Filipino Favorites – Adobo

Amy Besa and team

Filipino food has long intrigued me, not just because its delicious but there’s also the mystery of why its not more popular.  Why, given a fairly substantial population of Filipinos in the US, and abroad for that matter (Filipinos are some well traveled folk) are Filipino restaurant numbers not up there with their Chinese and Thai counterparts?  I’m not alone in my perplexity, my Filipino sister-in-law laments the dearth of Filipino restaurants in Minnesota and this topic invoked some serious discussion at a recent event I attended.

My first encounter with Filipino food came when my brother brought home the love of his life, who just happened to be Filipno, and she and her family took us under their wings to educate us on their culture.  Those first forays, well maybe it was biting into that first fresh steaming lumpia, whetted my appetite to explore this under appreciated, or at least, undiscovered cuisine.

Just as I was dusting off my Filipino cookbooks and hinting that my husband take me to Daly City (the Bay Area bastion of Filipino cooking) to sample the offerings of various restaurants, I stumbled across a symposium on Filipino food offered by the amazing Asian Culinary Forum, a non-profit dedicated to promoting Asian cuisines.  I took a cooking class on souring agents – a classic Filipino ingredient with Amy Besa.  Margarita Araneta Fores (of Cafe Bola and Cibo restaurants in Metro Manila) was also in attendance.  A Filipino food and wine paring event led by Master Sommelier, Reggie Narito, followed the cooking class, which was interesting given that Filipino food is thought to be extremely tricky to pair with wine given those souring agents such as vinegar.  The final session I attended was a fascinating panel discussion focused on cultural and culinary encounters – what defined national dishes?

The Scarcity of Filipino Food in the US

I found the discussion about Filipino food in the US fascinating, and was curious if you had sampled this wonderful cuisine?  The symposioum attempted to introduce a diverse audience to this cuisine and also expand our tastes beyond lumpia – think egg rolls, pancit – noodles + good stuff, and adobo – see below. The 3 most commonly recognized Filipino foods are

  1. adobo
  2. kinilaw – a take on cerviche
  3. sinigang – a fish soup

The key to Filipino cooking, according to Amy is that its seasoning is subtle, and the focus of flavor is sour. That sour taste primarliy comes from:

  • vinegar
  • juice from sour fruits, such as quava
  • juice from citrus

So, I’m curious….

These adobo recipes were provided by Amy Besa for the cooking class, and I’ve tweaked them a bit.


picture worthy food

The conversation brings me back to adobo which if you took a psychology test that went something like this:  spaghetti – Italy, tacos – Mexico, hamburgers – America, sushi – Japan… well, you get the idea, of what food would be associated with the Philippines.

What it’s not (in context with the Philippines)

The basic definition of adobo is Spanish for sauce, seasoning, or marinade.  You’ll find this wonderful spice mix in used in Latin American and Southwest US-style cooking (the Goya brand is a good example of the prepared version).

The noun form describes a marinade or seasoning mix, and like salsa no two are the same, Puerto Rican adobo, a rub used principally on meats, differs greatly from the Mexican variety. The term adobo also applies to marinated dishes such as chipotles en adobo, a condiment in which chipotles (smoked jalapeño peppers) are stewed with tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, salt, and spices – most canned chipotles are found this way. The spices vary, but generally include some variety of pepper, cumin and oregano. Some recipes include a citrus juice, and often a bit of brown sugar to offset the bitterness.

What it is

In Filipino cuisine, adobo refers to a common cooking process indigenous to the Philippines. When the Spanish took over administration in the Philippines in the late 1500’s, they discovered a local cooking process of stewing with vinegar, which they called “adobo” because if its loose resemblance to that more generic definition of a sauce or spice treatment.  However the Filipino adobo is uniquely its own.  I loved Amy Besa’s description, that adobo is the most democratic of dishes, it has its core ingredients (vinegar, meat, garlic, pepper corns, Bay leaf, and salt) but after that the interpretation, and ingredients are determined by the cook.  Although, soy sauce does not seem to count with the purists.

The Soy Sauce Conundrum

seasoning the adobo

Many Filipinos, and Asian food lovers disavow soy sauce as not a traditional ingredient in adobo, yet the fellow standing next to me in the cooking class spoke fondly of the adobo his mother made back in the Philippines where she had a bottle of vinegar in one hand and a bottle of soy sauce (toyo) in the other and pour them simultaneously over the meat.  Even in Amy Besa’s and Romy Dorotan’s cookbook, Memories of Philippine Kitchens, their chicken adobo recipe includes soy sauce.

