The roots of the Philippines’ most well-known dish are not easy to trace, but we do know a few things about the origins of adobo, and how it’s evolved into the dish Filipinos love today. Read on to uncover the many faces of adobo, and why it inspires such devotion in its fans.
Few subjects in the Philippines raise as many differing opinions as the right way to make adobo. It’s a topic everyone feels passionately about, whether they cook or not. The reason is that a good adobo is a life-changing dish. Everyone wants everyone else to experience the epiphany, but the devil – as they say – is in the details, and the details can be squabbled about endlessly.
At its most basic level, adobo is a dish of protein braised in vinegar, and spiced with garlic and black peppercorns. Beyond that there is very little agreement. But let’s backtrack a bit.
We know the Malay voyagers who originally landed in the Philippines used vinegar and salt as a way of preserving food, keeping it edible for longer. In the hot tropical climate on the islands, vinegar appears again and again in traditional recipes, dating back to a time before refrigeration. Filipinos were already preparing their protein in a marinade of vinegar and salt before the Chinese traders arrived.
Some of the Chinese traders, who ventured all over the region selling their wares, settled in the Philippines. They brought with them a number of ingredients that were quickly adopted by the locals, including ‘pancit’ noodles, and soy sauce. In many parts of the Philippines, soy sauce came to replace the use of salt in home kitchens, and so soy sauce is still considered a key ingredient of a good adobo in most households.
When the Spaniards arrived, they saw how the Filipinos used vinegar to marinate their chicken, pork, and fish. The Spanish word ‘adobar’ refers to a marinade or pickling sauce. In his writings, Pedro de San Buenaventura labeled the Filipino version ‘adobo de los naturales’ – adobo of the natives. The name stuck.
As each region of the Philippines has its own produce and preferred flavor profile, there are different versions of adobo across the islands. Where seafood was plentiful, adobo ng pusit (squid adobo with squid ink) became popular. In Southern Luzon, where heat and coconut milk are popular ingredients, adobo ng gata (adobo with coconut milk and green finger chilies) emerged. There are countless twists on adobo, and around the Philippines you’ll find versions that include sugar, liver, potatoes, morning glory, laurel leaves, the list goes on.
In recent years, adobo has moved beyond its roots as a humble island dish, delighting diners at Filipino restaurant Purple Yam in New York and even the affection of former US President Barack Obama. Up-and-coming Filipino chefs shred the meat from adobo stew to create savory flakes to top salads, or to stuff in sushi. Adobo has featured on shows like Top Chef, and remains the ultimate test of any Filipino cook’s mettle.
At its heart, adobo is a process of cooking, not a recipe. The tang of the vinegar is softened over low heat, intensifying the flavor of the meat, and creating a silky, mouthwatering sauce that is always, always served with fragrant white rice. Adobo’s long journey, its melding of cultures and ardent defenders all come together to tell a diverse and delicious story.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.