This post first appeared in August 2005 and was my first entry into the Lasang Pinoy Food Blogger’s Event. It is a classic on this site!
This post is part of the â€œLasang Pinoyâ€ Filipino Food Bloggers Event that aims to bring global attention to Philippine Food. Dozens of Food Bloggers around the world are participating. For a roundup or summary of all the entries, please visit Pilgrims Pots and Pans on 21 August 2005 on the 22nd anniversary of Ninoy Aquinoâ€™s assassination. Please also visit other Filipino food bloggers’ sites for a “taste” of home…
The year was 1983. I was just about to start my sophomore year and of all places to be on the entire planet, I lived just a stoneâ€™s throw away from the Aquino residence in the suburbs of Boston. If Cory or Ninoy were cooking up a pot of adobo I could probably smell it downwind from their kitchen. I didnâ€™t know the Aquino family but in the previous year I saw Ninoy speak twice in the Boston area. I think Ninoy was a visiting lecturer at Harvard and/or MIT and he spoke at Boston College just a few months before he returned to Manila, that fateful August, only to be met by an assassinâ€™s bullet. I was an undergraduate at Boston College and our campus on Chestnut Hill was directly across the street from the Aquino home while they were in exile. News of Ninoyâ€™s murder reached the U.S. on the early morning of Sunday, August 21, 1983, a day after my 19th birthday…
Not too politically astute at the time, I nevertheless realized this was a major event in Philippine history and watched the news with awe and horror despite the distance. As the weeks and months unfolded, I eagerly awaited news from home. Network and Cable TV carried hardly any coverage of the Philippines. Letters from home were rare, as my parents were not the writing type and occasional phone calls brief to save on cost. Calls were stilted even as fear of wire tapping of certain individuals was widely believed. Faxes were a novelty. Personal computers were just being introduced (I was part of a trial group using new fangled things called â€œApplesâ€), cell phones and texts a thing of sci-fi movies, and email unheard of. The peso collapsed by at least 50% shortly after the Aquino murder, and by 1984 stood at close to PHP20 from PHP 8 less than 18 months before. My tuition had nearly trebled in peso terms and it was not clear that I could finish my studies because of a lack of funds. I borrowed heavily from my two sisters who lived in the U.S. and for the first time in my life, I went to work part-time manning the deep fryer and grill at a campus fast food restaurant. I earned about USD3 per hour and could eat as many French fries as I wanted. With the USD50 I netted (after tax et al) each week I bought all of my food and personal care items (soap, deodorant, Qtips and toilet paper). I learned how to eat decently on a limited budget out of necessity.
There was a small group of Filipino students in the Boston area and we soon got to know more and more of each other. Several nieces and nephews of Cory were students in the Boston area, as were the kids of prominent families both for and against the Marcos administration. In the next 3 years until Marcos left the country in 1986, young Filipinos like me became far more politically aware, increasingly nationalistic and I guess the key word was idealistic. I suppose you could say I was clearly in the opposition camp â€“ anti-Marcos, that is â€“ and despite his murder, not necessarily an Aquino fan. Over the years I hosted dinners/get-togethers in our modest college apartment as a good way to keep in touch with Boston area based Filipinos and to get news from home. Food was a necessity at these gatheringsâ€¦ever see more than one Filipino congregate without serious calories in sight?
So it was during these years that I started learn how to really cook â€“ out of necessity and out of increasing interest. Before college I had baked brownies, cookies, pies and some bread. Prior to Boston, I had never cooked rice in my life. Neither had I cooked a single Filipino dish such as adobo, beefsteak tagalog or tinolang manok. I had no Filipino recipe books, and the available ingredients in Boston for Asian, let alone Filipino cooking were rather scarce. Chinatown and a few Japanese and Korean shops had a few items but forget anything â€œexoticâ€ like bagoong. So as much as I wracked my brains over the past few weeks for a recipe that would be worthy of the first â€œLasang Pinoyâ€ Blogging Event, I decided to be true to the timesâ€¦ 1983, in an upper-class suburb on the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts with a very limited range of ingredients. Here is my recipe for chicken and pork adobo. This is what I actually cooked and ate fairly frequently during those years.