In the Philippines, at least for the traditionalists, the salting of adobo comes from salt and not soy sauce or other sauces as is common in other Asian countries, notably China, which supplied soy sauce to the Filipino kitchen repertoire. Note the different coloring agents in each adobo.  Amy said that the different agents reflect the region in the Philipines that makes this adobo.  In this chicken adobo, they use fresh turmeric which is common in the northern part of the Philippines.  In the pork adobo they use achuete, or annato, which is preferred in the central Philippines. While the coloring for this chicken adobo may show northern Philippine influences, the use of coconut milk is more indicative of the southern region.  So this dish is truly showing its democratic roots.

A further caveat – do not stir the adobo for the first half hour, or the vinegar will get “angry”.   We did not have side by side taste comparisons, and we did not stir our adobo for at least a half hour.  We were too busy chatting, and that vinegar was downright pleasant.

Chicken Adobo


6 chicken thighs, about 3 pounds
1 T sea salt
½ T freshly ground black pepper
In a pot put:
1 can coconut milk
20 cloves of garlic (no typo)
3 bay leaves
1 T whole peppercorns
2 c coconut vinegar
1 ½ T freshly chopped fresh tumeric
10 Thai chilies


chicken adobo

Wash the chicken thighs and pat them dry.  Lightly sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.  [Some attendees mentioned that their mother’s used to wash the chicken first in vinegar as a way to further insure that the chicken was ready for consumption.]

In a large pot combine the coconut milk, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, vinegar, turmeric, and chilies.  Add the chicken thighs and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until cooked through ~ 15 minutes. Remove the chicken and set aside.

Simmer the sauce until the oil renders from the coconut milk.

Return the chicken to the pot until they are nicely browned.  Turn the thighs a few times until the reach the desired color, a rich golden brown.

Pork Adobo


25 pork spareribs –  7 pounds, cut between the bones into individual ribs
2 T sea salt
1T freshly ground black pepper
3 c coconut vinegar
2 c water
30 cloves of garlic (no typo)
5 bay leaves
2 T smashed peppercorns
2 jalapeño chilies


grilling the pork adobo

Wash the ribs, and pat them dry.  Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss them with 2/3 of the achuete oil, and save the rest.

Put the coated ribs in a large pot, and add the vinegar, water, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns and jalapeños. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 ½ hours.  When the meat is tender, pour in the rest of the achuete oil and remove from heat.

Let the adobo rest for a few minutes.  [You may want to cook down the cooking sauce until it is nice and thick and use it to top the meat at serving.]

Just prior to serving, grill or broil the ribs until they are nicely browned and then drizzle the sauce on top.

Achuete Oil

1 c vegatable oil
2 oz achuete seeds
5 cloves garlic, smashed
2 bay leaves
3 Thai chilies
1 tsp peppercorns

Combine all the ingredients in a heavy pot.  Simmer and cook for 5 to 7 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes, then strain to serve.

You will want to double this recipe.  This oil a great addition to rice, other veggies – it will be a “go to” seasoning in no time.

fresh turmeric - about the size of your pinkie


  • Living in an apartment, I had to make some adjustments.  I do not have ready access to a grill, so after boiling the meat, I smoked them on my stove top smoker, and it was good!
  • It took a bit of hunting but I finally found some coconut vinegar at the May Wah supermarket on Clement St. here in SF.  Coconut vinegar is used almost exclusively in Filipino cooking, so if you know of a Filipino food store, I’d head there first.  If you cannot find coconut vinegar, other vinegars work as well, and it might also be fun to play with the different types.  For the pork, Amy spoke of using apple cider vinegar.
  • I can get fresh turmeric with relative ease, and strongly recommend the fresh over dried varieties.

Maybe the sound of something cooked with a souring agent or vinegar is not your thing, but have you considered dill pickles, Crazy cake, German potato salad, and sauerkraut?  All good stuff, and all made with vinegar – don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, and I have  to tell you that the aroma a simmering adobo gives off, is like a moth to a flame – I get people seated at my dinner table just by lifting the lid off my adobo, and letting people follow their noses.

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44 comments for “Filipino Favorites – Adobo

  1. June 7, 2010 at 1:26 PM

    My first intro to Phillipino food was bank in my banking days – the pot luck lunches. A happy, generous people and it all spills out in their cuisine. The whole pork, oancit noodles, chicken in the turbo, fruit salad…love’em!

