10 May2007

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 “Lasang Pinoy” 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 Aquino’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 aado1places to be on the entire planet, I lived just a stone’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 didn’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 assassin’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 Ninoy’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 “Apples”), 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 addo2got 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 – anti-Marcos, that is – 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 gatherings…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 – out of necessity aado3and 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 “exotic” 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 “Lasang Pinoy” Blogging Event, I decided to be true to the times… 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. addo4Just 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 – 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 “Filipino adobo stands by itself, fully formed and always distinct from the adobo dishes of Mexico and Spain.” As for the base ingredients of vinegar, spices and salt – we probably had all of these in the 1500’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 didn’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 aado5or 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 can’t do the pork version in the Middle East…). 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.

“Blond” 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 ½ 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 “blond” 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.

“Brunette” 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 aado6amounts 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 aado7had 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 – 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 “freedom,” 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 Ninoy’s assassination, or in positions that are far below their real capabilities in countries that have their proverbial acts together. I know, it isn’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?



  1. wil-b cariaga says:

    i never really know how to cook a proper adobo or at least i can’t imitate any adobo i ever tasted, wierd i know, its just simple but i was never satisfied with my adobo. . . hehe i’ll make one someday. . .

    May 10, 2007 | 5:52 am


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  3. Maria Clara says:

    Food brings people together especially the commonality of the dish which makes it classic! It is ubiquitous in our cuisine but comes in different variations. Some parts of the archipelago they incorporate bay leave and annatto seeds. They morph it with coconut milk too in other parts of the region. Now the spin off of this is the adobo flake which is great transformation of the left over dish. I love my adobo prepared the traditional way with regular vinegar, garlic, pepper and soy sauce and must be a day old with pan de sal my own take of adobo rolls.

    May 10, 2007 | 6:05 am

  4. bernadette says:

    It is very interesting how your life fused on a very important turning of Philippine history and the cooking of adobo. I for one have matured enough to say that I can do away without politics (in general). But adobo?…no way :-)! The true virtues of good cooks are simply that they find joy in nurturing/feeding both body and soul. Hope a lot of politicians think like that.

    May 10, 2007 | 8:44 am

  5. mila says:

    I just found a book all about adobo (not the little adobo book, but another book written by Nancy Reyes-Lumen of the Aristocrat Restaurant Reyes family). It collected different people’s take on adobo, local, fil-ams, chefs, kusineras, and a few like you in Boston who had to learn how to cook one decent filipino dish in college.

    Bought two copies of the book, one for myself, the other as a gift for an American couple who loved adobo while they were here. I like my adobo cooked long and slow, and then reheated the next day when all the flavors have finally gotten in sync.

    May 10, 2007 | 11:01 am

  6. Catalina says:

    We like pork adobo with all the works: liempo, atay, lapay, and isaw. Pamatay sa sarap at bad cholesterol :-)

    May 10, 2007 | 11:28 am

  7. DADD-F says:

    Yap. While our cuisine does show a lot of influence from various cultures, I also think that other cultures, in turn, must have seen and tasted Pinoy dishes that are very similar to theirs so they took to naming our own dishes after theirs. And because they tend to have the greater opportunity for global exposure and are usually the better known, the name they came up with stuck.

    And I wholeheartedly second Catalina. Sarap talaga yan. Pamatay nga sa cholesterol pero pamatay pa rin sa sarap.

    May 10, 2007 | 11:55 am

  8. tings says:

    My late grandmother used to cook pork adobo in slow heat, without soy sauce, or bay leaf – just the vinegar, salt, garlic and peppercorns (and a bit of water too). She then slowly cook it till the liquid evaporates and the pork cooks in its own fat. The result is an amazing, tender and flavorful dish that tastes even better when you reheat it the next day.

    May 10, 2007 | 2:43 pm

  9. Marney says:

    I am so happy you did a post on adobo. I am having a Filipino themed dinner party and I plan to make adobo. Problem is, its my first time doing so. Wish me luck.

