Arguably one of the most well-loved dishes in the country, adobo is a household staple and all-around favorite meal. And what’s not to love? It’s tasty, it’s convenient and it’s distinctly Pinoy. From the soft and tender meat, to the flavorful sauce, adobo has a flavor profile that appeals to may a Filipino. But at the same time, this can be said about other Filipino dishes; like a tangy bowl of sinigang or a hearty serving of kare-kare. Compared to the two, adobo is rather simplistic in nature. So what makes it different?
There is just something about adobo that makes it both timeless and timely. It can be adapted to anyone’s taste, adjusted based on local ingredients, and tailored to the times with new cooking methods or trends. “Adobo is popular because all our households can cook it, and it compliments the typical Pinoy palate,” says Nancy Lumen—cook, TV host, author, and self-proclaimed Adobo Queen. “Adobo is popular because it can be personalized.” And this personalization is the key ingredient to why many Filipinos adore this simple, vinegar-braised dish. Everyone has his or her own best recipe: some swear by soy sauce, while others remain purists and insist on salt. Some would prefer pork as a base, while others prefer chicken or even vegetables. Even chefs and culinary artists put their own contemporary twists on the classic dish.
It doesn’t end on a personal level either, as different regions also have their own takes on the classic dish. Take the Bicolanos, who enjoy theirs with coconut milk and green chili peppers. Ilonggos, on the other hand, use kangkong or water spinach in theirs. In Batangas, achuete or turmeric is used due to the abundance of both in the region. And in Cavite, they use puso ng saging or banana blossoms sauteed in a vegetable-based adobo. You can say then that adobo is popular among Filipinos because it represents the versatility and adaptability of our people, as well as the rich diversity of our country. With 7,107 islands, there are 7,107 adobo recipes. Every region, every household, every person has his or her own version and go-to recipe.
And yet, with the thousands of variations we have for the simple salty-sour dish, we call adobo by the same name in any dialect. Much like Filipinos who have been influenced and changed by different colonizers, adobo maintains its essence in the face of globalization. It is made through the simple cooking and preservation methods Filipinos have used even before the Spanish came. Even if variations of adobo use certain foreign ingredients —like soy sauce, which came from the Chinese—adobo adjusts its flavor to suit a new preference but maintains itself as a Filipino dish. “Adobo characterizes the Pinoy,” says Nancy, in that Filipinos are versatile, resourceful, and a culturally diverse people with a taste for good food.