Adobo can be quite a polarizing dish.
Across the country’s 7,107 islands, there are as many “best adobo” hotspots just as there are different versions of the dish.
There is adobo sa dilaw cooked with turmeric from Cavite. Coconut water and coconut meat are pleasant additions to Southern Tagalog’s version, while gata and sili feature prominently in adobo hailing from Bicol. Adobong puti from the Visayas region uses no soy sauce, which was an import by Chinese traders.
And let us not forget: Each family’s own adobo recipe is the best.
But according to Chef Nancy Reyes-Lumen, the country’s undisputed adobo queen, it is precisely because of the adobo’s ubiquitous presence that it becomes unifying as well.
“The Philippines is an adobo nation,” she said. “There is a version of adobo in almost all our provinces, and the root word is the same.”
Together with chefs Jen Seranilla and Jaja Andal, who make up Team Adobo, Reyes-Lumen teamed up with Holiday Inn & Suites Makati in a bid to elevate the dish for the whole month of October—with at least 30 variations to be featured at the hotel’s Flavors restaurant.
“We don’t really have a uniting call sign, but as to food, that will have to be adobo. It is the closest thing to a national dish for us,” Reyes-Lumen added.
For starters, the team came up with chicken liver pate, pork adobo rillete, and adobo pan de sal—served freshly baked, hot and soft and tempting you to eat just one more after downing two in quick succession.
There were tamales topped with chicken adobo flakes and wrapped in banana leaves; paella de adobo with seafood; Rodrigo’s Roast, a whole slab of adobo-cooked pork belly with a savory-sweet-umami crust; and pianggang adobo with palapa, a nod to the traditional Zamboanga dish that features tuba-marinated chicken with burnt coconut adobo sauce.
Seranilla’s adobo-inspired cheesecake—with bayleaf-infused butter and peppercorn for a bit of spice—was a creative way to sweetly cap the meal.
“We didn’t want the dishes to taste just like soy sauce and vinegar. It was a fun challenge thinking of new ways in which to portray adobo that would still be welcomed by Filipinos and get them excited at the same time,” she said.
The word adobo may have been borrowed from Spanish colonizers—adobar, which means marinade—but everything else about the dish is purely Filipino. One can even argue that since the ingredients for the dish were already present in the Philippines even before the Spaniards came, our ancestors may have already been cooking adobo prior to Ferdinand Magellan’s arrival, and that the Spanish name merely stuck because we were colonized for more than 300 years.
“Adobo reflects the Filipino personality—our ability to create different styles based on a centerpiece dish—‘strike anywhere’ as they say. The name adobo may be borrowed, but the flavors, ingredients, and colors of adobo cover the foodscape of this country and is so much a part of our culture that we truly own it,” said Reyes-Lumen.
“Every Pinoy has an adobo story, and that is why it is a big part of our lives,” she added.
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