Chapter 2: Around the world with 80 Pinoy adobos
I’m continuing my vicarious travel around the country and the world in search of that elusive holy grail of Pinoy adobos. I’ve pored through old and contemporary Filipino cookbooks, sometimes riding a time machine by recreating recipes of a bygone era and long-gone cooks. Along the way, some of my professional chefs and home-cook friends accompanied me in this seemingly impossible journey.
I’m inviting the reading public to share their family’s adobo. The one you grew up with, its main ingredient, what vinegar is used (if known), how it is done, and what makes it so special to you. We’re interested to hear its narrative, not necessarily the recipe. After all, the only correct and best adobo in the world, really, is your mother’s adobo. Period.
The earliest known Filipino recipe for adobo appeared in Condimentos Indígenas by Purita Villanueva de Kalaw.
Adobo with a Batangas accent: According to food historian Felice Sta. Maria (FSM), the earliest known Filipino recipe for adobo appeared in Condimentos Indígenas by Purita Villanueva de Kalaw, originally published in Spanish in Manila in 1918. It does not marinate ingredients prior to their cooking, contrary to the Spanish definition of adobo to mean marinade. It is more similar to making pacsio (present day paksiw) of having to boil it directly with vinegar as its primary liquid source.
The recipe in the book, Adobo de pollo, was written by Emilia Manguiat de Kalaw of Batangas. FSM translated it into English:
“It asks for half a kilo each of chicken and lean pork;
1/2 cup vinegar, or, if unavailable,
1/4 cup of lemon juice (FSM noted it was most likely dayap, as there was no calamansi yet then);
10 cloves of garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of annatto seeds.
All the ingredients will be cooked with 1 glassful water until a thick sauce from the lard forms. This guiso, meaning stew, is used a lot by farmers and is taken as provision when they go to the fields where they eat it a little at a time, conserving it for several days without it spoiling. It can also be made without the pork and instead adding a few large spoonfuls of lard. This stew is very appropriate for wild birds. Also, the Filipino hunters are very familiar with this stew.”
With the inclusion of annatto seeds in this adobo, it is evident that the recipe writer is from Batangas, Batangas. Note, too, that lard (pork fat) has always been considered an integral part of a Filipino adobo.
Early bird gets standardized fare: Felice Sta. Maria further reports that while the Philippines was still under American occupation, the Bureau of Education published Housekeeping: A Textbook for Girls in the Public Intermediate Schools of the Philippines by Susie M. Butts in Manila, in 1922. The adobo recipe in the English textbook was called “adobe,” and it was distributed all over the archipelago. While it may not have resulted in a standardized adobo, it would have been a reference for all families who made adobo.
The adobe recipe uses a
kilo of pork (cleaned and sliced into cubes),
1 head garlic (minced),
1 cup strong vinegar, and
1 teaspoon salt.
“Place all the ingredients into a carajay (cooking pot) and let it soak 5 minutes. Add enough boiling water to cover the meat. Cover with a lid and cook slowly until nearly dry. Increase the heat and continue to cook until the garlic is browned. Add a little lard if the meat is not fat. Serve with green mango sauce. Chicken and beef may be used instead of the pork, or all three may be used together.”
FSM also noted there is no recipe in the book for green mango sauce. “It may have been the native custom at the time in some parts of the Philippine Islands to serve green mango on the side, either fresh or brined or pickled. Adobe is really the name used,” she said. Note, too, the absence of black pepper and bay leaf in the recipe. The adobe is a kind of dry, toasted pork adobo sa puti.
As popular as it gets: During the Philippine Commonwealth period (1935-1946), a compilation of Filipino recipes was disseminated by the Office of Adult Education of the Department of Public Instruction in 1938. The series was called Mga Pagkain Sa Ikalulusog Ng Katawan: Philippine Adult Education Series, compiled by Rufina Paz-Tayco in the hope “it will be a big help in preparing everyday dishes put together from all over the archipelago.” Adult Education was an effective way to upgrade what the grassroots knew and build a literate citizenship, wrote Felice Sta. Maria.
In a companion Pamphlet No. 7, an observation was shared that for those who did not know how to cook adobo, it was just like making pakang (also known as talunan). Adobong may toyo uses the Spanish adobo (marinade) to make a braised dish, according to FSM.
Adobong May Toyo (originally written in Tagalog, translated into English by CT):
Cut the pork into medium sizes.
Pork used here is the meaty part of the leg.
Mix with vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaf and black pepper.
Marinate for a long time, and add water. Cook in a clay pot (palayok) until meat is tender and some fat appears. Skin will be soft and yummy (malinamnam).
Her adobo has two faces: The eponymous author of the country’s bestselling cookbook ever, Let’s Cook with Nora (first published in 1969), Nora Villanueva Daza, unwittingly disclosed the bipolarity of her roots in her cookbook with two adobo recipes.
The first one is called Batangas Adobo. It calls for a mix of beef, beef heart and liver, and pork (meat cuts are not specified). The meats are simmered with vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper for 20 minutes. Atsuete (Mexican achiote/annatto) water is then added and further cooked until tender. The cooked meat is separated from its sauce, with the former fried with garlic until brown. The sauce is returned and simmered until it thickens.
