"The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."
There is no special ingredient in Adobo, our national dish, that makes it a very magical treat to every Filipinos at home and abroad. Nor it has classy taste because rich or poor, adobo is there. Whether pork, chicken or seafood, its various incarnations across time, region and style has made it an ubiquitous symbol of our passion for good food.
Adobo is definitely a Spanish cuisine that was refined by Filipinos and across decades and centuries, adobo has evolved from a simple food to a classic form of artwork. And today, foreigners have become converts to this Filipino dish.
According to prominent historian Ambeth Ocampo in his February 29, 2009 article entitled "Looking Back: 'Adobo' in Many Forms," he said that Spanish colonizers encountered an indigenous cooking process, which involved stewing with vinegar that they then referred to as "adobo," which is the Spanish word for seasoning or marinade. Dishes prepared in this manner eventually came to be known by this name, with the original term for the dish now lost to history.
The problem with Filipino cuisine is that foreigners had difficulty in classifying which cuisine is Filipino because of the fact they tend to classify Asian cuisine as Japanese, Korean, Chinese or Thai. And so adobo as Filipino cuisine is alien to them. Its in recent times that adobo was reintroduced to the world and to some Filipinos abroad that forgot about this dish.
The basic ingredient of adobo includes pork or chicken (a combination of both), soy sauce, vinegar, laurel and peppercorn. Some Filipinos want their adobo dry while some want it with some sauce but the way it is cooked is the same. There are variances in the main ingredient used such as squid adobo, prawn adobo and even vegetable adobo.
I have to agree with Mr. Ocampo that writing about the history of a very popular food is a very tricky one because of the fact that many people would claim that they invented it first. Its like going back to the never ending debate of whether the egg came first before the hen. But my impression is this, the Spaniards may have introduced the recipe of "proto-Adobo" in the Caribbean and later to New Spain (Mexico) before bringing it to our shores. After all, the pigs from they raised in the New World are way much bigger and meatier than the wild pigs that roamed our islands. However, the absence of really good spices that can make their pork "yummier" makes me conclude that the best of both worlds has created the adobo that we know.
Imagine peppercorns from the New World, pigs from Hispaniola, spices from the Philippines, cane vinegar introduced by the Chinese and the Spanish recipe all combined to create the delictable adobo taste that I can smell and feel in my lips right now.
Though Mr. Ocampo said that there are similar descriptions of adobo in travel accounts from Antonio de Pigafetta’s in the 16th century to current international travel guides like Fodor’s or Lonely Planet. He even claimed that the legendary food critic Doreen Fernandez went into the 55-volume Blair and Robertson and the early Spanish dictionaries to find the base from which our cuisine was born, but the task is far from complete.
And so finding the thin red line that separated us from our forefathers who left us a food that identified us to the rest of the world and the present trends of reinventing this food to greater heights is impossible.
A classic album "Recuerdos de Filipinas" by Felix Laureano that was published in the late 19th century can help us look back and see that some of the food that we ate then remained unchanged until now.
In the late Madam Fernandez's recollection, she said that adobo came from the Spanish stewed meat "adobado." And with her expert assertion of adobo's probable origin, I can truly agree more that my hypothesis may have factual basis after all! Yeay! I mean great! Though in Spain, adobo is a pickling sauce made by cooking together olive oil, vinegar, garlic, thyme, laurel, oregano, paprika and salt. Meaning, the only addition of our soy sauce and cane vinegar are the basis of making "adobo" our own adobo. These Filipino ingredients then are the DNA of how the adobo became what it is today.
She nailed it in the head by concluding, "The Filipino has thus given the name 'adobo' to a particular dish of chicken or pork-and-chicken, and derived from it an adjective to describe other foods using the same or a similar cooking process."
Whatever it is, Adobo has been with us for quite a while and I feel that it should be this way through thick and thin. It has outlived the war, the numerous presidents and natural disasters. Adobo is still the food that binds us.
- "Looking Back: 'Adobo' in Many Forms," by Ambeth Ocampo (Philippine Daily Inquirer: 2/29/09)
- "Recuerdos de Filipinas," by Felix Laureno
- "Culture Ingested: Notes on the Indigenization of Philippine Food," by Doreen Fernandez.