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AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 FILIPINO ADOBOS: 

More unique adobo recipes and a sour note from a Pampango gentleman

By CLAUDE TAYAG, The Philippine STAR Published Sep 15, 2022 5:00 am

Chapter 13

Here are more adobo stories. I’ve also come across a photocopy of a typewritten manuscript, done in 1960 by a very fastidious Pampango gentleman (read: picky), not just on how he liked his adobo cooked, but what specific vinegar was to be used as well.

As with previously featured adobos, they may be separated by great distances and time zones, so disparate in ingredients, preparation and appearance, but ultimately, it’s the vinegar that binds them together.

1. The late historian Mariano A. Henson, a gentleman of leisure of the old school from Angeles City, wrote the book The Tastes and Ways of a Pampango in 1960. It was a treatise, more like a manifesto, on the finer points of his “individualistic” palate as a Pampango. Nevertheless, he disclosed that he is not a gourmand, gourmet or connoisseur on culinary art. His fastidiousness in the kitchen (his wife, Felicidad Tumang’s cooking, actually) is evident in his list of ingredients — so specific and exacting there’s no room for substitutes (i.e. Kikkoman, lemon, extra-virgin olive oil, etc. To think this was written in 1960; where the heck did the old gent get his imported ingredients from, one may ask? Well, even back then, Angeles and Dau were the hub of the black market from nearby Clark Air Base.)

To boot, his recipe for Arobung Babi (pork adobo), Ayup (bird) or Manuc (chicken), “demand a good kind of vinegar, and I like it simmering near to dryness,” he wrote.

His discourse went thus: “Good cane vinegar (aslam atbu) is only made possible from January to April when the sucrose content of the cane juice is upwards of 20 percent in high-quality ratio varieties. No good vinegar can be made earlier nor from lodging cane grown on flooded soils. Synthetic vinegars made with acetic acid are forbidden by health laws.”

For half a kilo each of native “pullet” (young hen, less than a year old) and lean pork, 1/2 cup vinegar, a tablespoon of salt and two of Kikkoman soy sauce, a whole head of garlic, red onion, 1/2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns, and two tablespoons of lard are required. Everything is placed inside a balanga (Tagalog palayok, or clay pot), including chicken liver and gizzard, giving the mixture a good five minutes of “kneading” (massage in today’s cooking parlance), before boiling water is poured to cover the meat. Cooking is continued over a low fire, without stirring, until the meat is tender and the sauce becomes thick.” And this is just his discourse on vinegar for his adobo.

2. Jappy Diago Afzelius is a New York-based chef focusing on sustainability and seasonality. He plays an active role in both the Filipino-American community and his neighborhood with the aim of promoting Philippine food and culture in New York City. He’s currently the executive chef of Tsismis NYC, a Filipino-American restaurant and wine bar serving an eclectic menu on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

He shared with us his adobo story through an email interview: “Adobo has always been one of my all-time favorite dishes. Whenever there’s a Pinoy gathering, I always go for seconds and thirds. This dish of mine has been a staple at Tsismis in NYC and served at the Business Class of Philippine Airlines from MNL to NYC/SFO/LA for the calendar year of 2022.” 

Chef Jappy Diago Afzelius’ Adobong Dilaw

“I fell in love with the Dilaw version of the adobo with its added spices when I first tried it in Bicol while on holiday visiting friends back in college. It is quite a famous dish around the Visayas region as well. I remember tasting the notes of spice, sour and umami all at once, which I felt was a different and unique experience at that time from all the adobos that I had tried around Manila. As a chef, I’m happy that I’m able to share all my memorable food experiences with everyone in creating a unique and special dish like my Adobong Dilaw.” 

It was cooking with vinegar, adobo or paksiw, as well as buro (salt fermenting) that were the only way to preserve this over-supply of produce, long before refrigeration came along.

For the full recipe of chef Jappy’s Adobong Dilaw, follow republikakulinarya on IG (#cookwithchefjappy), or visit www.republikakulinarya.com.

3. Miko Calo is chef de cuisine of Metronome, a modern French restaurant in Makati City. The tasting menu she put together revolves around flavor memories that evoke a feeling of nostalgia or a sense of adventure she has experienced through the years. One of the dishes in this tasting menu is Pigeon. The pigeon is butter-roasted, then tossed in wood sorrel (kamias) caramel, served with a roasted garlic and soy sauce, braised white radish and finished with a pigeon jus. “The combination of sour, sweet, salty with the roasted garlic is my nod to our Filipino adobo, to me the combination of these flavors are the basics of a Filipino adobo, dissected, and executed with some classic French techniques,” she wrote in an email interview. Though Metronome is a modern French restaurant, it does not deny the Filipino in its DNA, she added.

