Adobo wins, adobo always wins: my experience in cooking chicken adobo in over 20 countries
If you’re following this blog for a while now, you are very familiar about how I always make sure to have a culinary adventure in the countries I go to. On my Instagram stories highlights feature food from India, Japan, Vietnam, Israel, and even Morocco. But I never wrote a story about how I am always cooking adobo because I don’t identify myself as a chef or a food blogger. Maybe someday.
I’ve been cooking chicken adobo a lot and I thought to myself: I write about break-ups, breaking barriers, some food cultures – but why didn’t this article idea never crossed my mind? You see, I am a voracious eater and I cook every day but I was never trained how to cook properly. Not even at home. Growing up, my mother and my grandmother were in-charged of that. I never had to lift a finger to chop garlic and onions. I was never taught how to fry eggs. I just didn’t have any kitchen interest growing up because the two women in my household already took care of that. I was in charge of other things (perhaps, entertainment.)
Anyway, this cooking hobby started 7 years ago, when I was asked to cook something from my country in a hostel in Budapest. You know how hostel cultures are: every night, someone is in-charge to cook something or people cook together for fellowship. I had a fair share of freeloading and just eating (without lifting a finger) when I was younger. When my turn to cook came and they asked me what I’d make, I said chicken adobo. I could’ve said “I don’t know how to cook.” It could’ve been easier. But that time was an age where every one of us were trying to prove something by representing our country. I’ve been told I am very bad at patriotism and up until today, I still get comments and questions on why I keep promoting the places where I lived (Israel, Mexico, Hong Kong) but never my own country. I’m used to it, really, and this topic should be discussed in another post.
Right then and there (in Budapest), I learned how to cook chicken adobo. If this means that I’d be patriotic and loyal to my country, then I’ll do it. Kidding aside, I don’t think cooking chicken adobo for a bunch of hungry foreigners in a hostel count as patriotism but I still wanted them to know what we eat in my country even if I had no idea how to make it. In the Philippines, it’s something we eat regularly. There is no way no household will cook adobo within a week.
For those who are reading about adobo for the first time, (you’re missing out, really), this dish is a very famous chicken stew in the Philippines. It is marinated in soy sauce, bay leaf, pepper then pan-fried until tender. While it’s in perfect heat, we then add the marinate and put vinegar (sometimes sugar, too) to finish the dish. It is really delicious and often eaten with rice to lessen the strong salty flavor. Now that I know how to make it with eyes closed, I realize how fast it is to make this tasty dish! Once this article is published, you will see how many people will put a comment on how they make chicken adobo (or with what). You can then turn to these people for the perfect chicken adobo recipe.
My first chicken adobo recipe was from the mighty Panlasang Pinoy, a very famous website in the Philippines where you can check all Filipino food recipes. I’m still following this person (whoever is behind it) up until today. You can check is chicken adobo recipe here. I never had the chance to make it in the Philippines so I was really blinded by this idea let alone in a country where soy sauce is different and vinegar is unavailable. When I went to the store in Budapest, the first thing that came to my mind was, “where the feck is the Datu Puti, Silver Swan, and Marca Piña?!” I found Kikkoman, a Japanese soy sauce that my mom uses. “If my mom uses this to cook adobo, then this must be right.” I thought. I was worried that not using the Filipino soy sauce brands will alter the taste. I followed Panlasang Pinoy’s chicken adobo recipe and I still do the same even today. To my surprise, the people in the hostel liked it! I don’t know if they were just trying to be nice so they preferred to lie that it was good or they were really just hungry. Either way, adobo won.
In a Brazilian supermarket, you will find a lot of Sakura soy sauce – a condiment I am not really familiar with. When I was tasked to make chicken adobo in Rio (which didn’t happened because I got robbed in the supermarket), I had a hard time looking for all the right ingredients. I didn’t even see Kikkoman! In Uruguay, the hardship was finding vinegar. They literally don’t use it and I never understood why.
