Loco About Adobo!

By on March 12, 2014

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It’s no secret: Filipinos looooooooove to eat.  Forgive the use of multiple vowels for added emphasis, as would be the habit of many an emphatic teener, but it is justified.  Filipinos don’t just love to eat:  they looooooooove it.  Eating is as necessary for physical survival as it is for social acceptance and endearment.   I am also willing to hazard a well-informed guess that eating is one of the Filipino’s favorite pastimes and recreational activities.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner are smattered with at least two meriendas in between; with every mealtime an opportunity for bonding and pleasure.

Favorite fare are too numerous to count and are dependent on from which part of the Philippines one hails.  However, as far dishes go, perhaps nothing is more Filipino and well-loved than your mother’s adobo.  Except maybe for your neighbor’s mother’s adobo. Indeed, there are as many variations to this delectable Pinoy dish as there are families named “Santos” in the Philippines.

We all love to eat it, whatever the variant: pula, puti, simple and straightforward, or with a variety of ingredients mixed in, saucy or dry (to mention just a few different kinds). With a plate of steaming hot white rice and maybe a glass of ice-cold soda with which to – rather guiltily – wash it down.  But how did this dish originate? We are loco about adobo; let’s not be bobo about the same.

Adobo 101

Adobo is an immensely popular Filipino dish and mode of cooking that – unlike many other fave dishes of mixed influence – originated within the Philippines. Adobo is the term which refers to both the dish, and the method of cooking which basically entails marinating meat or seafood in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and garlic.  These are the three staple marinade ingredients to a dish that has countless varieties, interpretations, and methods of preparation. 

Meats are marinated in the mixture, and are either boiled in the same (for a saucy adobo), or cooked in oil (for a dry adobo). Chicken and /or pork are the meats of preference, but there are also many variations that involve beef, shrimp, vegetables or even more exotic ingredients (I have eaten a mouth-watering pork adobo cooked with fried dried squid added into the dish.  OMG!!!)

Don’t let the Spanish name fool you – adobo is 100 percent Pinoy, through and through. The cooking method is indigenous to the Philippines. In fact, it pre-dates Spanish colonial rule. When Magellan arrived, Lapu-Lapu was already cooking up an adobo storm. Or something to that effect. 

At the time the Spanish colonized the Philippines in the late 16th century and early 17th century, they found that Filipinos had a thriving cultural, political, socio-economic and religious structure in place. The high-bridged-nose conquistadores also encountered an indigenous cooking process which involved stewing with vinegar.   In true conquering fashion, they gave the dish a Spanish name, referring to it as adobo, the word for seasoning or marinade. The name eventually came to refer to dishes prepared in this manner, as well as the cooking method.  The rest is history.  Sadly, the original term Filipinos used for the dish is not recorded in history; having been lost to the nether regions of forgetfulness and disuse.

Hello, how do you aDObo?

Though the number of variations to the adobo dish and way of cooking is seemingly endless, the most popular one remains the adobong itim (black adobo), which uses soy sauce along with the vinegar and garlic.  However, it is interesting to note that the closest to the pre-Hispanic dish is the adobong puti (white or blond adobo, which is sans soy sauce.  As for the vinegar used, most popular options are cane, rice or coconut vinegar; although some prefer to use cider or white wine vinegar for that extra gourmet flair.  Some Common ingredients that go into the adobo are bay leaf and black pepper, in amounts according to taste.   Variants may include other ingredients, such as saba bananas (sugar bananas) siling labuyo (bird’s eye chili), jalapeño pepper, red bell pepper, olive oil, onions, brown sugar, potatoes, hard-boiled egg, or pineapple.

Although the main method of cooking is to let the meats slow cook or simmer in the marinade, some prefer to further brown the dish in the oven, pan-fry, deep-fry, or grill the meat to get it crispy on the outside. 

Regionally, adobos are also quite varied. The dish is commonly cooked with coconut milk, called adobo sa gata, in southern Luzon and Zamboanga, for instance. Mashed pork liver is added in Cavite, while turmeric gives Laguna’s adobong dilaw (yellow adobo) its yellowish colour.  Ilonggos, on the other hand, like to include achuete (annatto) into their version. Methinks it would make for an interesting documentary food tour to travel around the Philippines sampling the many kinds of delectable adobo dishes.

Adobo goes global

So we’ve established that adobo is well-loved within the local context of the Philippines.   But it is also receiving acclaim and a thumbs-up from foodies the world over.

Heartthrob singer-actor Zac Efron’s (of High School Musical fame) reported love for the dish made news some days ago in the Lifestyle sections of local dailies.  Sources have it that the star is not only crazy about the dish, but that he also knows how to whip it up for himself.

In 2002, producer Kevin J. Foxe (the man behind the successful indie movie The Blair Witch Project ) was inspired by the popularity of the dish to make the comedy-drama titled American Adobo, which chronicles the challenges faced by five Filipino-American friends residing in New York.

Adobo’s international acclaim dawned on me recently, when, on assignment to write a feature story on a luxury resort on the island of Mactan, Philippines ,  the British Sous Chef of the resort presented me with his newest fine-dining creation:  slow-cooked pork belly adobo with seared scallops.  It was divine, and oh-so-worthy of global culinary chic points.

The Adobo Bill

Ok, ok – it isn’t just an adobo Bill, I exaggerate. House Bill No. 3926 or the proposed National Symbols Act of 2014 filed by Bohol Rep. Rene Relampagos, seeks to declare and recognize several other items as the country’s official national symbols.  In the category of “National Food” of the Philippines, it is adobo that is being pushed (shock of shocks! You mean it isn’t yet the national dish???)

Relampagos cited the importance of passing the bill to boost national identity, and because of the 20 items often thought and taught to be national symbols, only 10 of these are, in fact, officially recognized in the  Constitution, Republic Acts and Proclamations.

The lawmaker noted that adobo should be recognized as the country’s national food, because of its versatility and variety.

“Whether using chicken, pork, fish, squid, kangkong, sitaw, puso ng saging and others as main ingredient, there are many ways to cook adobo – adobo sa gata, adobong matamis, adobong tuyo, adobong masabaw, adobo sulipan, adobo sa pinya, adobo sa kalamansi, adobong malutong, adobong puti, adobo flakes, spicy adobo, just to name a few,” Relampagos said.

Pinoy fave, Pinoy food, Pinoy roots, Pinoy pride; from your home, across 7,107 islands, to the world: that’s a whole lotta adobo for you to go loco about.


Want to try a regional twist to your traditional adobo? Go adobo ala Ilonggo!

Chicken-Pork Adobo (Ilonggo Style)


1 kg pork or 1 kg chicken
1 big onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
bay leaf
1/2 cup atsuete oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 cup cane vinegar
1 tablespoon muscovado sugar
1/2 cup water (or more)
1 long green chili pepper
4 hard-boiled eggs (optional)


In a deep frying pan or casserole mix the first 10 ingredients.
Bring to a boil without stirring. When it comes to a boil, start mixing it to get
even color. When the meat is cook and liquid consistency starts to get
thicker, add boiled egg and mix uniformly. Salt to taste and garnish with
green long pepper before removing from heat. Enjoy!


Recipe from: http://www.sunro.nl/other-services/recipes-of-the-month/adobo-ilonggo-style/