    May 10, 2007 | 3:36 pm

  10. pixeldose says:

    Like you MM, I prefer to serve the thickened sauce on the side; the browned meat somewhat look more appetizing to me when served sizzling hot after frying or broiling/grilling. I experimented with the Cendrillon’s recipe the last time (i.e., with coconut milk instead of water) but it didn’t seem to have turned out as good as I had expected. I guess I’d have to tweak the recipe a bit the next time.

    ‘Got the Yummy mag the other day in the mail, btw. Thanks! Have to try the chicken inasal recipe next time.

    ‘You guys swinging over to the west coast by any chance (more specifically the SF Bayarea)? ‘Not sure how many Bayarean’s read your blog but it’d be cool to meet up with you and some of your local fans here.

    May 10, 2007 | 4:25 pm

  11. danney says:

    Mexican adobo is definitely not our adobo because the ingredients are totally different and no soy sauce. I notice that there are too many variations of our adobo. There are people who cook it with light sauce(as if it is still half cooked) and the others with thick sauce. I think the better one is to let it simmer for a long time for consistency and dark brown color. Other people fry the meat first, others add liver sauce, others add gata (hence it becomes adobo sa gata). Others add sugar (it tastes like humba), others add Worcestershire sauce or balsamic vinegar(to add flavour. Whatever they do, IT IS OUR VERY OWN ADOBO. Marketman, I’m going to try eggplant in gata.

    May 11, 2007 | 12:08 am

  12. bluegirl says:

    Not about adobo… but reading your post made me realize I am now middle aged! Hay! And I was trying so hard to deny that… LOL!!!! Our birthday is 1 day apart (even the same year) so I can’t escape it no longer. I must admit to it! LOL!

    I agree with your observation about our country completely. And I must say, I admire your courage to go back to the homeland inspite of your assessment of things. I don’t have your courage nor faith (as it must take some faith to go back home when things look bleak).

    May 11, 2007 | 10:07 am

  13. Chinachix says:

    this is the first dish i learned to cook when i first moved to toronto…havent tried it with apple cider vinegar (i usually buy cane vinegar at the asian supermarket) but will try using it one of these days….

    May 11, 2007 | 4:53 pm

  14. pia says:

    my lola cooks our adobo with pork/chicken and pork atay adobo. I like cooking it afterwards in the turbo broiler. crunchy and very tasty.
    right now i only have porkloin. i only buy lean meats now coz my husband and i are cutting down on fatty stuff.will that do for a tasty adobo?

    May 31, 2007 | 9:35 am

  15. Lisa says:

    Hi Marketman:

    When you boil your adobo, do you cover it, because my adobo tastes raw vinegar, I must be doing something wrong. Thanks


    Aug 24, 2007 | 5:08 am

  16. Marketman says:

    Lisa, I don’t think the covering or not will affect the vinegar taste. I would look into the type of vinegar you use and the amount. If you are in the West, try apple cider vinegar and kikkoman and don’t put too much vinegar. Also, you need the black peppercorns, garlic and bay leaves to modulate the flavors… Based on the recipe above, cut back the vinegar and increase the kikkoman until you find the results you prefer… I hope it works…

    Aug 24, 2007 | 5:42 am

  17. mia says:

    ting’s grandma’s recipe is just like my mom’s. It’s one of the family’s favorite. My nephew and I especially like the tiny bits of crunchy pork, while the others would season their warm rice with the flavor rich pork fat.

    Aug 27, 2007 | 1:19 am

  18. Anna says:

    Hi. I just started reading this blog, yesterday.. and now I´m so addicted with it,that I can´t stop reading. It makes makes me feel proud of being Filipino. I especially like this adobo entry, because you pointed out the real current situation of the Philippines.Anyway, I just got this link today, and I´m truly disturbed and emotional right now.I know this isn´t the venue for this… but I just want the people here to know, and I hope someone can do something about this.

    Sep 29, 2007 | 2:21 am


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