Potato and ‘over rice’ are the most common carbs accompanied by the famous chicken adobo. But what if you are cooking it for a country addicted to corn tortilla like Mexico? For the past 6 months that I am living here in Mexico, I’ve cooked adobo 10 times: all of which had no carbs with it. Mexicans love meat and I know very well that they will eat it with tortilla no matter what. The chicken adobo style I always make in Mexico is cooked for a long time until the chicken is shredded. Then I cut them to taco pieces and mix them with white rice so they can roll it with their tortilla. At first, I found this very odd. An abomination of my beloved country’s favourite dish: why in the world are these people eating adobo like it’s a taco?! I repeat: Mexicans will eat anything with tortilla no matter what. That’s just how they are. I got comments that the rice I make with the adobo is really really good but they didn’t know that I am not using special rice for it. I am just using their local rice.
Speaking of rice, it is also essential in making chicken adobo tasty. In my early years as a world traveler, I found it odd why other countries have disgusting rice. They’re really not the same as where I am from and I had to improvise by learning how to cook it well. Now, I normally consume local rice from a certain country I am in. I do a 2:1 ratio and leave the pot open in high heat. When it boils, I put the lid and turn it to very low heat – voila! You have soft rice without even buying Japanese rice. Something that agrees to my tastebuds and a lot of people really enjoy this kind of rice.
Mexicans (and some Spanish) also got confused when I said the dish is called adobo. In the Spanish language, adobo refers to the seasoning/marinade that they use in making their famous al pastor. I myself got confused as it is the exact same word. It comes from the Spanish verb ‘adovar,’ which means ‘to marinate.’ I guess these are just one of the words we heard wrong during the 300-years long Spanish conquest in the Philippines, where we were never taught how to speak the language. We heard it all wrong.
When in Mexico, you will also come across adobada in many of the taco joints. This is not similar to adobo in the Philippines. Adobada is pork marinated in chili sauce with vinegar and oregano, but it can refer to different types of meat and to marinades closer to al pastor.
The French and Israelis whom I lived with in Peru respond differently to chicken adobo. I told them to eat it with rice but since they are not from rice-eating countries, they always have it with bread. Hailing from a non-bread country, this is another abomination for me. I kept telling them that it’s salty for them because they don’t put it over rice. They keep insisting that bread is better and dips it ferociously in the rich sauce. For these nationalities, I learned that chicken adobo should be more saucy. I add a little amount of water so they’ll have more sauce for their bread and that it won’t be too salty for them. In my country, some people prefer it dry. I told you, there are a lot of ways people cook this dish where I am from. The amount of sauce or sabaw (as we call it) is always an argument.
I’ve been a vegetarian at home (more on that later) for some months now and most of my Canadian peeps here in Mexico are. You won’t believe that I also have reinvented vegetarian adobo (with mushrooms) to cater to our taste. I’ve never done this before and I truly believed that without the chicken broth, it will not taste the same. But adobo didn’t fail me – mushroom adobo works! I remember it does work because we also have adobong sitaw (string beans adobo) as a very common dish in the Philippines. It also goes well with just potatoes (for vegetarians) with eggs as the protein. Bottom line, it works.
It works so much that I’ve been recently asked to make it for a birthday party with over 30 attendees. I already said yes to this because I already know how to make adobo in people’s liking. Through this journey of cooking chicken adobo in over 20 countries, I’ve changed the recipe according to a certain country’s taste. I’ve tried to make it only with vegetables. I’ve deep fried it. I’ve marinated it for 48 hours just to see how it will turn out. I’ve cooked for it in hostels with a total of hundred nationalities from around the planet. Not one of them said they didn’t like it.
Adobo wins. Adobo always wins.
I’m sure you’ve made it for other nationalities in different parts of the globe. What did they say? Did they like it? Did adobo win? Share your thoughts on the comment box below!