Adobo, A Short History of Our National Dish

Adobo, our national dish, has no special ingredient that makes it a very magical treat to every hungry Filipino at home and abroad.

"The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

Adobo, our national dish, has no special ingredient that makes it a very magical treat to every hungry Filipino at home and abroad. Nor it has a classy taste since it transcends both class and socio-economic status. Whether it is pork, chicken and even seafood, its various incarnations across time, region and style has made it a ubiquitous symbol of our fashion good home-cooked food.

It is definitely a Spanish cuisine that was refined by Filipinos across decades and centuries of constant iteration. It has come to a point that adobo has evolved from a simple food to a classic form of artwork where some households have recipes passed down from generation to generation. Even today, many foreigners have become converts to this proud Filipino dish.

According to prominent historian Ambeth Ocampo in his article “Looking Back: ‘Adobo’ in Many Forms,” he said that the Spanish colonizers have encountered an indigenous cooking process that involved stewing meat with vinegar that eventually referred to as adobo, which is the Spanish word for seasoning or marinade. Dishes were prepared in this manner and eventually became to be known by this name with the original term for the dish now lost to history.

It is just unfortunate that Filipino cuisine is still virtually unknown outside of the Philippines and overseas Filipino communities because foreigners have difficulty in classifying which cuisine is Filipino since it is basically one of the oldest fusion cuisine in the world. It is not exactly Spanish and yet it is not exactly Asian either. Besides, many tend to classify Asian cuisine with Japanese, Korean, Chinese or Thai. And so, adobo is just another good food that has just started to come out in a big way from food trucks to daring, innovative Filipino chefs trying to introduce it to foreign palates. It is no longer as alien and many have started to appreciate the diversity and flexibility of this dish so that you can see adobo on rice bowls, adobo as pulutan or adobo on buns. The movement to reinvent and reinterpret our national dish is underway!


The basic ingredients of adobo includes pork or chicken (a combination of both), soy sauce, vinegar, laurel and peppercorns. Some Filipinos want their adobo dry while some want it with some sauce but the way it is cooked remains the same. There are variances in the main ingredient used such as squid adobo, prawn adobo, egg adobo and even vegetable adobo. In my case, I usually include tausi and oyster sauce to make it different.

I have to agree with Mr. Ocampo that writing about the history of this very popular food is a very tricky one because of the fact that many people would claim that they invented it first. It’s 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 the "proto-Adobo" in the Caribbean and later to New Spain (Mexico) before bringing it to our shores. After all, the pigs they raised in the New World are way much bigger and meatier than the wild pigs that roamed in our islands. However, the absence of really good spices that can make their pork more delicious has made me to conclude that the best of both worlds has created the adobo that we know.


Just 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 delicious adobo taste that I can smell and feel in my lips right now.

Mr. Ocampo added further that there are similar descriptions of adobo in travel accounts from Antonio de Pigafetta 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.


In the classic album "Recuerdos de Filipinas" by Felix Laureano published in the late 19th century, it helps us look back and see that some of the food that we ate then have 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. If you come to think of it, only the addition of our soy sauce and cane vinegar were 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 ravages of war, the numerous presidents and natural disasters. Adobo is still the food that binds us wherever we are.

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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: Adobo, A Short History of Our National Dish
Adobo, A Short History of Our National Dish
Adobo, our national dish, has no special ingredient that makes it a very magical treat to every hungry Filipino at home and abroad.
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