is the red finger chili. This dish is a staple at the seafood restaurant Breakthrough in Villa Beach, Iloilo City.
Inadobong pato or duck adobo: That unmistakable Ilonggo red-orange adobo with native duck is also a staple dish at Breakthrough Restaurant, Iloilo City.