One wintry Connecticut evening, a California girl trudged through the (melting) snow on the fringes of campus in search of Filipino food. That girl was me, and I was on my way to Triple A House to cook adobo for the first time in my life. If you’re not familiar, adobo is a Filipino chicken dish marinated in a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaf, and possibly other things. Wikipedia calls it the “unofficial national dish of the Philippines.” As a Filipino-American with strong ties to the Philippines, I’d eaten it many times before but never learned to make it myself.
I had gone a semester and then some without cooking, and if it had been left to me, I may have gone longer. But PINOY, the Filipino student association, gathered all the freshmen together for a sit-down meal with adobo as the main dish. I hadn’t eaten Filipino food for at least three months, and I hadn’t had adobo for even longer. I can’t remember ever craving Filipino food, because unlike other Filipino Americans I know, I didn’t grow up eating it on a daily basis. However, that day, at the very least, I was looking forward to enjoying a meal in good company, and to eating food that reminded me of what my culture was, in the most basic sense—even as my Tagalog skills faded and I grew further from the archipelago itself and the family that came from it.
To my dismay, I soon discovered we would be cooking without an exact, step-by-step recipe. Instead, someone directed us to cut chicken, pour soy sauce, and dice onions to the right proportions for their adobo: You see, adobo is one of those staple foods that every family, every person makes differently. Thankfully, I didn’t have to do this alone, since I had friends who could help me determine how much vinegar we needed to feed seven mouths.
Once the adobo was ready, we quickly cooked some tocino, another Filipino meat dish consisting of sweet pork. This one came pre-seasoned and pre-marinated in vacuum-sealed plastic. With the adobo, tocino, and rice ready, we sourced mismatched cutlery and plastic serving utensils and sat down to eat our meat-filled dinner. I suddenly realized how much I missed sitting down to a home-cooked meal with people I love. And despite, or maybe because, of the fact that we were eating Filipino food in the dead of winter, with probably only a third of all the Filipinos in the whole school sitting around the table, I felt more Pinoy than I did in a very long time.
Jordan’s Mom’s Adobo Recipe (courtesy of Jordan Legaspi ’19)
For the vegetarians in the house, adobo marinade without the chicken is insanely yummy, and you can technically pour it over anything (Like rice! Perhaps some tofu?) to add some flavor to your life. It’s delicious, it lasts a long time (because of the vinegar), the proportions and ingredients can be varied to suit your taste, and it’s all around pretty easy to cook.
Sofia Khu can be reached at email@example.com.