  2. June 7, 2010 at 1:48 PM

    I watched the No Reservations episode as Tony had a difficult time attempting to define adobo. I like the description of it as the most democratic of dishes. I’d love to do some taste comparisons of different versions!

  3. June 7, 2010 at 2:26 PM

    Wow, a stove top smoker:) This all sounds great!

  4. June 7, 2010 at 4:10 PM

    My husband had a friend in college who was Filipino and we were able to sample a little of the cuisine back then. However, I still know next to nothing about the traditional foods. I have to say that No Reservations didn’t do the cuisine many favors. That was a really vague episode. I have a growing interest in it now especially after reading Tangled Noodle’s blog. You all will convert us to Filipino food lovers, I just know it! 🙂

  5. June 7, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    Never tried Filipino food before. Chicken adobo sounds scrumptious, so I can make a Fiipino dish at home. Thank you!

  6. June 7, 2010 at 9:11 PM

    I have alwasy wanted to learn more about filipino food, we had a friend but she really didn’t cook, I love adobo…great post


  7. June 7, 2010 at 11:41 PM

    Adobo, pancit, lumpias, garlic fried rice…all so good! There are a million great filipino dishes. LA has it’s first filipino food truck. Weeee!

  8. June 8, 2010 at 5:52 AM

    With the huge Filipino population in NYC when I was growing up (back in the day), I never did come across a Filipino restaurant now that I think on it. And that’s NYC! I believe they must have been there but you needed to seek them out? I (gulp in amazement) have never had Filipino food. The Adobo looks like the perfect way to start. (aka: I can get all the ingredients!)

  9. June 8, 2010 at 9:03 AM

    Wow, coconut vinegar? I never even knew there was such a thing. It sounds amazing.

    I’m so glad you made it to the Asian Culinary Forum, especially because I had to miss it. I truly hope more people discover Filipino food. Its bold, sharp, rustic characteristics are sure to win over anyone who tries it.

  10. June 8, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    I’ve certainly heard/read a lot about Filipino specialties including adobo but I haven’t tried them yet. I don’t of a restaurant nearby so I’ll have to make it at home! Thanks for the recipe!

  11. June 8, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    Unfortunately, I don’t know the Filipino cuisine very well… I’ve heard of lumpias and adobo, though. I really have to make adabo soon! You have made me curious!



  12. June 8, 2010 at 11:42 AM

    I am a virgin when it comes to Filipino cooking! I do like to use vinegar in my cooking – never this large an amount. I would love to try the chicken adobo. And so neat to see fresh turmeric – similar to ginger.

  13. June 8, 2010 at 12:50 PM

    hehe – vinegar that gets “angry”! I am no Filipino expert, but better versed now. I didn’t realize the spanish influence and vice versa had in the Philippines. The chicken adobo sounds absolutely fabulous. I had a tasty but sort of boring dinner and now am craving this flavorful stuff.

  14. admin
    June 8, 2010 at 12:51 PM

    Peter – I’m with you 100%

    Lisa – I agree a taste comparison is definitely in order. I didn’t stay for it, but they had an adobo throw down that sounded like it would be amazing.

    MoS – It is great, I use it all the time!

    Lori – I’m intrigued about the No Reservations episode now. Its really a delicious cuisine, love the influences and the focus. Its also gotten kinda of a bad wrap in that some people claim its really fattening, but like everything else it depends on who’s doing the cooking.

    Zerrin – Hope you can make it at home, its truly a yummy dish.

    Sweetlife – I’m with you!

    Duo – Lucky you! We have an adobo truck which I have not tried yet, and I think a few others, just not close of convenient to me,

    Claudia – I think a lot of times those restaurants are hidden in plain view. At least that was the case in the DC metro area, Hope you can make the adobo, I think you’ll really like it,

    Carolyn – It was an awesome event. Coconut vinegar was knew to me too, but was able to find it at the local Asian market, clear in the back.

    5Star – I think there’s some closer than you think – I know there is one just off 66 in Arlington, but unless you knew about it you’d miss it.

    Rosa – Think you’d have to try, I bet you would like it,

    Reeni – The fresh tumeric is great and the flavors are not as pungent as the dried stuff. They are just like miniature gingers, but plain on the outside until you slice into them.

    Gastro – I just had to throw that one in there apparently a lot of moms when explaining the process spoke of “angry” vinegar. I wish I had a better explanation in my notes.

