Around the world with 80 Pinoy adobos: Postcards from the homeland
In the first three chapters of our adobo world tour, we’ve come across some 23 variants of Filipino adobos so far, coming not only from different parts of the archipelago but also from different periods of our history, through the earliest locally published Filipino cookbooks circa 1915 to the 1960s.
It is to be noted that “Filipino adobo” means — then and now — a cooking method with vinegar, as opposed to the Spanish adobo of marinating first with vinegar as a preservative then further cooking it.
Furthermore, the kind of vinegar used is never specified, since commercially branded vinegars were not yet available during that time. One or two early recipes mention reducing the quantity of the vinegar if the adobo was highly acidic.
Pork was the most popular meat for cooking adobo, and the fattier it was, the better. It was common knowledge that vinegar and animal fat prolonged the shelf life of a cooked dish, even without refrigeration.
Garlic (the native kind from Ilocos) and black peppercorn were a must, with bay leaf as an option. Salt, toyo (soy sauce) or patis (fish sauce) are the choices for flavoring. Atsuete (annatto), luyang dilaw (turmeric) and gata (coconut milk) are regional seasonings. Saucy or fried are personal preferences.
Moving on, I’ve pored through contemporary Filipino cookbooks published abroad, as well as trying some actual adobo dishes in situ, also abroad. Although some of the cookbooks were written by Filipinos already in their adulthood when they migrated, others are second-generation, born and raised in their parents’ adoptive country of choice.
With these foreign-published cookbooks and overseas Filipino restaurants, it is a clear testament that our traditional food ways are kept alive through adaptation into the contemporary and relevant, connecting the past, present and future generations of Filipinos, no matter how distantly separated they are through space and time.
Indeed, Filipino cuisine is celebratory food meant to connect and be shared by all.
Amy Besa, the award-winning author of Memories of Philippine Kitchens and co-owner of Purple Yam, a highly rated Filipino restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, posted with excitement and pride that their Chicken Adobo is # 4 in The New York Times Cooking section, Sept. 17, 2021, “14 Classic Recipes You Should Know by Heart” by Margaux Laskey. With no small thanks to her and partner, chef Romy Dorotan, Filipino cuisine has been in the American mainstream for the past 20 years or so, starting with their first restaurant Cendrillon, also in New York.
Although chef Romy is originally from Irosin, Sorsogon, where coconut milk is put in practically everything, he admitted in an email interview that they never really did adobo in their home. Amy wrote: “He claims that the adobo we did at Cendrillon was based on what I told him what adobo should be. From my recollection, we started constructing the Cendrillon adobo based on what I didn’t like about the adobos I had in the past — like too much soy sauce, and whole black peppercorns, which I had to pick out during a meal. So, more vinegar, less soy sauce and pounded black peppercorns.
“I believe the coconut milk came in during a special event we did at Cendrillon when we wanted to jazz up the adobo with coconut milk, because it gave the adobo a creaminess and sweetness that tamed the vinegar that was now the more dominant flavor. Since the coconut milk gets cooked down, it renders a sauce that makes the chicken glisten with a nice golden-brown finish.
Our traditional food ways are kept alive through adaptation into the contemporary and relevant, connecting the past, present and future generations of Filipinos.
“Chef Romy’s chicken adobo, aside from the baseline vinegar and garlic, has soy sauce and coconut milk. So does his beef short ribs recipe. His third adobo recipe is with squid sautéed with garlic, onion and tomatoes. It is then simmered with a cup of red wine vinegar.”
Another East Coast-based Filipina is Amy Besa’s cousin, Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino. Her second published cookbook, My Mother’s Philippine Recipes, contains her mother’s soy sauce-less Chicken and Pork Adobo, also known as adobong puti (white) It’s been marinated overnight with the adobo mix then simmered away until tender. She also advises that adobo is best served a day after it is cooked, when the meat has absorbed the full vinegar flavor.
With her blog, social media, and cookbooks, Betty Ann says she has a young demographic of followers in the US. “These are second- and third-generation young Filipino-Americans who were born here in the States and are eager to learn Filipino cooking, culture, etc., but there are no more grandmas or elders in their home to teach them. So, I get lots of questions about traditional cooking. I swear, the more traditional the recipe, the more they like to learn about it. This says something about the next generation of Pinoys, especially those who live abroad — they really want to connect with their past, their roots, and the homeland of their parents and grandparents.”
Marvin Gapultos, author of The Adobo Road Cookbook, hit the nail on its head, stating: “Adobos are like snowflakes — no two are the same.” A third-generation Fil-Am, Marvin traces his culinary journey, from zero knowledge in cooking, to food blogger (Burnt Lumpia), to food truck cook/owner (The Manila Machine), to cookbook author.
There are seven adobo recipes in the book. Six are culled from his Ilocano mother, grandmother and two grandaunts, while the seventh recipe was inspired by an uncle he visited in Badoc, Ilocos Norte, in 2008. It is a slow-braised pork belly-and-pineapple adobo, using fresh pineapple chunks, sukang Iloko (cane vinegar infused with samak or tanbark), and salt. He served the dish on his food truck. It won the runner-up award for "Best Nouveau Street Food" at 2010 LA Street Food Fest. Sour, sweetish and savory, in one bite. It is the very core of Pinoy cuisine.
In the cookbook The New Filipino Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from Around the Globe, editor and lead author Jacqueline Chio Lauri, a kabalen who’s now UK-based, gathered stories and recipes from 29 chefs, cooks, and writers from the Pinoy diaspora. Of interest is the Pulled Pork Adobo Loko Sliders by Robert Menor.
