Food for Thought: Adobo

Dive into the cultural, political, and personal significance of food

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Plate of pork adobo
PHOTO: Adobo / FOX

By: Charlene Aviles, Peak Associate

Growing up, I wasn’t as connected to my Filipino roots as I am now. I didn’t grow up speaking Ilocano or Tagalog, and had visited the Philippines only a few times. But my parents and grandma wanted to pass on the culture to me, and their main way was through food.

Finding authentic Filipino food was always a challenge, but my family always tried their best to replicate authentic flavours you’d find back in the province they grew up in. Adobo, a classic dish found throughout the Philippines, is one that frequents our kitchen and my belly, even now. Not only do its recipes call for accessible ingredients, its cozy and familiar taste makes everyone feel at home. If you haven’t tried Filipino food before, this is a great place to start!

Adobo is a Filipino dish cooked in a vinegar and garlic marinade. It’s cooked with different proteins, depending on which region you’re from. In Cavite’s banana flowers adobo (adobong puso ng saging), they incorporate shrimp. While in Ilonggo regions, they have a vegetarian version with water spinach (apan-apan adobabo). 

Adobo’s Spanish roots trace back to the early 1600s and the name “adobo” comes from the Spanish wordadobar,” which means marinade. Despite adobo existing in Filipino culture before Spanish colonization, no one seems to know the dish’s traditional name before the Spanish label. While they have the same name, the Filipino version has a vinegar base, unlike the Spanish adobo sauce with its spicy ingredients, such as chili peppers.

Because of the Philippines’ hot tropical weather, Filipinos traditionally preserved their food with vinegar and salt. As Chinese traders brought soy sauce to the country, more Filipinos started incorporating it in their adobo recipes.

As a child, my grandmother would always make us her famous chicken adobo for lunch. As soon as I smelled the aromas of vinegar and soy sauce in the kitchen, I knew she was making her signature dish. Whether we’re on vacation or at home, the taste of her chicken adobo makes everyone feel comforted. The bold flavours, like the acidic vinegar and the tangy soy sauce, pops in your mouth. Her cooking is hard to replicate, so sometimes relatives will call her asking for the recipe, and she’ll share it — if we promise to keep it a family secret. 

How to cook your own chicken adobo, according to All Recipes:

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 pound chicken
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • ⅔ cup soy sauce
  • ⅓ cup white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf

Recipe:

  1. Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Cook chicken until golden brown and set aside.
  2. Cook onion and garlic thoroughly in the pan. 
  3. Add soy sauce, vinegar, garlic powder, black pepper, and bay leaf.
  4. Add chicken back to the pan on high heat. Bring to a boil. 
  5. Reduce heat to medium and simmer while cover until cooked.