1. I was walking down the street — on St. Francis Boulevard in Daly City, as a matter of fact — one day in 1995 when something in the air literally stopped me. It was the unmistakable smell of garlic, vinegar, and soy sauce, and I found it remarkable because (the thought occurred to me) I had never smelled it before. Not literally, anyway, and let me digress a little before I explain.
2. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the smell of adobo. Anthropologists have always prioritized only two or three of the human senses (hearing and seeing, not to mention talking), and the sense of smell always ends up taking a back seat. But smell is crucial to adobo — the sting of vinegar in the nostrils the minute after you pour it into the simmering pot, the murky, deep smell of chicken cooking after the second hour of cooking – so much so that it’s instantly recognizable anywhere else.
3. My brother and I were chatting on the phone about adobo (he lives in Philly), and I asked him how often he cooked it. His response: “Meron akong kapitbahay, ano?” [Loose translation: I have neighbors, you know!”]
4. In contrast, Leny Strobel’s poem gets it absolutely right:
Keep the lid off and let the flavors
Engulf the house to its rafters
Better yet open the doors
And windows, let your
Nosy neighbors envy you
of the delights
5. It’s an unambiguous declaration of ethnic presence, an olfactory attack on the mainstream: We’re here and you can smell it.
6. But to get back to my point in #1 about never having smelled adobo before: when I was growing up in the Philippines, adobo was just always there, another smell in the entire panoply of smells and odors and aromas that constitute the Philippines: garlands of sampaguitas, turned-up earth after a monsoon rain, lechon sarsa, tuyo, tricycle exhaust, sewage, kalabaw dung, and adobo. That unexpected whiff on a foggy Daly City day (which is practically every day) jolted me out of my suburban ennui.
7. So I wonder whether the smell of adobo in the U.S. is the same anywhere — not the literal smell that, judging from the different variations posted already, I am sure would differ — but whether it means the same everywhere else. It certainly didn’t for me in the Philippines. Does it have the same meaning in Saudi Arabia? In Hong Kong? In Rome? Is it truly emblematic of Filipino identity in the “diaspora,” or is it only in the United States that an immigrant population — with those T-shirts that say, “Love, peace and adobo grease” — has embraced adobo as the national (or transnational) food?
8. Unlike kare-kare — which plunges you into the ground peanuts vs. peanut butter debate (I take a third way: the Mama Sita way) — adobo creates little controversy, unless it’s your neighbor furiously at work with a can of Glade in the hallway. (This really happened. We hated her anyhow.)
9. Unlike other Filipino dishes that are used to establish the borders of cultural difference in a sometimes ugly fashion — I’m thinking of balut and dog meat here — adobo is uncomplicated, a symbol that at once signifies everything (identity, colonialism, ethnic pride) and nothing, or rather, nothing but itself.
10. It’s also uncomplicated in a literal sense as well. The great thing about adobo is the relative transportability of the ingredients, particularly if you’re going for the simplest recipe. Unless you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere (as do many Filipinos now, alas) without even a bottle of Kikkoman in sight, adobo is fairly easy to cook. (As a former classmate once scoffed when hearing of my cooking abilities: “It’s the one dish any Filipino male learns to cook!”)
11. And with that, this Filipino male gets up to stir the pot.
[I’ve gone ahead and collected not just blog entries posted today, but links sent to via e-mail or the comment box and entries posted since the “call for entries.” If you wish to be delinked (or have your description changed), please let me know.
I’ll be updating the list again tonight — if you folks want a copy of the list below (all html-formatted so you can simply edit your entry and append it), then drop me a line.
And don’t forget, folks: people mingle at parties, so please write comments or response entries when you can…]
Adobo Party People:
On ‘Aihaa, a recipe for turkey adobo.
Joffin-Mari Baril on how life is a pot of adobo.
Gitz Cano on adobo memories.
Veronica Montes says, “Adobo, you will be mine.”
On On My Plate, a recipe for adobo-flavored garlic fried rice.
Barbara Jane Reyes gets someone to fix her computer.
Jose Reyes with his recipe for Italian adobo.
The Sassy Lawyer with six adobo recipes.
Sunny Vergara writes about the smell of adobo.