Chef Miko Calo’s Pigeon Adobo

Metronome is located on Bolanos Street,The Grand Midori Makati, Legazpi Village, Makati. There’s a Dinner a la carte menu; 10-course Tasting Menu (for pre-order only); 10-course Discovery Menu (readily available for dinner); Bistro Lunch Menu (classic French bistro fare). They’re open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (bistro lunch menu); 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday.

4. Angelo Comsti is a food writer, editor and a prolific cookbook author. He shares his father’s adobo story: “My late father Eric ate on the salty side. But that doesn't discount the fact that he ate well. His pork adobo had salted black beans, aside from the salt lick the soy sauce already provided. Aside from that, he added chicken livers also, which lent a slight metallic taste. But it's actually the chicken heart he was after and loved. Since the two parts came together, he threw the livers in the mix as well. Even if this version of adobo he ate was on the salty side, he balanced off his meal by always having ripe bananas to go with his meal. The sweetness from the fruit tamed the collective flavors, making for delicious bites. Like me, my dad was also into texture when it comes to eating, so there were occasions when he would fry the meats then add them back to the sauce before consumption.”

Angelo Comsti’s Dad Adobo with Tausi

Here’s how it is done: Place 500 grams adobo-cut pork and 150 grams chicken liver and heart in a pot. Add water to cover. Simmer for two minutes. Drain liquid. Return the pork and chicken parts into the pan, along with 1/2 tbsp. whole black peppercorns, 1 bulb peeled garlic, 1 bay leaf, 3/4 cup soy sauce, 1/3 cup vinegar and 2 cups water. Cook until tender.

You have the option to set aside the sauce and fry the meats. Then serve together when ready to eat. (Photo by Angelo Comsti)

5. Adobo sa Atsuete (Mexican achiote, annatto): An exemplary example of the Batangas adobo that has become the hard-to-beat-standard is the one served in the ancestral house of the Acosta-Pastors. Its patriarch, Atty. Antonio Pastor (Tito Toñing to family and friends), is a lawyer and realtor, but is first and foremost a trained concert pianist and tenor. He had appeared as a leading performer in operas with Fides Cuyugan Asensio in the 1960s. He’s quite active with heritage conservation organizations in the preservation of ancestral houses in Batangas.

Acosta-Pastors’ Adobo sa Atsuete

The Acosta-Pastors’ adobong baboy sa atsuete has the liempo (pork belly) cubes slowly simmered in kaong vinegar from Sto. Tomas, Batangas (aka irok or arengga sugar palm vinegar), together with lots of garlic, whole black peppercorn, salt and red-orange atsuete extract (seeds are pre-soaked in hot water) and some water. It is cooked when the fat is rendered, and the meat starts to sizzle. Some of the fat and skin from the cooked adobo is set aside, to be deep-fried to make into chicharon. This chicharon will be chopped and sprinkled over the adobo platter just before serving. The red-orange pork adobo will be swimming in red oil, or lard. This “to-die-for” red oil is poured over hot, steaming rice, as most of the Acosta-Pastor clan will swear by. I feel so fortunate to have partaken of it thrice in the past, in the soirées Tito Tiñing had hosted. And yes, they have reason to be proud of their adobo sa atsuete.

6. Everybody’s Café is probably Pampanga’s oldest institution serving home-cooked quality food, albeit turo-turo style. From its modest offerings of mami and pancit luglog on a two-table operation in 1946, house specialties now include such guarded family recipes as the murcon, longanisa, pindang damulag (carabeef tapa), betute (stuffed frogs), green papaya lumpiang sariwa, fried catfish with balo-balo (fermented rice with shrimps), big portions of paksing bangus (sabila or mother milkfish cooked in vinegar), and lagat paro – shrimps simmered in kamias, and five kinds of adobo: kamaru (mole crickets), itik (native duck), pusit (squid), lagat itu (catfish) and tugak (frogs). All these Everybody’s staples have become the hard-to-beat benchmark in traditional Pampango cuisine. Family-owned since its inception, it is currently managed by Pette Santos Jorolan. 

Everybody’s Café’s Adobong Tugak (frog adobo)

For centuries, Pampangos subsisted on wild-gathered creatures (think foraging) from the overflow of the Rio Grande de Pampanga. At the onset of the rainy season, the fertile farmlands will be teeming with kamaru (mole crickets), frogs, talangka (shore crabs), and when the water recedes, fresh water fishes like catfish, mudfish, gurami, as well as ulang or crayfish abound. Thus, it was cooking with vinegar, adobo or paksiw, as well as buro (salt fermenting) that were the only way to preserve this over-supply of produce, long before refrigeration came along.

Everybody’s Café is at Del Pilar, MacArthur Highway, San Fernando City, Pampanga, tel: (45) 860-1121.