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A cuisine without borders

By CLAUDE TAYAG, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 21, 2021 5:00 am

Continuing my adoboserye, as well-intentioned as DTI-BPS’s plan to standardize our adobo might have been, it opened a can of worms whose spread seems uncontrollable like the pandemic. More and more questions have popped up since the ill-fated plan was announced in early July 2021.

To pacify the vociferous netizens who were vehemently against the plan, DTI was quick to put out the kitchen fire, or so they thought. The press release said that their move was for international promotions and was not mandatory, and it was to ensure that our Pinoy adobo wouldn’t be confused with other countries’ adobo.

“They say there’s a Mexican adobo. Baka may umangkin pa ng atingPhilippine adobo (Somebody might claim our Philippine adobo)," said DTI’s top honcho.

But how can that be even possible, one may ask? In all the Spanish-speaking countries in the world, the word “adobo” means a marinade, a mixture of different seasonings, herbs and spices. Wet or dry, the mixture is used to marinate fish or meat before it is cooked.

Since Filipinos are found in all four corners of the globe, they cook their own kind of adobo and need not be told how to do it. They are our frontliners in promoting our kind of hospitality and cuisine.

Hence, you’ll never find the word “adobo” in any of their restaurant menus. Marinated dishes are calledadobado, i.e.cerdo adobado (marinated pork),chuletas adobada (marinated chops),pescado adobado(marinated fish), etc., all ready for frying or grilling. There is simply no way our Filipino adobo could be mistaken for anybody else’s adobo, and vice versa.

And, since Filipinos are found in all four corners of the globe, they cook their own kind of adobo and need not be told how to do it. They are our frontliners in promoting our kind of hospitality and cuisine. Besides, if it’s a foreign market DTI claims it is addressing, there has been a bumper crop of locally and foreign-published Filipino cookbooks that are doing all the promotion we need. They are our culinary ambassadors.

Fried pork adobo

Had DTI-BPS done its homework, this brouhaha could have been avoided in the first place.

Adobo across the Pacific

The latest addition to the Filipino kitchen library isKusinera Filipina, authored by my honorary kabalen, chef/ restaurateur Christina Sunae, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It’s probably the first Filipino cookbook written in Spanish, targeting the South American countries with a shared colonial past with us andmadre Españaitself.

How Christina ended up in Argentina and her storied culinary journey is worthy of a Koreantelenovela(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.

Her childhood favorites, which she still cooks today, arebringhé(a glutinous rice dish for fiestas),buro(fermented rice as a condiment for fish), kalamay(sweet, glutinous rice cake) andbulanglangKapampangan, a guava-basedsinigang. She uses those big gua-apples as a substitute for the small guavas we have here.

The author meets chef Christina Sunae and her Kapampangan mother, Alice Melo

One of the two adobo recipes in her book features a whole roast chicken marinated with a vinegar/ soy sauce adobo mix, then stuffed with a cooked pork adobo (the first adobo recipe) mixed with cooked rice. The recipe was contributed by Lyn Besa Gamboa, president of the Negros Cultural Foundation.

Though the original recipe asked for a deboned chicken (inspired by the galantine, perhaps), chef Christina opted for a whole chicken with bones: not only will it be a lot easier to do, she wrote, but will result in a much tastier roast.

The Adobo Chronicles published by the Negros Cultural Foundation. For orders, send a message to Casa A Gamboa on Facebook.

Closer to home,The Adobo Chronicles, published by the Negros Cultural Foundation Inc., is a collection of unique adobo recipes and candid essays on the Filipino adobo. For the past 20 years, NCF’s president Lyn Besa Gamboa of Silay City (sister-in-law of Doreen Gamboa Fernandez), has been hosting a yearly adobo cook-off.

She wrote, however, “Due to the pandemic, the foundation decided to produce a book to continue the tradition of the adobo festival, honor Doreen, and honor our Filipino-ness by remembering our adobo in as many of its iterations as we could fit in this book.”

Adobo Road by Marvin Gapultos, published by Tuttle Publishing, 2013
Marvin Gapultos, author of ‘The Adobo Road,’ hit the nail on its head, stating: ‘Adobos are like snowflakes — no two are the same.’

Meanwhile, on the US west coast isThe Adobo RoadCookbookpenned by a third-generation Fil-Am, Marvin Gapultos. The book 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. Gapultos hit the nail on its head, stating: “Adobos are like snowflakes — no two are the same.”

There are seven adobo recipes in the book: six are culled from his Ilocano mother, grandmother and two grandaunts, while the seventh recipe he concocted himself, which won the runner-up award for “Best Nouveau Street Food” in the 2010 LA Street Food Fest.

It is a slow-braised pork belly-and-pineapple adobo, using fresh pineapple chunks,sukang Iloko(cane vinegar infused withsamakor tanbark), and salt. Sweetish, sour and salty, in one bite it is the very core of Pinoy cuisine.

Memories of Philippine Kitchens by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan

On the American eastern seaboard is Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan’s award-winningMemories of Philippine Kitchens.The authors are the owners and chef at Purple Yam and formerly of Cendrillon in Manhattan, New York.

“They present a fascinating — and very personal — look at Filipino cuisine and culture,” goes the foreword. “From adobo to pancit, lumpia to kinilaw, the authors trace the origins of native Filipino foods and the impact of foreign cultures on the cuisine. More than 100 unique recipes, culled from private kitchens and the acclaimed Purple Yam menu, reflect classic dishes as well as contemporary Filipino food. Filled with hundreds of sumptuous photographs and stories from the authors and other notable cooks, this book is a joy to peruse in and out of the kitchen.”

