FOOD EXPEDITIONS: Adobo – The Quintessential Gateway to Filipino Cuisine.

Whether you like it or not, Filipino cuisine and culture is taking the world by storm. There is no denying that Filipinos deserve a fair spot at the table of those having unique culinary cultures and traditions. In the past five centuries alone, Filipino history includes cultural influences from all over Asia, Spain, and even the United States.

Filipinos have found ways to make these dishes their own, and with over 7,000 islands, it offers more than you can imagine.

With thousands of culturally-diverse islands and regions, where or with what should you start exploring Filipino food? 

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Simple. The humble adobo.

But hailing it as quintessential is quite big, don’t you think? How did such a simple throw-everything-in-the-pot recipe (that can actually last more than a week in the fridge, and even gets more sumptuous over time) become the country’s national dish?

The answer? It is in our roots. Just a bite of this dish immediately opens up the door into Filipino history and culture: bright, deep, complex, yet oh so wonderful.

Adobo’s origins are still contested, since the word itself was derived from the Spanish word adobar, which means “marinade” or a “pickling sauce” after it was first recorded in 1613 by Pedro de San Buenaventura, a Spanish Franciscan friar who wrote the first dictionary of Tagalog language.  

Historians have also said that upon the arrival of Spaniards in the Philippines, the tart viand already existed and has already been enjoyed by the Malay settlers in the land, so the dish itself does not have any Hispanic roots. Since the dish did not have an exact name or term, adobo stuck, and has been passed on to generations up to this day.

The fact that the dish had existed even before the country was colonized meant that it was a common cooking method across its islands. In fact, adobo has as many varieties as it has regions (and the Philippines has more than 17), ranging from chicken, pork, seafood,, beef, having both chicken and pork, long string beans, tofu, chicken feet, and eggs; to being spiced with birds eye chilies or sweetened with sugar, to being enriched with coconut cream and milk, to being given a certain brightness and depth of flavor with turmeric, even to having no soy sauce at all – there is no wrong or right way to make adobo. 

As long as you have the basic ingredients – vinegar, garlic, onions, whole peppercorns, bay leaves, your choice of meat, and soy sauce or salt – you can make yourself a scrumptious, vinegar-braised, umami-bomb of a dish that when cooked well can last you for a week or two in the fridge. 

Adobo, then, is more than just a dish. It is a method or process of braising your chosen meat or vegetable in vinegar until it is beautifully fragrant and succulent. Whether you have it for lunch or dinner over a plate of steaming rice, or reheat it in the morning until the meat falls apart at the softest touch of the fork and spoon, adobo surely is a delight to one’s taste buds. 

DID YOU KNOW? Vinegar is an aqueous solution of acetic acid and trace compounds that may include flavorings. Vinegar typically contains 5–8% acetic acid by volume. Usually, the acetic acid is produced by a double fermentation; converting simple sugars to ethanol using yeast and ethanol to acetic acid by acetic acid bacteria. It is now mainly used in the culinary arts as a flavorful, acidic cooking ingredient, or in pickling. Various types of vinegar are also used as condiments or garnishes, including balsamic vinegar and malt vinegar.
 As the most easily manufactured mild acid, it has a wide variety of industrial and domestic uses, including use as a household cleaner. (Wikipedia)

With such a versatile dish transcending distances between thousands of islands and miles between families scattered across the world, adobo has become the gateway dish for anyone who wishes to delve into Filipino culture and cuisine. 

A pot of adobo has found its way in the vocabularies of Western cuisine, infiltrating and breaking barriers between cultures with its diversity and sharp yet complex flavors. 

So the next time you are thinking of what to get for lunch or dinner, or are even intrigued by Filipino cuisine, begin exploring with adobo – and see all the flavorful doors it opens for you. 

WORDS: Patricia Leuterio.

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