What is the dish?
Adobong Baboy. Adobo is considered the national dish of the Philippines – it is, in fact, a method of cooking, using in its most elemental form just sea salt, coconut or cane vinegar, peppercorns and bay leaves. The method is applied to a variety of ingredients from pork to chicken, squid and vegetables. It almost certainly pre-dated the arrival of Magellan’s expedition in 1521, and historians suggest that the Mexican term for adobo or adobado was applied to a dish that had already been cooked on the archipelago for many hundreds of years prior to that.
What’s the history?
In an island setting without refrigeration, the manner in which a slaughtered pig would be preserved for several weeks was basically to cook the meat in its own lard, with the natural preservatives of salt and vinegar added in. The result was actually rather similar to a western duck or pork confit, and the dish could then be cooled, stored in clay jars and kept for weeks without it spoiling. When a portion was needed, they reached into the clay pot, and reheated the meat and fat for that particular meal. With the exception of say 5% of the Philippine population that is Muslim and cannot consume pork, the vast majority of Filipinos will enjoy this dish on a fairly regular basis. Muslims will cook other versions of adobo that do not use pork.
What does it taste like?
A traditionally made pork adobo should have meltingly soft meat and fat, both salty and piquant from the vinegar. It is rich, unctuous and highly calorific! Served with steamed rice, it’s loved by the entire spectrum of the population from a farm worker to the president of the country.
How is it served?
A traditional adobo uses pork (or chicken or vegetables), salt, natural coconut vinegar, garlic, peppercorns and bay leaves. It was traditionally slow-cooked in clay pots called “palayoks” over charcoal or wood fires for some 2-3 hours. In recent years, a very common shortcut (nearly 80% of modern kitchens do this) is to add soy sauce to the dish, and cook it over a gas flame for a much shorter period of time. Purists would turn their nose up at this modern take, but the reality is most folks have adapted this version of the dish.
What’s the bill?
It is very economical to make and a single portion would cost well under £1 in Manila, depending on the amount of meat included.
There are hundreds of variations of this dish. You can enrich the sauce with coconut cream, you can ramp up the spice with the addition of chilies, you can add soy sauce, and you can use dozens of different ingredients from the root tendrils of taro plants, to saltwater shrimp, lamb or even duck.
Can you make it at home?
Absolutely, it is extremely easy to make. But be forewarned, the combination of vinegar and garlic makes for a very powerful and distinct aroma wafting through your home!
Where can you get it?
In restaurants, at food stalls, and at home, and you can take it to work in the fields, at offices, on picnics, while travelling … Because of the way it is made, adobo does not spoil easily, so it’s perfect for packing up in warm weather to be eaten hours later, without risk of stomach upset. A classic agricultural worker’s lunch would be some steamed rice and adobo, wrapped up in banana leaves and eaten some 4-5 hours later.
Why should someone try it?
It’s simple Filipino comfort food — in it’s purest form, it is the result of local ingredients, cooked economically and without much fuss. In it’s fanciest forms, it evolves into a more complex and adorned dish, yet all are understood and enjoyed by a broad spectrum of Filipinos. If you enjoy a pan-fried pork or duck confit, you would easily fall in love with a pan-fried slice of pork belly adobo.
What does this dish say about Manila?
The dish says we have a simple yet proud food history that dates back thousands of years. We have this comfort food dish made of basic ingredients, evolved with spices such as peppercorns from Malay neighbours, named for us by the Spaniards, shortcuts facilitated with the arrival of Chinese soy sauce, and modified endlessly by different Filipino cooks across thousands of islands in our archipelago.
MarketMan’s best pork adobo (serves 10-12)
- 3kg fatty pork belly, cut into 3cm cubes
- 15 garlic cloves, peeled
- 5 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 4 tbsp flaky sea salt
- 350ml coconut vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- Steamed white rice, to serve
- Put the pork, garlic, bay leaves, black peppercorns and salt in a large casserole dish, then cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes, until the meat has coloured slightly, stirring to stop it sticking to the bottom.
- Pour in the vinegar, cover then leave to gently simmer on the hob for around 3 hours, until the meat is falling apart and covered in a rich, brown sauce. Add water if it looks as if it is drying out. Serve immediately with white rice, or allow to cool then store in the fridge for a few days.
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