Tita Nora’s father, Alejandro Jose Villanueva, was from Batangas, Batangas, where there’s an unwritten rule that atsuete must be used to produce a red-orange adobo.
The other side of the same coin: On the other hand, Tita Nora’s second adobo recipe is Chicken and Pork Adobo (aka CPA). It basically follows the two stages in cooking the Batangas adobo, albeit without the atsuete, but with the addition of soy sauce and chopped pork liver (bay leaf is optional). Nevertheless, she instructs not to cover the pan in the first boiling. This is to allow the acidity of the vinegar to dissipate. The recipe came from her mother, Encarnacion Guanzon, who also taught her to make her first sinigang, escabeche, cocido, and the Pampango frozen fruit salad, as well.
At the time of her parents’ wedding in 1924, the young bride’s father was then governor of Pampanga, Olympio Guanzon (1922-25), from Sta. Rita, Pampanga. It was, and still is, a common practice to include chopped/mashed pork or chicken liver in most Kapampangan adobos.
The devil swears off soy sauce: Chef Gene Gonzalez writes a paean about his ancestors’ adobo: “Being a Kapampangan, I sometimes am amused by the stereotypical priorities my kabalens (province-mates) put on food.
One of the biggest major daily production numbers is what to eat on the next meal and how it will be done… probably in the most correct fashion that only follows strict tradition. The adobo of my riverside- town, Sulipan, Pampanga, is one such tradition that amusingly hints to a recipe or procedure of no deviation. Only garlic, vinegar, fish sauce and pepper are used. Any introductions like soy sauce to cut down the bronzing or caramelization of the meats will be tantamount to insidious gossips labeling the guilty cook as a bad homemaker.
Adobo del Diablo must have been so good that the dish represents devilish temptation to those who are already stricken with health issues connected to reckless meat or fat eating.”
“So, what is Adobo del Diablo? It is an adobo made by careful braising, timing the pork, liver, gizzards, blood cubes, hearts and chicken meat to form a caramelized crust on the pan. This is deglazed and scraped and the bronzed liquid is brought back to the meat. A method of what seems to have been borrowed from their business trading partners or European sugar traders, deglazing for demi-glace is done 3 to 4 times. The fourth time is when the rich, bronze caramelized meats are brought out of the pan and the last crusting is deglazed with stock and served separately as the sauce.
Get ready to succumb to double your regular serving of rice… probably the Diablo’s encouragement of the sin of gluttony. No matter, delicious sins like these are always forgiven.”
Adobong a la eh! Meanwhile, in another part of Batangas province, chef Roby Goco (Cyma, Souv, Green Pastures restaurants) recalls with nostalgia his childhood adobo in Taal town: “Of all the heritage food traditions of Taal, a most definitive dish is perhaps the adobong dilaw (yellow adobo). It was invented by Mme. Maria Agoncillo, a native of Taal, who was the first lady of El Presidente Emilio Aguinaldo. Apparently, this dish was such a fave of our first President that she served it often in his home in Kawit, Cavite.
Adobong dilaw’s main seasoning is turmeric. It is a super spice and potent anti-inflammatory that contributes to better overall health and wellbeing. In our Goco family food traditions, our three Taaleña lolas Angge, Pai and Ilang served it often when we visited them in Taal during the summer months. It was also ever present in our Goco Sunday family lunches in Craig Street in Sampaloc, Manila. Our Taaleña grandmother Elisa Ilustre Goco used to make such a superb and delicious rendition of this dish that we remember it all so well.
There are varied ways to do this dish. But our traditional way is with chicken and pork, using irok (kaong, arrengga) vinegar, garlic, onions, black pepper, salt and oil in a rich thick stew. Over rice, we could never have enough of it and it has become a family tradition to serve it whenever we have an opportunity to do so. During special occasions, it is the primary dish that binds us together. It is laden with memories that speak of family bondings and long life.”
Wet and dry: In the seminal cookbook Hikay: The Culinary Heritage of Cebu, author Louella Eslao-Alix included the distinctly and wildly popular Cebuano adobong pina-uga (cooked dry adobo). It calls for liempo or pork belly with skin on, cut into 4-inch chunks. Mme. Alix wrote in an email interview: “In the days without refrigeration, meat was cooked with vinegar (and lard) to help preserve it. I guess this harks back to pre-colonial days. I got the adobong pina-uga recipe from a 1924 Cebuano cookbook written by Maria Rallos. It is also called adobong pinalutao, meaning immersed in lard. She described the meat for this adobo: “This adobo needs pork that has more fat than meat, the bones and ribs can be included because it will keep well. To cook this is the same as the regular adobo. The difference is that the fat is extracted well before it is removed from the fire so that it will be immersed in the oil or lard when you keep it.”
Deep-frying the meat over a low fire is akin to the French confit. The meat caramelizes slowly and comes out with a uniform golden brown color. Note that there is no soy sauce added. The recipe calls only for garlic, laurel leaves, black pepper and vinegar. A little water is added to help the tenderizing process of boiling.”