I thought to do some lengthy treatise on the history of adobo but decided against it. Just the abbreviated version – while many believe this dish is influenced by the Spanish adobo which uses a pickling sauce of olive oil, vinegar and spices, or the Mexican spice mix with spices and vinegar that is used to make adobado â€“ I choose to believe that the Spaniards arrived and noted that we had a dish similar to their adobos and thus called it just that. This theory is not mine, it was articulated by Raymond Sokolov in 1991 where he asserts that â€œFilipino adobo stands by itself, fully formed and always distinct from the adobo dishes of Mexico and Spain.â€ As for the base ingredients of vinegar, spices and salt â€“ we probably had all of these in the 1500â€™s. Pepper we may have had from trading with Malayan neighbors. Bay leaves could have been of the cassia tree rather than the laurel tree. Soy sauce and garlic almost certainly came later, so the earliest versions probably didnâ€™t use much soy sauce. This type of cooking could be applied to any number of ingredients but seemed to make the most sense for preserving meats and prevent them from spoiling for several days.
My adobo is really simple and any one of the 10-14 million ethnically Filipino or half or quarter Filipinos out there can do this in most locales around the globe ( I generalize of course as a million or two of you canâ€™t do the pork version in the Middle Eastâ€¦). To me, adobo represents the quintessential taste of home. Here is the recipe I used when I lived in Boston and it uses the ingredients that I could find there at the time.
â€œBlondâ€ Chicken Adobo a la Marketman
Cut a whole chicken into serving sized pieces, say 8-10 large pieces. In college, I sometimes used only chicken wings because they were the cheapest cut, yet they were the most flavorful. Place in a pot and add Â½ cup of apple cider vinegar, a little water, whole peppercorns, several cloves of slightly mashed garlic, 2-3 bay leaves and some salt. Simmer until tender. Add some Kikkoman soy sauce and cook for a few more minutes to blend the flavors. Make sure the liquid boils down a bit so that the sauce is slightly thickened. Apologize to irate neighbors if you live in an apartment as the smell is something else to the uninitiated nose. Serve this with rice if you are in a hurry. This is the â€œblondâ€ version as this is rather pale (no marca pina soy sauce that is black as sin in Boston) and relatively less tasty than some of the dark stewed versions of the dish you may find in the Philippines.
â€œBrunetteâ€ Chicken Adobo a la Marketman
If you have time and can stand the mess, take the blond version one step further. Heat up a frying pan and pour some of the fat from the sauce into it and add a bit more vegetable oil or lard if you have it. Take the chicken pieces and fry them briefly (just a minute or two on each side to give it a nice caramelized brown crust). Put these on a serving platter. Boil down the sauce to further reduce and serve as a sort of gravy on the side. This version looks more appetizing and photographs better but it is still adobo.
Pork Adobo a la Marketman
I do not like to mix chicken and pork adobo because the meats take differing amounts of time to cook. Unless you phase the cooking, the chicken is overcooked and the pork just cooked. So I like to cook the pork separately. Take fatty pork and cut into medium sized cubes. Put in a pot with lots of apple cider vinegar, peppercorns, garlic, bay leaves and some water. Boil or simmer until the pork is tender. Do not add soy sauce to this mixture. When the pork is cooked remove it from the sauce and pour Kikkoman soy sauce over the meat and let it marinate for about 10 minutes, making sure all the pieces get coated in soy sauce. Then fry the pieces in a frying pan until just caramelized. Boil down the remaining sauce together with the remaining soy sauce from the marinade and serve this on the side.
As a closing note, let me be less the idealistic college sophomore and more the realistic middle aged Marketman. Since Ninoy was assassinated, our country has had nearly 20 years of freedom and democracy, much more time than it took for Marcos to do his dastardly deeds. Instead of capitalizing on these two decades (half the time it took the nation of Singapore to get where it is today â€“ yes, Singapore is only 40 years old), we have plunged further into the abyss, multiplied like rabbits, degraded our environment further, reduced per capita incomes, depreciated the peso, graduate more students who are less literate, and generally speaking have sunk deeper into a downward negative spiral. And with our new found â€œfreedom,â€ millions of Filipinos have chosen or been forced to flee the country in search of a better life and larger incomes as politicians reach new records of shameful behavior and businesses are unable to employ enough of our burgeoning population. Many of our fellow countrymen now work in countries that were less free than we were prior to Ninoyâ€™s assassination, or in positions that are far below their real capabilities in countries that have their proverbial acts together. I know, it isnâ€™t nice to be negative, but unless someone points out that we are now scraping the bottom of the barrel and we collectively do something about it, then we have little hope as a nation of taking advantage of that hard won freedom. What good is freedom if over 50% of the population cannot even afford to put rice and a simple dish of chicken and pork adobo on their dinner table tonight?