If there were a countrywide plebiscite to determine the official representative dish of the Philippines, adobo would probably come out as the eventual choice. Almost every Filipino loves adobo.

Chicken adobo is commonplace in Filipino householdsPhoto credit: Lutong Bahay - Chicken Adobo https://flic.kr/p/6UUxd6

Chicken adobo is commonplace in Filipino households
Photo credit: Lutong Bahay – Chicken Adobo (https://flic.kr/p/6UUxd6)

Adobo is as diverse as the thousands of islands in the Philippines. Several variants of the dish can be found in different regions. While its preparation depends on regional interpretations as ingredients can be modified to correspond with personal preference, the basic ingredient is vinegar which can be in the form of cane vinegar, rice vinegar, cider vinegar coconut vinegar, and white wine vinegar.

Its cooking process is shockingly effortless, one of the reasons of its enduring popularity. Most commonly, pork or chicken is used as the main ingredient. However, beef, most preferred among Muslim Filipinos, can also be used. Other meat sources include fish, shrimp, squid, pork liver, and quail eggs. Even fruits or vegetables like okra, eggplant, water spinach, bamboo shoots, and banana flowers can be substituted for meat. Some places in the Philippines have exotic choices like frog, snake, and mole crickets. Just simmer the main ingredient with vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves, garlic cloves, and black peppercorn in the pan until the sauce thickens and the ingredients are nicely glazed with it and the adobo is completed.

Some versions of  adobo include unusual ingredient such as the one pictured here. This adobo is famous in Nueva Ecija, a province in Central Luzon, which featured mole crickets.Photo credit: Sosohong/Ar-rarawan/Mole Cricket https://flic.kr/p/56wEd7

Some versions of adobo include unusual ingredient such as the one pictured here. This adobo is famous in Nueva Ecija, a province in Central Luzon, which featured mole crickets.
Photo credit: Sosohong/Ar-rarawan/Mole Cricket (https://flic.kr/p/56wEd7)

Unclear Origin?

The origin of adobo is normally disputed. Some argue that it came from the Spanish colonizers due to how it was referred to when they first encountered the dish as it seemingly bore semblance to their own adobo which is an oil and vinegar-based relish1)Steinberg, G. (2006). Tasting Home: Filipino Adobo. Culinary Historians of New York, Volume 19, No. 2, 1..  However, food historian Raymond Sokolov believes that “the dish already existed before Spanish contact”2)Hosking, R. (2006). Authenticity in the Kitchen: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2005. Oxford Symposium. (Hosking, 2006, p. 299). Moreover, culinary expert, cookbook author and cooking show host Nancy Reyes-Lumen says that the cooking method is indigenous to the Philippines3)Tan, L. (2015, July 7). Adobo as Philippines’ national dish? Chef weighs in. CNN Philippines. Retrieved July 20, 2016, from http://cnnphilippines.com/lifestyle/2015/06/30/Adobo-as-Philippines-national-dish-Chef-Nancy-Reyes-Lumen-weighs-in.html. While Philippine adobo is, in a sense, a marinated dish, akin to the adobo in Spanish cuisine, it refers more specifically to the cooking technique and, as have been said in the previous section, is not limited to meat. Also, they are significantly unalike in taste and in components since Spanish adobo is “distinctly spiced and fiery, with at least three kinds of chili peppers, tomato paste, and cinnamon”4)Estrella, S. (2013, July 22). Adobo: The History of a National Favorite. Pepper. Retrieved July 20, 2016, from http://www.pepper.ph/the-history-of-adobo/ (Estrella, 2013, para. 7).

 

National Dish?

In 2014, Bohol First District Representative Rene Relampagos proposed House Bill 3926 or the “Philippine National Symbols Act of 2014”5)See Tan (fn. 3). Although the bill is still uncertain to become a law, among the recommended national symbols is adobo as the national food.

Reyes-Lumen agreed to this proposition as adobo is “easy to prepare [and] with many different varieties”6)See Tan (fn. 3).  Regional recipes of adobo exist to better suit the palate and traditions of many Filipinos. As the dish is more widespread, people can certainly identify to it. Its flexibility is what made it closer to their tongues and stomachs.

 

 

By Lea Salen Peralta, ASEAN Correspondent from Philippines

 

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References   [ + ]

1. Steinberg, G. (2006). Tasting Home: Filipino Adobo. Culinary Historians of New York, Volume 19, No. 2, 1.
2. Hosking, R. (2006). Authenticity in the Kitchen: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2005. Oxford Symposium.
3. Tan, L. (2015, July 7). Adobo as Philippines’ national dish? Chef weighs in. CNN Philippines. Retrieved July 20, 2016, from http://cnnphilippines.com/lifestyle/2015/06/30/Adobo-as-Philippines-national-dish-Chef-Nancy-Reyes-Lumen-weighs-in.html
4. Estrella, S. (2013, July 22). Adobo: The History of a National Favorite. Pepper. Retrieved July 20, 2016, from http://www.pepper.ph/the-history-of-adobo/
5, 6. See Tan (fn. 3)