Like its Asian neighbors, the Philippines is a region of culinary delights. For example, consider the following: sinigang (chicken, pork, Lechon (roasted whole pig or chicken), dinuguan (pork blood stew, beef soup usually made with tamarind and other ingredients); and Adobo.
Among these delicious foods, Adobo fits the title “National Dish of The Philippines,” along with milkfish (bangus), mango, and carabao as other iconic symbols of the country. Although unofficial, Adobo is considered by many to be the national dish of the Philippines. Adobo also refers to a method of marinating and braising chunks of fish or meat in a salty mixture of soy sauce, spices, and vinegar.
Filipino Adobo should actually not be confused with the spicy Spanish adobo sauce. Just because they both share the Spanish name, they are vastly different in flavor and ingredients. It actually comes from the Spanish word “adobar,” which means marinated in English. It is a traditional dish in Philippine cuisine. This cooking method, like most Philippine cultures, has mixed origins.
Nevertheless, a lot of Filipinos consider this food the national dish. The perfect Adobo lies in the fine balance of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and spices (fresh ground peppercorns and bay leaves). Other people use patis (fish sauce) or salt to enhance flavors. The best way to start cooking is to marinate all ingredients for about an hour, or the longer, the better.
History of Adobo
Adobo is prepared in the Spain region and Latin America, but the cooking process originates from the Philippines. According to historical records, the Spanish found this method when they invaded the Philippines in the late 16th century. Thus, with the passage of time, dishes prepared in this way also became known by this name. The Malay voyagers who initially landed in the country used vinegar and salt to preserve food so it would last longer. In the islands’ warm tropical climate, vinegar appears over and over again in traditional recipes that date back to a time before refrigeration.
Filipinos prepared their proteins in a salt and vinegar marinade before the Chinese traders arrived. Some Chinese traders, who ventured all over the region selling their wares, resided in the Philippines. They brought several ingredients that were instantly adopted by the locals, including the iconic “pancit” (noodles) and soy sauce. In many parts of the region, soy sauce came to replace salt in home kitchens.
So, soy sauce is still the main ingredient in a good marinade in most households. Adobo uses the high salt content of soy sauce and the acidity of vinegar to create an undesired environment for bacteria. However, its delicious taste and preservative properties helped increase the popularity of Adobo. This dish was originally cooked in clay pots but is now made in more common metal pots. Every region in the Philippines has its own preferred flavor and products. Yes, there are several versions of Adobo across the region.
The adobong pusit (adobo squid with squid ink) became famous where there was a lot of seafood. In the Southern region part of Luzon, where coconut milk and heat are popular ingredients, adobo ng gata emerged. There are tons of variations of Adobo, and in the Philippines, you can find versions that have laurel leaves, sugar, liver, potatoes, morning glory, the list goes on.
In recent years, Adobo has evolved beyond its roots as a humble dish, delighting diners at Filipino restaurant Purple Yam located in New York and even the affection of the former US President Obama. Adobo has was featured on shows such as Top Chef and prevailed as the ultimate test of any Filipino cook’s spirit.
In essence, Adobo is a cooking process, not a recipe. The vinegar flavor softens over low heat, intensifying the taste of the meat and creating a silky, delicious sauce that is always served with aromatic white rice. Adobo’s long journey, the fusion of cultures, and passionate advocates come together to tell a diverse and delicious story.
Why Adobo Taste Different Almost Everywhere You Go?
There is no single type of vinegar that is used in all Philippine provinces. But Adobo remains “national food” also because its main ingredients are easily accessible in all regions.
Within the Luzon part, communities prepare their Adobo much differently. In Bulacan, they use different types of vinegar, such as paombong vinegar, which is made from nipa palm and is actually named after a town. Sukang Iloko, made from sugar cane, is also widely used, and coconut vinegar, a staple in the Southern Tagalog regions. However, in Batangas, their Adobo is sometimes yellow because of the “achuete,” a red-orange, a slightly sweet powder made from annatto seeds. In the Pampanga region, the “dry” adobong puti is somehow common – this indeed happens when the marinade is lessened in the pan until the oils are extracted from the meat.
In the Visayas, Adobo is done with vinegar and calamansi (Philippine lime), or just calamansi, made only from simplistic spices such as rock salt, peppercorn, garlic, and laurel. Although different vinegar is used, like sugar cane, pineapple, and coconut, they also like their Adobo with an extra “heat,” which explains some homes’ use of ginger and red chilies in their Adobo. Some Visayan people cook adobong puti, which means they only use vinegar.
In the South, their classification of adobo banks on the creamy kind, from their coconut milk which is (gata),” Instead of pork, Mindanao adobo makes use of beef, fried fish, or chicken, similar to the saucy Balbacua beef stew.
Indeed, there are several ways to cook Adobo. To name a few: adobong matamis, adobo sa gata, adobong masabaw, adobo sulipan, adobo sa calamansi, adobong tuyo, and adobo sa pinya. Adobo can also fill the puto, siopao, and pan de sal; be poured evenly into pizzas, be made into adobo flakes; and be mixed with spaghetti. And if these are not enough, local food companies have recently come up with adobo spread and adobo sauce.
These are basic adobo ingredients; you may find other elements that have been included. Vinegar and soy sauce are the main ingredient of Adobo, but over the centuries, other liquids have hardly been added to the brine. Some variations include coconut milk, which mellows the strong flavors of soy sauce and vinegar. Others include honey or sugar to add a touch of sweetness and an almost teriyaki-like characteristic. As I said, the taste of Adobo can also be varied depending on the type of vinegar used. So, here in the Philippines, rice vinegar, coconut vinegar, or cane vinegar are the most common.
Directions for Preparing Adobo
- Create a marinade by combining the bay leaves, soy sauce, garlic, black pepper, vinegar, and tomatoes in a large glass bowl.
- Subside the meat in the marinade.
- Cover the glass bowl and refrigerate for about 18 to 24 hours.
- Transfer the meat and the marinade to a heavy 4-quart pot.
- Put the pot on the stove range and bring it to a gentle boil.
- Cover the pot and allow the meat to simmer in the marinade for about 25 minutes. Then uncover the pot and use a pair of tongs to remove the meat from the marinade.
- Set the meat aside on a plate.
- Skim off some fat from the marinade in the pot, and just increase the heat, and reduce the liquid to about half.
- While the liquid is decreasing, heat some olive oil in a large sauté pan.
- Lay the meat side down first in the sauté pan and brown.
- Flip the meat pieces to brown on the next side.
- Add some onions to the same pan as the meat and sauté them.
- When the onions and meat become browned, transfer them to a large serving dish. And pour the marinade over the meat.
- Garnish your Adobo with sliced scallions and serve with steamed rice.
Adobo is considered to be the Philippines National Dish. All around the country, people love its taste and like to cook it. In many celebrations or even in a normal day dish, Adobo is always cooked. Many Filipino families prepare this dish for their visitors and there are many ways on how to cook it depending on the location that you are in.