  15. June 8, 2010 at 2:03 PM

    Wow, such similarity in seasonings and I am all the way on the other side of the world from the Phillipines. This adobe is very close to what is used in Cuban and Puerto Rican cooking. The Achuete oil is called Achiote oil and in my country it’s called rou cou or annatto – good stuff as usual. Very curious about the coconut vinegar, what is it?

  16. June 8, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    I think that’s a good question about Filipnio cuisine. I did have my fill of it during my trip, but sometimes I have wondered why it isn’t as widely known as some of the other ethinic cuisines out there.

    I make my adobe with sauce and vinegar as well. I already miss the homecooked foods from there already.

  17. June 8, 2010 at 6:07 PM

    This is very interesting!!!We use adobo in Colombian cuisine and it has a lot of similar ingredients.Great post!

  18. June 8, 2010 at 7:42 PM

    I’ve had chicken adobo and lumpia before and I love it. I didn’t know there was such a thing as coconut vinegar, this is another ingredient that I am going to have to hunt down. It’s wonderful that you have access to fresh tumeric, it’s not common out here on the east coast.

  19. June 9, 2010 at 3:10 AM

    I’m not very familiar with Filipino cuisine. I tried making adobo once and my husband complained it was too sour, but I loved it.

  20. June 9, 2010 at 8:43 AM

    Adobo is something that, for some reason, tastes better than other people make it. The simplest sounding recipes are often some of the most difficult to master. I like the version of chicken adobo that has you sear the skin of the chicken to a crisp after it has been stewed. So good. A total diet buster.

    Have to remember the bit about not ticking off the vinegar. I don’t think I can handle its wrath.

  21. June 9, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    Correction: “… tastes better WHEN other people make it.”

  22. June 9, 2010 at 9:03 AM

    Great post! I agree that Filipino food has a (unfortunately) low profile. In New York City, there are only a couple of Filipino restaurants. My favorite is Bayan, on 45th St., where I get one of my favorite dishes, Bicol Express. I also love halo-halo, perfect on a summer day.

  23. June 9, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    I know lots of people from the Philippines, but have never actually had any of their food. Their cuisine appeals to me, though, because of the many similarities it has to Mexican food. The idea of “souring agents” is something that I LOVE. The adobo looks great – what fun to get to attend that class! I am jealous. 🙂

  24. June 9, 2010 at 1:01 PM

    Never heard of coconut vinegar!!!! I so want to try Adobo, especially as I have some banana blossoms given to me by a Filipino friend who recommended making Adobo with it. The chicken one saunds like what we’d love!

  25. June 9, 2010 at 5:00 PM

    Great post, once again! Love reading all this info and history. I am now thinking about my mothers’ chicken adobo — I love and miss the authentic taste of her cooking, but I do get spoiled when I visit the bay. Although, I have not many adobos’ with coconut milk they are delicious as well. Looks like a fun class.

  26. June 9, 2010 at 6:02 PM

    I’ve had a limited acquaintance with Philippine cuisine, mostly on a few of the blogs I visit. I find it quite refreshing and love the thought of varied vinegars.

    I would love to explore it further, especially after this intriguing post. I think I will begin with a wonderful book gifted to me from a fellow blogger. It’s titled The Little Sabaw Book by Gene Gonzalez. What do you think???

    Thank you so much for sharing, I appreciate your enthusiasm to get the word out!!!

  27. June 9, 2010 at 9:44 PM

    The first time I had it was from my Filipino friend. It was delicious!

  28. June 10, 2010 at 1:07 AM

    I’m sad to say that I don’t think I’ve ever had Filipino adobo before…but this post reminded me of this fellow blogger Jenn who’s in the Philippines right now!

  29. June 10, 2010 at 1:38 AM

    I think this is another one of your very informative & grand posts!! I learned a lot again!!

    I never had heard of coconut vinegar. I will be on the lookout for that!

    I tasted Filipino food before, here in Brussels & tasted chicken adobo. I liked it a lot!!! Now, I want to make the pork adobo dish! Thanks for sharing , my friend!

  30. June 10, 2010 at 8:12 AM

    As a Latin I can say that Adobo is extremely popular here for meats seasoning and the ingredients are the same – after all, we came from Spain.

    We don’t have many Filipino dishes here but they sound familiar to me – less the use of coconut milk, zero for this area.