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.

My Mother’s Philippine Recipes by Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Ann Besa-Quirino

Another East Coast-based Filipina is Amy Besa’s cousin, Elizabeth “Betty” Ann Besa-Quirino. Her first cookbook,How to Cook Philippine Desserts, was published in 2016, while her second isMy Mother’s Philippine Recipes.

The latter contains her mother’s soy sauce-less Chicken and Pork Adobo, also known asadobong puti(white). It’s been marinated overnight with the adobo mix, then simmered straight 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.

Still in New York, the owners of the successful and highly rated Maharlika and Jeepney Filipino restaurants, Nicole Ponseca and Miguel Trinidad, co-wroteI Am Filipino: And This is How We Cook.

I Am Filipino by Nicole Ponseca and Miguel Trinidad, James Beard Award Finalist 2019. It was named Best Cookbook of the Year byThe New Yorker,Boston Globe,Chicago Tribune,Los Angeles Times,New York Times Book Review, and more.

“To eat — and cook — like a Filipino involves puckeringly sour adobos with meat so tender you can cut it with a fork, national favorites likekare-kare(oxtail stew) andkinilaw(fresh seafood cured in vinegar), Chinese-influencedpansit(noodles), tamales by way of early Mexican immigrants, and Arab-inflected fare, with its layered spicy stews and flavors of burnt coconut.

“But it also entails beloved street snacks likeukoy(fritters) and empanadas and the array of sweets and treats calledmeryenda. Dishes reflect the influence and ingredients of the Spaniards and Americans, among others, who came to the islands, but Filipinos turned the food into their own unique and captivating cuisine. Filled with riotously bold and bright photographs,I Am a Filipinois like a classickamayandinner — one long festive table piled high with food. Just dig in!”

The New Filipino Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from around the Globe by UK-based Filipina Jacqueline Chio Lauri

Further across the Atlantic Ocean is mykabalen, UK-based Jacqueline Chio Lauri, withThe New Filipino Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from Around the Globe. She is the anthologist, editor, and lead author, gathering stories and recipes from 29 chefs, cooks, and writers from the diaspora, including the White House executive chef Cris Comerford, 2018 Bocuse d’Or Europe champion Christian Andre Petterson, 2015 Masterchef New Zealand finalist Leo Fernandez, and the late Food Buddha, chef Rodelio Aglibot and five-time Palanca Award winner and poet Francis Macansantos. Her website,www.myfoodbeginnings.com, journals her journey in creating TNFK and serves as a website for her projects.

Meanwhile, south of the equator is Bryan Koh’sMilk Pigs and Violet GoldPhilippine Cookery(“milk pig” alludes tolechon de lecheor suckling pig, while “violet gold” isubeor purple yam). How this Chinese-Singaporean lad ended up writing an extensive cookbook on Philippine cuisine warms the heart.

Milk Pigs and Violet GoldPhilippine Cookery by Bryan Koh, published by Holy Angel University Press, 2013, is a three-volume tome divided into Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

He recounts during his primary school days that he’d come home at midday to find a stove-boundkaldero(pot) filled with a soupy sour stew of mixed vegetables with milkfish, prawns or even pork leg. It was the meal cooked by and for their Filipina domestic helpers. For dinner, a new set of more elaborate dishes was prepared for his parents when they came home from work.

It became his comfort food, and other Pinoy dishes like green mung bean stew,pinakbet, tortang along, andsuman. He’d often excitedly await a returning “darling helper” from vacation, with apasalubongofubeice cream andpolvorones, which he couldn’t have enough of. He simply was enamored with our cuisine.

After university with a Master’s in Management in Hospitality at the Cornell-Nanyang Institute in Singapore, he traveled around the Philippines in pursuit of his childhood’s comfort food origins.

From down under is7000 IslandsA Food Portrait of the Philippinesby Filipino-Australian Yasmin Newman. She is a food and travel writer, editor, presenter and photographer.

7000 Islands, A Food Portrait of the Philippines by Yasmin Newman, published by Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne-London, 2013

“A beautiful, comprehensive, and evocative cookbook on a relatively undiscovered cuisine,” goes the intro. “Despite the Philippines' location right in the middle of Southeast Asia, most people know very little about the country and even less about the cuisine. For Filipinos, food is more than a pleasurable pursuit; it is the cultural language. It can be seen through the prism of its unique and colorful history, with influences from Malaysia, Spain, China, Mexico, and the US adding to the cuisine's rich texture…7000 Islandsis a beautifully illustrated guide to Filipino food and an insight into the culture and history of the Philippines.”

There are four adobo recipes, including one with lamb (with soy sauce, cane vinegar, garlic, onion), understandably, coming from a country with a sheep and cattle population far outnumbering that of humans.

Flavors of the Philippines by Glenda R. Barretto, published by Via Mare Catering Services Inc., 1997

From the pioneering lady who singlehandedly brought Filipino cuisine to an international level comes the cookbookFlavors of the Philippines– A Culinary Guide to the Best of the Philippinesby Glenda Rosales-Barretto.

In the book are four adobo recipes, including the crisp adobo flakes, which Tita Glenda invented to please her father who liked everything fried and crisp. She first served it as a topping for herarroz caldo(rice porridge) in her catering business in 1975.