philippines

Adobo is one of my favorite dishes; my original Pork Adobo recipe has lived on this site for over six years, and I published an updated, streamlined version last year (see: Oven Roasted Pork Adobo). And while I initially assumed that folks would seamlessly adapt those recipes for a chicken version, I’ve had several requests over the years. So voilĂ , this week’s recipe.

Adobo, often considered the national dish of the Philippines, is a method of stewing meat in vinegar. The word adobo itself is linked to a Spanish method of preserving raw meat by immersing it in a mixture of vinegar, salt, and paprika. When the Spanish observed an indigenous Philippine cooking method involving vinegar in the 16th century, they referred to it as adobo, and the name stuck. The original name for this dish is no longer known.

One last note – don’t forget about this month’s offer for Free Ground Beef for Life from my friends at ButcherBox. The deal expires at the end of this month, so be sure to check it out by the end of the week!

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This past weekend was probably one of our last opportunities to grill in nice weather – it was a cool 45F outside, just enough to require my jacket and a careful eye on my charcoal. I’ll likely grill through the winter, but I figured now would be a good time to share this recipe for Inihaw na Liempo (Filipino Grilled Pork Belly).

Pork has a long history in Filipino cuisine; the Tagalog word for pig, baboy, is likely derived from the Indo-Malay babi/bayi, indicating that pork spread to the Philippine archipelago alongside its early inhabitants. For reference, there is evidence of humans living in the Philippines some 67,000 years ago, but they were likely displaced by several other arriving groups until about 6,000 years ago, when Malayo-Polynesians first arrived from East Asia. There is no perfect way to determine whether the pigs are an ancient member of the archipelago, but the fact that pigs have cultural significance on the islands is a good indication; for example, the seafaring Sama-Bajau, an ethnic group who live mostly in the Southern Philippines, used simple pig-shaped constellation clusters to navigate prior to the arrival of Europeans and their more advanced navigational methods.

Inihaw na Liempo is a more modern preparation of pork belly, using ingredients with both short and long histories in the Philippines. Many recipes today call for banana ketchup, which was a replacement for tomato ketchup invented during tomato shortages in World War II. Intrigued by the idea, I decided to mash a couple bananas into my marinade, and was pleasantly surprised by the fruity notes that complemented the crispy pork belly. Just be sure to keep a watchful eye on the grill – the natural sugars in the banana tend to encourage browning. For that reason, I like to slice my pork belly relatively thin, at 1/2″, to ensure the pork cooks through before getting too browned (plus, thinner slices = more crispy surface texture).

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Let me tell you a quick story. I first visited Singapore about 10 years ago, flying solo to the city-state for a work trip. I loved this tiny country from the very start, most especially their melting pot of cultures and languages (the country has four official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil). I also happened to be visiting during Chinese New Year, and the whole downtown area was filled with celebrations and fireworks – quite a welcoming sight for this young and starry-eyed traveler.

My first morning in the city I awoke starving (and a little hungover), and decided to scout out some local restaurants for a late breakfast. I quickly learned an important lesson: during the daytime, Singapore basically shuts down for Chinese New Year. After miles of walking, I finally found a shopping center that was open, and headed for the first restaurant I could find, a small, cramped Filipino restaurant.

The menu was written in Tagalog, and I was too hungry and grumpy (and a little overwhelmed) to ask for an English menu, so I just worked my way through the list of dishes on my own. I settled on Kare Kare, mostly because it sounded like “curry”, and based on its description I figured the word karne meant meat (I was right). Meat curry sounded like a perfect fit for my empty stomach. I couldn’t translate the rest of the dish’s description but I figured I was good to go.

The dish that arrived held little similarity to curry, and was more like a thick, mild stew that tasted like peanuts. I also found little in the way of meat in the dish, mostly attached to weird-looking bones (oxtails) or some strange looking chewy substance (tripe). But you know what? It was delicious, and I ate every bit of it, even if I had no idea what it was.

I’m pretty sure that this meal is what started drawing me towards adventurous eating, and so I wanted to share the recipe for the dish with you this week. As you might have figured out, Kare Kare is a Philippine oxtail stew, often served with tripe and pig or cow feet. There’s a bit of variation to this dish, but it is typically includes eggplant, green beans, and Chinese cabbage. The name Kare Kare may have been introduced by Indian immigrants who settled to the east of Manila, while others believe that the dish came from the Pampanga region to the northwest of the Philippine capitol city.

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NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.

Adobo, often considered the national dish of the Philippines, is a method of stewing meat in vinegar. The word “adobo” itself is linked to a Spanish method of preserving raw meat by immersing it in a mixture of vinegar, salt, and paprika. When the Spanish observed an indigenous Philippine cooking method involving vinegar in the 16th century, they referred to it as adobo, and the name stuck. Interestingly, the original Filipino name for this dish is no longer known.

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