Although I never knew what ‘adobo’ meant, the first time I saw the word, I assumed it was a Spanish word. In the limited breadth of my food experience growing up, Spanish words always led to Mexican food.
That being said, I don’t remember when or where I first became aware there was such a thing to be eaten. It obviously (well, now it’s obvious to me, that is), wasn’t at any of my frequent visits to Mexican restaurants, nor would it have been at a Filipino joint,
only because, up until very recently, I’d never visited one.
To be honest, my long-lasting ignorance of the Philippines stretches far beyond their national treasure of a dish.
The earliest reference to anything ‘Filipino’ I can recall was actually from a comedian. It might have been George Carlin, but I’m guessing at that because he was so prominent a figure in a youth full of sneaking listens to my Dad’s cassette tapes.
I always thought he’d be upset I was listening to them because they were so riddled with curse words. Looking back, I’m not sure he was really that interested whether I was listening to them or no.
Anyhow, the joke told revolved around a character who was ‘Pilifino’ and replaced all his ‘p’ sounds with ‘f’ sounds and vice-versa. The ending sentence of the joke and maybe the punch line was, “Hey, you’re not Pilifino!”
It probably wasn’t funny or enlightening, but this little story really was all I had, as far as information about ‘Pilifinos’ was concerned, for a good many years. I’m certain not once in my years in the Owosso and Fenton school districts did one educator
utter mention of the Philippines, much less taken the time to explain how their national dish had such a Mexican-sounding name.
All it really took to get me some first-hand contact with the culinary culture of the Philippines, it turns out, was an accidental turn down a corridor in the Pike Place Market, leading me to be looking down at a steam table full of intriguing selections, including
the famed Chicken Adobo of the Oriental Kitchenette.
For all the build-up to this point, I should probably just bluntly state that there isn’t anything especially exotic about the dish. Even in my younger years, I can imagine seeing this dish tucked in among the giant buffets of which my family was fond and thinking,
“I’ll be saving some room on my plate for THAT!” Other than some bay leaves floating in the dark liquid, it looks like a whole lot of stewed chicken, which is a perfect dish for even the blandest palates, right?
Oh, but, as you probably imagine, Adobo is not bland whatsoever! I won’t pretend to know what the lovely ladies down the street from my office put in the pot when cooking off that chicken other than the vinegar, which is prominent enough to inform at least
one solid assumption about the ingredients.
So, yes, take that to mean the dish has a sour taste to it.
Again, speaking to my younger self, please don’t make that face! Somehow ‘sour’ has a tendency to have negative associations with it, even to someone who was always excited to ride his bike across town on summer days with his cousins to get the ritualistic
pairing of Tom’s Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips and a Blue Raspberry Slush Puppie.
It is the love of those chips, however, which you should keep in mind here. The adobo I had for lunch today is not nearly as tart as even the semi-bland Lay’s version of my favorite guilty packaged snack.
No, the vinegar definitely is balanced out by some other inclusions, soy sauce and garlic likely among them. If that’s not enough, my experience is that you’re not going to find much more value than the giant box of food delivered to you for your $8. I had
three meaty chicken legs over a nice mound of steamed white rice which nicely was bathed in some extra adobo sauce and left me in a position of being able to do little-to-no damage to the small portion of ‘pancit’ noodles offered as an accompaniment.
I did save room for the small box of Botan Rice Candy, of course. Gotta get my sticker!