History in the Kitchen: Adobo


Do you see that? Do you see how mouthwatering and savory it looks? Can you imagine the vinegar, garlic, and soy sauce flavor filling your nose? Can you imagine that when you take a bite, it would be the most tender and dedicant piece of chicken you ever had the privilege of taking?

If you said “Yes”, I’m glad I can convince you eat this amazing Filipino dish, Adobo. 

There are many variations of adobo, and it can be served in the comfort of your own home or to your colleagues. Adobo to Filipinos is what grilled cheese sandwiches to Americans or ramen to every college kid. It is easy to make and brings great comfort to anyone who eats it.

However, as much as I would love to review a childhood table staple of mine, this is about how delicious adobo is, but this about the history of adobo and how it is an appropriate representation of Filipino culture, and in extension, the Filipino identity.

It is skeptical to believe that a dish can have any history. Who thinks of the American Revolution when eating spoonfuls of England clam chowder? Anyway, adobo has history from its ingredients to the process of how it was made. It has hints of Chinese trade from its ancient past, Spanish influences from being colonized, and an American touch from being imperialized.

Before the Philippines coined its name, it was simply a cluster of islands inhabited by Malays who migrated and settled in tribes. In some way, there were able to trade with China and thus was introduced to ingredients such as soy sauce. Then when the Spanish began to conquer the islands as a base of operations to open trade with Asia, the Spanish introduced the inspiration for the name as well as inspired an innovative way to cook chicken and other various meats. Adobo derived from the Spanish word, adobado, and pickling meat in liquids such as vinegar and spices like garlic originated from Spain. Then from America was another way of cooking adobo — using technology such as a stove or pressure cooker to speed up the process. I understand what you may be thinking at this point: “But Nichole, if this dish is made from Chinese, Spanish, and American influences, how is it still considered Filipino?”

Before I answered that question, we have to further considered what was the history of the Philippines. The history of Philippines did not have any accounts or recorded documentation before the Spanish arrived with Magellan in tow. The history did not start with the Philippines becoming a nation but started when the Philippines was becoming a colony of an empire. The history of the Philippines was also the first documentation of the indigenous tribes, who were at the time considered Malays, Ilacanos, Visayas, etc. They were not considered Filipinos until years laters after gaining their independence from the United States. Throughout the course of time, they also acquired other names such as the colonized people of the Spanish Empire in the Pacific, Gook (derogatory, racial slur), savages, brutes who are going to be saved by the United States, etc. As a Filipino-American, I believed these names were not my identity but it adds to the makeup of the Filipino history, culture, and identity. Similar to an individual who acquired bruises from playing football, he is still awarded for his victory games but the bruises and fractured make up his character too. The history of the Filipinos was not just the history of the Malays migration, but it is also the Chinese trade, the Spanish colonialism, and the American imperialism. In other words, these foreign empires were a part of the makeup that creates the Filipino identity.

The dish, adobo, represents the history of the Filipino as it was produced by the colonizers and the colonized. There was an abundant amount of makeup that created the flavors, tenderized the meat, and made its way to the dinner table every time. Adobo is an appropriate representation of the Filipino identity because it presents the history of being under foreign influences yet it persists and becomes Filipino. It is arguable to assume that there isn’t any Filipino culture left because of these foreign empires but because of these foreign empires, the Filipino culture survived and became something entirely different. The culture persisted. The culture resisted. The culture became Filipino.

This is a recipe of Filipino chicken adobo, in case you want to make history in your kitchen.

Fernandez, Doreen, and Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. “Culture Ingested: On the Indigenization of Philippine Food.” Gastronomics, vol. 3, no. 1, 2003, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2003.3.1.58. Accessed by 21 April 2017.

Phelan, John. The Hispanization of the Philippines. The University of Wisconsin Press, 1959.


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