Robert was born to Mexican-Filipino parents (Ilocano, he stresses) and raised in Stockton, California. He wrote about the start of his culinary schooling: “When grandma made adobo, it was always a special treat because she rarely prepared meat dishes. This was probably how I came to think of adobo as a highly coveted meal even though it was a common dish.
“Sometimes, my grandma’s sister, who raised chickens for food, butchered them fresh to make adobo. The aroma of meat stewing and developing flavor in vinegar and soy sauce made it even more sought after. Filipino cooking passed along from family member to family member, so this had been my culinary school before I went to culinary school.
“Here’s a pulled pork version of adobo with similarities to lechon paksiw, a sweet-and-sour stew made from leftover roast pig, and humba, a sweet meat stew. I recommend garnishing this dish with atchara, which is pickled green papaya with carrots. Try pairing this dish with ginger tea or a pilsner.”
At present, Robert is the head chef at Bonifacio, a modern Filipino restaurant in Columbus, Ohio.
The latest addition to the Filipino kitchen library is Kusinera Filipina, authored by my honorarykabalen, chef/ restaurateur Christina Sunae, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It’s probably the first Filipino cookbook written in Spanish published abroad, targeting the South American countries with whom we share a colonial past and madre España
How Christina ended up in Argentina and her storied culinary journey is worthy of a Korean telenovela (no pun intended) She was born of a Korean mother and an American father, but grew up in Angeles City with a Pampango stepmother and grandmother. She considers her palate (panlasa) first and foremost Filipino, leaning on Kapampangan.
One of the two adobo recipes in her book features a whole roast chicken marinated with a vinegar-and-soy sauce adobo mix, then stuffed with a cooked pork adobo mixed with cooked rice. The pork adobo recipe is called Adobo baboy con platano or plantain banana (similar to our saba). Aside from the usual adobo condiments with soy sauce, it has star anise in it. She learned the recipe from the cook of Tao Farm in El Nido, Palawan.
Adobong Tupa (Lamb Adobo) by Yasmin Newman from 7000 Islands – A food portrait of the Philippines: Yasmin is a food and travel writer, editor, presenter and photographer. Being born and raised down under, where the sheep-to-human ratio is three to one, it is but natural for this Filipino-Australian food writer to love adobong tupa. It is the perfect marriage of two cultures.
Yasmin was born in Sydney to an Australian father and Filipino mother. Her childhood was marked by frequent visits to her mother’s family in the Philippines, where she got addicted to big bowls of pork sinigang, crispy pata, cassava bibingka, and buko pie she feasted on with cousins.
As an adult and food writer, it took her four years and numerous trips to the Philippines, seeking a deeper comprehension of the influences and events that shaped the food she loved, to come up with this beautiful and expansive food portrait (over 100 recipes) of her mother’s country.
Of the five adobo recipes in the book, adobong tupa is featured prominently, with lamb shoulder being the meat of choice by the author.
The recipe was shared by Abe Restaurant of the LJC Group. She writes: “In my humble opinion, its simplicity, versatility and distinctive use of vinegar deserves all the attention. I would happily eat it every day and proudly serve it when entertaining.”
Adobo de cerdo con salsa de piña (Pork Adobo with Pineapple Sauce): I first met Cesar Crisanto Calangan, owner of Restaurante Banana Leaf, Madrid, when I did a one-night cooking presentation in his restaurant last November 2021. It was sponsored by the Philippine Embassy in Spain. Banana Leaf is considered one of the more popular Filipino restaurants in the Spanish capital, serving traditional, “untwisted” Pinoy dishes. An erstwhile banker and financial adviser, Cesar is originally from Silay, Negros Occidental. He lived in Rome for 12 years, working for different Filipino establishments, then moved to Madrid five years ago to work for a German firm as a financial adviser. This is his first venture into the restaurant business.
He wrote in an email interview: “I initially invested in one of the food kiosks offering Filipino dishes, along with other Asian cuisine. Ninety-nine out of 100, the customers were Spanish and I got excited because it felt so good when foreigners tell you that our food is excellent.
However, the business did not go well when the pandemic hit. Ironically, I came to the idea of opening The Banana Leaf Madrid in the middle of pandemic to continue what I had started. Fortunately, since we started the business, we have gained several Spanish customers and they are beginning to love Filipino dishes. I am saying this because we already have regular Spanish customers. Some of the most popular dishes are the pork sisig, bistek Tagalog, and lechon kawali. But the most requested is the adobo de cerdo con salsa de piña y caramelizada (pork adobo with caramelized pineapple). This has become the favorite due to its sweet-and-sour taste.”
Banana Leaf is on Calle Raimundo Fernandez Villaverde 16, Madrid, www.bananaleafmadrid.com
Adobo she wrote from the French capital: Jessica Gonzales, co-owner of Bobi Filipino Food, Paris, wrote in an email interview: “Being born in France, I grew up with the balance of flavors thanks to French cuisine. It was therefore obvious to me to find this balance in our comforting dish that is the adobo: a mixture of acidity with the cane vinegar, an umami flavor with soy sauce and dark mushrooms, as well as the sweetness with sugarcane. Not to mention chicken chicharon on top for a crunch. It’s a recipe I grew up with, thanks to my mom (from Batangas) who taught me how to combine Filipino food with French sensibility.
“Our adobo is not a dry version, as we love sauces in France. And that’s where lies the beauty of this dish. It can go with anything: rice for the classic or a good French bread to dip in the adobo sauce. And with this version, we hope to seek this comfort feeling of home.”
Bobi’s chicken adobo is marinated with cane vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaf, cooked with potatoes, and served as a rice bowl topping.
Bobi Filipino Food is at 17 Rue Oberkampf, 75011 Paris. Métro : Oberkampf (5 and 9).