Some Random Thoughts on Adobo.

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
Of adobo

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 ‘Aiha’a, a recipe for turkey adobo.

Joffin-Mari Baril on how life is a pot of adobo.

BatJay writes on adobo powertwice — praises his partner’s cooking, and ponders python adobo.

Michelle Bautista has adobo for Thanksgiving (thankfully not the kind with spit in it, and not moose adobo either).

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.

Rhett Valino Pascual with his adobo haynaku, and more musings on adobo.

Barbara Jane Reyes gets someone to fix her computer.

Jose Reyes with his recipe for Italian adobo.

The Sassy Lawyer with six adobo recipes.

Leny Strobel with more hay(na)ku, and musings on the origins of adobo.

Eileen Tabios delurks with an adobo poem — and something on “licking, biting, chewing…. swallowing”.

Jean Vengua on “adobo weather” and adobo as “a dish of magical realism.”

Sunny Vergara writes about the smell of adobo.

18 replies on “Some Random Thoughts on Adobo.”

hello po,
i was just surfing the ricebowl journals at nakita ko kayo. nagtuturo ka pala sa sf state, sana na-interview kita para sa journalism capstone ko, which was about the conflict between the younger generation of philippine-born filipinos and american-born filipinos. taal din po akong taga-laguna at kakagraduate ko lang sa scu. coincidence: nag-aral rin sa scu yung anak ng owner ng jollibee.

sayang na-miss ko ang adobo day. sana may naisulat rin ako tungkol dito =)

The Good Benito

The snow has turned to ice. It’s treacherous walking outside. That day, I ended up staying inside and cleaning our bathroom and vacuuming the apartment. And learning how to use Bit Torrent with my PB. I haven’t been up-to-blog lately,…

This was a good way, too, for me to find more Pin@y bloggers — like, Veronica: you is a hooooooooot, lady! I chewed up your words on your blog and found them all pleasantly spiced up!

That’s funny, Wily,—I’ve always found that despite its pungency (bistek and picadillo, too), adobo has an aroma with wide appeal. White people go nuts: “What’s that smell? Something smells good! Oooh, what’s that?” The same cannot be said for kare kare, let’s say, or even sinigang. Not in my experience, at least.

Hey, thanks for putting this adobo-fest together!

OOOh! Eileen found me! I told Wily that I’m still a blog virgin, so be kind…

I’m curious if your aware that the preperation of Adobo was introduced to the Phillipines by some of the original Portugese Priests, together with the Bay Leaf, and more importantly the Chili Pepper thru the Black Ships who traded spices in the Orient.

There are several Adobo Type dishes popular in Goan, Japanese and Chinese variations.

But the Phillipines is to my taste by far the best, plus most versatile with Chicken Pork or Goat and other Meats.


ahahay, adobo. kung walang maisip lutuin, adobo. kung tinatamad magluto ng iba, adobo. minsan tatlong linggong adobo. pero bakit ganun? habang tumatagal, sumasarap. binigyan ko ng adobo yung ka-work kong Japanese. “oishi” daw, very tasty. mabuhay ang adobong Pinoy!

adobo in the house

It was a short sociological dig. I went to the Accordion Guy and started looking down his long list of links in search of other Flips, (filipinos) wondering if we were alike in some way. (Jon Schull had asked if…

blog hopping

How did I find Veronica Montes blog? Oh, yeah. Accordion guy to Wily Filipino about adobo to Adobo, you will be mine. Right. Well, in this evening (morning) ‘s travels I went from Nesting Ground to several places. Among them,…

yummm. i miss adobong chicken & pork. sayang hindi ako marunong magluto nito. when i crave some, i ask my mom to cook some when we come for a visit. 4 hours of driving from san luis obispo to san bernardino. well worth the trip!

My Top 10 Filipino Foods

I had wanted to do a list like this for a while. And, while I work on some copy for a friend’s food business, I found it fit to churn it out. There are no rules here (you’ll see what…

what is adobo? is it a sauce, a preparation,
a seasoning? I found a recipe which called for one green chili adobo. what does that mean. thank you


Cool links I’ve been saving up: One of the few surviving workers from the disaster at Chernobyl speaks out in an interview about the accident and his recovery (also see here for pictures of Chernobyl today). War Nerd defends France’s embattled military…

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