Considered as Philippine’s national dish, Adobo is a staple in a lot of Filipino households. The reason for why it has been kept one of the most famous dishes in the Philippines is not clear to a lot of people.
We all know that it is one of the most delicious Filipino dishes and has been derived from the Spanish influence but with plenty of other delectable dishes in the Philippines, why has the Filipino adobo stuck firmly to Filipino households? It is also always available when there are special events and celebrations. A bit of diving into Philippine history may help us answer this question.
Indigenous Filipinos since the pre-colonial
years have been accustomed to cooking food with vinegar and salt because it
helps in the preservation of food. It helps in making the food fresh for longer
and this is important in the earlier years because there were not many ways to
store food and the refrigerator has not been invented. Food was usually kept in
wooden vessels for later consumption. When the Spaniards colonized the
Philippines in the late 16th century, this way of cooking and food preservation
was rediscovered. The Spaniards also added these ingredients (vinegar and salt)
to marinate their meat. They used a mixture of vinegar, salt, garlic, paprika
and oregano to marinate their food. They have called this method “adobo”.
Due to the influence of the Spanish Empire, Indigenous Filipinos have gotten used to incorporate this kind of method of cooking in their dishes as well. Ultimately, it has been proven to be a practical way of cooking because not only does it add so much more flavor to the food, it also allows food to last longer than other dishes because it includes salt and vinegar. In those times, even though there are other dishes introduced by the Spaniards, the adobo-style of cooking may have become more popular among Filipino families because it can be cooked in larger amounts without worry as it can also be kept for longer. In those days, there were a lot of large Filipino families and dishes that can be cooked in bigger amounts is more practical.
The word “adobar” is actually the Spanish word that means “marinade”. The Spanish used this word to refer to any dish (usually meat dishes) that is marinated. With the frequent use of this way of cooking in the earlier times, the Philippines have adopted this as one of their main ways of cooking and it has stuck for the long run. Filipinos referred to it as a specific way of cooking and have eventually singled it out into a dish called, ‘Adobo”. Adobo now refers to the classic Filipino dish that is marinated and then simmered in soy sauce (a substitute to what was previously just salt) and vinegar.
The Filipinos’ Love for Adobo
Filipinos have grown favor of the adobo taste as well because they like salty and savory cuisines. Even before the Spaniards came to the Philippines, dishes made by the indigenous Filipinos have similar tastes. In those days, whether you grew up rich or poor, adobo was made by any family. The popularity of the dish is probably due to its unique base flavors. The sour tanginess of the vinegar mixed with the saltiness of the soy sauce harmonizes perfectly and creates a very curious flavour unlike any other dish.
In modern times, it is still a dish well loved by many. As Filipinos are known for cooking a lot for family and friends and in times when there are “fiestas” or festivities, it is not surprising that Adobo remains the star dish in every occasion. It is great to cook in bigger batches and even if there are leftovers, it does not easily spoil. Filipino Adobo is also easy to cook because ingredients are readily available in a typical Filipino kitchen pantry. Ingredients such as white vinegar, soy sauce and condiments like garlic, peppercorn, and bay leaves are already staples that can be found in the kitchen in a Filipino home.
Another factor that has made it a common dish to serve is its versatility. Filipinos had made ways to make it with about any type of the main ingredient. There is “Adobong isda” or fish adobo, “Adobong baka” or Beef adobo, and even ‘Adobong gulay” which is made with vegetables. There can be endless variations made with the classic Filipino adobo. The dish tastes great with any ingredients used. Even seafood can be incorporated into adobo dishes and this is a harder feat to accomplish as seafood is the toughest protein to cook. Cooking seafood for too long might make it hard and chewy, and still; there are varieties of adobo like “Adobong alimango” Mud Crab adobo and “Adobong sugpo” or Prawn adobo.
Filipino adobo has definitely engraved itself in Filipino hearts. Most Filipino families have their own adobo recipes. In the early times, there was no such thing as the internet to search for the most traditional adobo dish and because of this, word-of-mouth is the only way for families to share the recipe for the dish. This is also the reason why there are probably thousands of variations of adobo. Every region and household in the Philippines probably has their own unique twist to the dish.
Adobo Around the World
Filipinos have been advertising their love for the dish even overseas. This may have started as nostalgia and pure craving for a taste of home, but adobo is slowly being recognized (if not already known) as the national Filipino dish. It has become somehow of a cultural marker especially in foreign countries like North America where a lot of Filipinos have relocated. As “Filipino pride” became a thing a round the world, young Filipinos have even gone to lengths like wearing statement shirts that say, wearing “Love, peace and adobo grease” and “Got adobo?”.
It is safe to say now that “Adobo” has gone mainstream and is known to the world as the “National dish of the Philippines”. With the help of the internet, one search of the word “adobo”, will come up with millions of entries about the dish. Even foreign celebrities and chefs had gone and tried their own take of ‘adobo”. With the popularity that the dish is gaining worldwide, the Philippines have had a new found appreciation for the dish. New restaurant chains dedicated to “adobo” has been built. There is even a magazine called, “Adobo” published in Manila. “Adobo” has also been commercialized and adapted to different kinds of foods, particularly snacks. ‘Adobo-flavored” products are also being made by local Philippine food companies. This assortment of snacks and products includes, but is not limited to, nuts, chips, noodle soups, and corn crackers.
A lot may argue about the true history of adobo and how Filipinos came to declare it as a favorite traditional Filipino dish, but one thing that is sure is that despite influences and ingredients that may or may not be authentically from the Philippines, the essence of “Filipino adobo” has undoubtedly been shaped by how the Filipino families have cooked the dish throughout its history in the Philippines. The Filipino’s love for Filipino adobo may be something rooted from its taste, or it may be rooted from just passing on tradition. Nevertheless, this dish brings with it, the past and with it: the collective struggles and experiences encountered by the Indigenous Filipinos. Saying this, maybe the dish lives out of Filipino’s sentimentalism.