What Is Filipino Adobo? Google Doodle Celebrates Iconic Dish

It’s super savory, umami-packed, vinegary, garlicky, sour, slightly sweet, sometimes a little spicy and always comforting — everything you could want in a dinner, especially one that’s easy to make and requires a little cleanup — but why is Filipino adobo today’s Google Doodles?

Well, according to Google, “The word ‘adobo’ was first added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in December 2006, and was included in the word list of the next OED quarterly update, released on this day (March 15) in 2007.”

Google's Doodle dedicated to Filipino adobo.
Google’s Doodle dedicated to Filipino adobo.Anthony Irwin/Google

Adobo means “vinegar-braised” in English, and is derived from the Spanish word “adobar,” which means “to pickle” or “to marinade.” The name was given to the dish by colonial-era Spaniards in the Philippines, although the adobo cooking method that’s native to Spanish and Portuguese cuisine has little to do with that of the Philippines, other than that it involves cooking food in a vinegar-based sauce. In Mexico, adobo refers to a smoky, chile-based sauce, whereas in Puerto Rico, it refers to a seasoned salt that’s rubbed onto meats and seafood. Many other countries have their own take on the cooking method.

In the Philippines, adobo is considered the unofficial national dish, taking many forms across the country, but the basic ingredients for the stew are typically the same: vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, black pepper and bay leaves, along with some kind of marinated meat or vegetables. Some regions leave out the soy sauce, while others add in coconut milk for creaminess. Some prefer to add chicken or pork, while others use seafood like squid, or vegetables like water spinach or green beans.

“After evolving throughout the centuries, this iconic dish is now enjoyed worldwide,” Google wrote in its explanation of the Doodle, which was illustrated by artist Anthony Irwin. “It’s a symbol and expression of Filipino pride that varies from region to region, family to family, palate to palate.”

Chicken Adobo

Courtesy Leah Cohen

“While lumpia Shanghai may have been the first Filipino food that my mother served me, chicken adobo was the first Filipino dish that she taught me how to cook,” says Filipino American chef Leah Cohen. Aside from the staple ingredients, she adds in coconut milk, onions and sugar “to really enhance the flavor” in her version of the dish.

“While working in other kitchens over the years, this has always been my go-to staff meal,” she continues. “It is easy to make, and while it braises away in the oven, I can get my prep done. Most importantly, the staff always loves it. Now I make it for my son, Carter G. It is one of his most loved dishes.”

Chicken Adobo

Nathan Congleton / TODAY

Filipino American chef Bill Dec also puts chicken in his recipe, but leaves out the coconut milk instead using two types of vinegar: coconut and rice wine.

“The combination of brown sugar, vinegar and soy sauce makes this chicken sweet, sour and savory all at once,” he says. “A true flavor sensation!”

Pork Adobo

Courtesy Katie Stilo

On the other hand, Filipino American chef Jordan Andino’s take on the dish involves shredded pork butt, oyster sauce and Sriracha for a little kick.

“(Adobo) is something I adore and have always loved eating and making. Simplistic and cheap, yet incredibly delicious, this dish gets better as the days go by and can be repurposed in so many different ways for all your make-ahead dinner plans ,” he says.

Dec, for example, uses his adobo leftovers in fried rice and corn fritters.

For TODAY.com’s senior health editor, Maura Hohman, who is Filipino American, adobo is also a deeply personal dish.

“My mother spent my childhood trying to re-create the recipe for her lola’s adobo. She experimented with chicken breast and thigh, it seemed every type of vinegar, different ratios of soy sauce to peppercorns, but it wasn’t until 2018 that she felt she’d finally done it,” she says.

“For years, the email with the recipe has sat in my Gmail folder, and I search for it every time. I’m craving my favorite flavor combo — addictive saltiness, red wine vinegar cutting through and a pop of succulent and aromatic peppercorn. The the sauce becomes slightly viscous as you simmer it so it clings to the chicken but still flows over the rice, getting absorbed by every grain.

“My own twist? A runny fried egg because the adobo’s tartness begs for it, in my opinion. ‘You like adobo?’ is the subject line of that email, an inside family joke from when two Filipino strangers asked my brother that was very questionable upon finding out his mother’s ethnicity. Of course, I do, and everyone else should, too.”

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