Chapter 6: Mother knows best
Midway into our adobo world tour, we’ve come across some 45 variants of Filipino adobos so far.
They come not only from different parts of the archipelago but also from different periods of our history, through the earliest locally published Filipino cookbooks, circa 1913, to the present.
Also included are some foreign-published Filipino cookbooks, as well as contributions by local personalities and our kababayan living overseas.
From the onset of this series, I’ve invited the reading public to share their personal adobo — the one they believe to be the best adobo in the world. After all, the only correct and best adobo, really, is your mother’s adobo.
In honor of Mother’s Day just past, in this chapter I included photographs of the contributors with their families.
Personally, it has become my gold standard by which all other adobo recipes are measured — and almost all others always fall short. Perhaps it is the perfect proportion of all the ingredients in her marinade.
So far, only one took the challenge seriously. Reader Victor Joseph Cruz wrote almost menacingly: “I kid you not — my mom's adobo recipe is the very best! Nothing comes close.”
Well, based on the recipe he sent, it’s not much different from the typical Batangas adobo infused with atsuete (annatto). But what earned him this top slot is the passion and conviction of his narrative.
He emailed: “I grew up in Singapore, with our father bringing the whole family there as a lecturer at the National University of Singapore for 16 years. I completed my early studies there, but finished BS in Biology at UP Los Baños. I found my true calling in the culinary field, receiving a Diploma in Culinary Arts in Singapore. I had my on-the-job training at The Hilton Singapore, and went on to work as an assistant chef at a popular family restaurant chain. I am presently back in the Philippines as an entrepreneur, testing the local food business scene with several small startups with food products.
“Growing up in Singapore exposed me to a wide variety of local foods there whenever we ate out. But what I remember most was how much I loved my mom's home cooking. My all-time favorite comfort food was, and still is, my mom's version of chicken-pork adobo with atsuete. She is from Calaca, Batangas, and as far as I remember, that is how it has always been prepared by mom’s siblings and relatives.”
So, what is it about his mom's adobo? He declares: “Personally, it has become my gold standard by which all other adobo recipes are measured — and almost all others always fall short. Perhaps it is the perfect proportion of all the ingredients in her marinade: vinegar (she mostly used white rice vinegar while we lived in Singapore, but later used any of the popular brands of ‘sukang puti’ when we moved back to the Philippines). And a splash or two of dark soy sauce, just enough not to overpower the flavor of the vinegar, as well as not to overpower the color of the atsuete.
"Oh, yes, the final touch in mom's adobo is how she would pour out most of the sauce into a small bowl once the meat was tender then fry the meat in a little oil until slightly caramelized. She would then either serve up the adobo dry with the sauce on the side and we would pour a spoonful of the delectable sauce onto our plate of steaming-hot rice.”
As to why he thinks his mom's adobo is the best, he says with conviction, “Maybe it's the perfect blending of flavors. When the sharpness of vinegar has mellowed through the slow simmering process, just a touch of soy adds umami without being too overpowering.
"Even biting into a whole black peppercorn that has been thoroughly braised then fried is a welcome burst of mild, spicy heat. Biting into the crispy fried crushed garlic is always a pleasure, and of course the tender meat thoroughly soaks up the marinade and has a coating of caramelized sauce. It has the unique, earthy flavor and bright color of the atsuete.
"All of these elements come together perfectly to give this bona-fide foodie the perfect gastronomic experience, and it's my number-one go-to comfort food that gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside because it always reminds me of my mom. Who can compete with that?”
Amen to that!
French vlogger Leah Fentrouci (FB HeyoLeah) has a Filipino mom and an Algerian dad. She walks around Paris wearing a shirt printed with “Le Adobo de ma mama est la meilleur du monde. Period” (My mother’s adobo is the best in the world. Period).
In her vlog on adobo (https://youtu.be/-CE3ktt_PGU), she pitted her version against her mom’s, with dad as the judge (more like the mediator caught in between). Both versions were cooked with soy sauce, were saucy, and had green finger chilies and potatoes.
Funnily, the (poor) dad was eating like a true Pinoy, using the spoon and fork. But he seemed more concerned about how the potatoes were cooked. One was submerged in the adobo sauce. “Can it swim?” he quipped. At best, Leah’s vlogs are quite entertaining.
Elizabeth “Betty Ann” Besa-Quirino is a New York-based Filipina, author of several Filipino cookbooks, and has a cooking blog with a young demographic follower in the US. Betty Ann grew up in a Kapampangan household in Tarlac City.
She’s been cooking for her husband, Elpidio “Elpi” Pineda Quirino and their two sons Pampango dishes she grew up with. Her two sons now work and live in other states, but come home to visit and cook for her on Mother’s Day, birthdays, holidays, and Christmas.
One of the staples in her fridge is adobong dilaw or chicken-pork adobo with turmeric. She cooks a potful every week, and it’s the go-to dish when she has no time to cook.
Jacqueline Chio-Lauri is the principal author and editor of the cookbook The New Filipino Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from Around the Globe (contributed by expat Filipinos, if I may add). Jacqui is a kabalen on her mother side, hailing from the Vergara family from Bacolor, Pampanga.
She had her primary education in Angeles City, obtained an HRA degree from UP, and Executive Level MBA certificates in Business and Marketing from Cornell University.
She emailed her Pinoy adobo story from Manchester, UK, where she currently lives with her husband and son. She wrote: “Heart disease runs in my family. When I was a child, I had problems falling asleep at night because I was afraid my heart would stop working while I was sleeping (this anxiety is called thanatophobia).
"When I got married, my husband was diagnosed with chronic high blood pressure. Instead of focusing on my fear, I figured that I should focus on something I could control: my cooking. So I took it as my mission to make sure that the food I prepared at home was healthy and didn’t aggravate his condition.
"Adobo is a family favorite; even my son, who never lived in the Philippines, loves it! But the traditional recipe is high in sodium. However, if I used coconut aminos (a seasoning very similar to soy sauce in taste and appearance made from the fermented sap of coconut palm and sea salt) instead of soy sauce, I could cut down the sodium content a lot (it contains about 70% less salt than soy sauce) without sacrificing the tastiness of the dish that my family has come to love.
"I also use chicken-thigh fillets and sometimes I add hard-boiled eggs as well, which makes cooking chicken adobo much faster. As a general rule, I make sure that when I prepare adobo or any other meat dish, it is accompanied with vegetables. I try to make at least half of what we eat plant-based.”