The lovable Adobo had been an all time favourite comfort food of the Filipinos. Wherever they may be, they would always seek its familiarity. And though it comes in many flavours and ways of cooking, Adobo doesn’t only sweep Filipinos off their feet but also foreigners who were able to taste it. But why is it still considered the unofficial national Filipino food? Let’s look if it’s rightful to be called so.
Philippines is an archipelago composed of 7,164 islands and it’s truly hard to assign the national food when each has their own delicacy to be proud of. It had been awhile since the debate of whether adobo should be the official national food of the Philippines or not.
According to Jessica Soho’s food documentary called, “Isla Kulinarya“, Adobo was actually competing with an array of Filipino foods to be called Philippines’ National Food.
Farming, the Kaingin system, fishing and diving are just a few of the ancient livelihood of the Filipinos. Like many Asian civilisations, the Philippines lived and survived through trading as well. Looking back way before the Spaniards reached the island of Samar in 1521, the native Filipinos had established trading relationships with neighbouring countries. Proven by many artefacts and development in their living skills were adopted through it. While they weaved, fished and hunted, they learned how to preserve their meat with the use of vinegar and salt.
Ancient Filipinos were trading jars with Vientam, jewelries with Burma and jade with China. Researchers believe that with Filipinos’ hospitable nature, they would offer food to the trading visitors for them to see sincerity. As expected, traders grew fond of them and visited often to buy more goods. One day, the Chinese gave the gift of soy sauce. They suggested the use of it in replacement of salt in preserving meat with vinegar. And when they cooked and tasted it, adobo was born.
WHAT IS THE MEANING BEHIND THE NAME ADOBO?
The word adobo was from the Spanish word, adobar which means ‘to marinate’. In Caribbean, Mexican and Spanish cooking, they have similar delicacies to adobo where the meat is marinated for an hour to more before cooking. The Filipino way involves marinating it with soy sauce, vinegar, pepper, and Laurel leaves (bay leaves). There are different kinds of cooking adobo in the Philippines but these are the staple ingredients of adobo.
TECHNIQUES IN COOKING ADOBO
There are between 120 and 170 languages in the Philippine archipelago spoken by the respective Filipino ethno-lingusitic nation or ethnic group most of them have several varieties (dialects) totalling over 300 across the archipelago.
Like how our language had developed into many forms, you could expect that adobo also had evolved in so many ways. There’s adobong Tagalog (that doesn’t use soy sauce), there’s the saucy ones and there’s the dry ones (where the meat is toasted a bit – yum!). There’s also adobo tweaked with coconut milk called, Adobo sa Gata that gives you a creamy tasty sauce. But whether it’s meat or vegetables that you want to cook, every Filipino-born and raised knows how adobo should taste like.
In cooking meat, you always have to marinate it at least 45 minutes before cooking it. Garlic removes the reek (uncooked smell) of a chicken, pork or lamb. Onion gives it a delicious aroma. Pepper gives it zest while the vinegar gives it a zing! The soy sauce altogether with these ingredients gives it the total boom, it brings forth an irresistible smell that awakens those senses that say, “I’ve got to try that!”
Before you add the spices slowly, cook your meat thoroughly until it is tender. When you’re convinced of its edible tenderness, pour the remaining marinate to further envelope it with flavourful finish.
It usually takes 8 minutes, 10 max to cook your preferred vegetables into an adobo. (Eggplants could take longer time to cook. And yes, Eggplant adobo is really really good.) The vinegar is strong too so just, make sure you don’t overcook it.
The last advice, or probably, a myth to some, is that you should not mix your adobo without having cooked the vinegar or putting the vinegar into a boil so as not to ruin your dish. The vinegar usually is the last to cook together with all the supposed ingredients because for some reason, when you mix the entire concoction without cooking the vinegar, there’s this broken taste of the vinegar that makes the sauce bitter. And most of the Filipinos who had spent a lot of time in the kitchen know this bit but is the crucial breaking point of having a good or bad adobo.
My Lamb Adobo
Prep Time: 40mins
Total Time: 10mins
- 2 tbsp oil
- 4 gloves garlic
- sliced 300 g lamb cut into 1/2 in mini cubes to easily make it tender
- 4 tbsp soy sauce (dark)
- 2 tbsp vinegar
- Cook the lamb very well by boiling it or by using the pressure cooker. Make it tender. I like them not too mushy. Give your family something to make use of their incisors. Allow them to experience tearing the meat from the bone. Occasionally check if it’s ready for the next step by using your fork in picking on the meat. It’s important not to let it dry up all the way. So keep an eye on the soup base.
- It’s tender how you like it already. It’s time to put the soy sauce in. Since you’d be using the dark soy sauce, the remaining soup would be neutralising it to give out this tamed brown. This part is crucial because this is when you put the fire slightly lower than medium to cook the soy sauce, allow time for it to seep in your meat and to regulate the taste well.
- Add the pepper after the first boil.
- Add the vinegar for the second boil. DON’T MIX IT, DON’T TOUCH IT, JUST LET IT BOIL. Then adjust the middle of low and medium heat.
- After a good boil, let it simmer then stir to regulate the taste all over your meat. You would notice that the sauce became slightly thicker than the first time you had poured your vinegar in.
CONVINCED THAT IT SHOULD BE THE NATIONAL FOOD OF THE PHILIPPINES?
Adobo is always associated with a Filipino no matter where they go. It’s something close to their hearts as well. It makes you feel at home in an instant. It embodies the very hospitality that a Filipino exudes when you visit the country.
When a Filipino wants to impress somebody when it comes to cooking, Adobo is always the go-to champion. It’s simple to prepare, yet super satisfying.
It is backed up with a history that is Philippines’ own. It was made and was being served right before the Spaniards came. And it is the best partner for steamed plain rice.
This group actually came up with a song about Adobo and how people always look for this distinct taste. Brilliantly, they associated it to how unique a Filipina is as it embodies everything that what makes Adobo special and the most sought after Filipino dish!
Crush it today by cooking your own adobo!