    All the best,


  31. June 10, 2010 at 8:33 AM

    Pork adobo is now on my to do list!! Cant get hold of the other ingredients but very ahamed to say that I have never tried Filipino food in my life! So need to sort that out!!! Thanks so much!

  32. June 10, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    I am a rather well fed fellow and have tasted many food from many cultures. But this is one area I need some educating. As usual your post is filled with great information. Just enough to intrigue me into making chicken adobo tonight. I’ll let you know how it goes. GREG

  33. June 10, 2010 at 10:06 PM

    I’ve never had Filipino food and would love to give these recipes a try very soon. Thanks for another great post.

  34. June 11, 2010 at 3:46 AM

    I wish I knew more about Filipino food! I remember trying a sourish soup of vegetables and a lot of Filipino love this homecooked soup.

  35. admin
    June 12, 2010 at 6:22 AM

    Wizzy – It is good stuff and I bet some of the influence by the Spanish – The annatto seeds are surprisingly common around the world. In the US they give our cheddar cheese its yellow color.

    Jenn – I have some thoughts on why its not more common and might share them in a future post. I may not be a huge expert but I’ve had a fairly large sampling of the dishes to know it should be much more popular. I sure hope you had a grand time on your trip back to the Philippines.

    Erica – Glad you liked it.

    Christine – I am fortunate, as I imagine only you can appreciate after having lived here all that time.

    Leela – I agree I am quite content to eat this dish that others made, as it seems like everyone has their own tweaks that only improve the results. Maybe you pissed of the vinegar when you tried making it? =) I only made this one version of chicken adobo and was so impressed, can’t wait to expand into different techniques.

    5 O’Clock will have to check out your restaurants next time I am in NY. Thanks for the suggestions.

    Brenda – The class was a treat and I hope you get to make the adobo for yourself.

    Kitchen Butterfly – Love cooking with banana blossoms, I bet it would make a good adobo. You don’t need a coconut vinegar, it was just what we used.

    Lisa – I’d love to learn how your Mother’s adobo differs from what we did, I take it she did not use the coconut milk. The class was awesome, I highly recommend it, if I see they are doing another one, I’ll let you know

    Louise – The book sounds awesome, can’t wait to get your opinion. It was a lot of fun to branch out into a different dish I had plenty of experience sampling but not making.

    Thip – I think that’s the best time to try something for the first time. Sets the expectations high.

    Sophia – I bet you can find plenty of adobo in LA, and I know of some restaurants in Virginia so you can remedy that lack of experience soon!

    Gera – I bet some of the pork adobo added to your asada would start a new trend. =)

    Ruth – I look forward to hearing what you think.

    Sippity – I know you made the adobo, can’t wait to hear what you think.

    Azita – Hope you are able to try.

    Tigerfish – They make a few sour soups, one we had included fish head which made me think o you. =)

  36. June 13, 2010 at 9:11 PM

    I had never tried Filipino food until I moved to CA. I don’t cook it too often, but my coworkers bring them to work all the time and I love it!
    Also the closest Asian grocery store for me is in fact a Filipino market and that’s where I go to get my Asian veggies. 🙂

  37. June 14, 2010 at 3:10 PM

    Well, I am much better informed on the subject of Filipino food now than I was before I read this post, that’s for sure 🙂 And, being a self-confessed pickle fiend, I have no problem at all with the idea of cooking things in vinegar – bring it on!

  38. June 16, 2010 at 6:44 PM

    WOW! very cool to find this. Great read and recipes. I’ve been collecting Adobo recipes here Love Filipino food, especially Adobo and Pinakbet. Would you mind if I added your recipes to the collection?

  39. June 28, 2010 at 3:41 AM

    You are so lucky to have a Fillipino sister-in-law and she’s lucky no to have me in the family as I’d move in with her just to eat all the delicious food!!

  40. June 28, 2010 at 7:03 PM

    I was sorry to miss that, but am glad to see all of these wonderful recipes! Thanks for sharing, I so love adobo but haven’t found a recipe that works for me yet. I’ll check these out!

  41. admin
    June 28, 2010 at 8:02 PM

    Kitchen M – I’d not be inclined to cook it too often if I got the real deal on a regular basis. Alas that is not the case for me.

    Spud – Can’t wait to see you try to adobo, bet theres a mean version of a potato offering in there somewhere.

    ADOBOOCO – Feel free to add the recipes – sharing is important!

    Chystal – I am indeed lucky! She’s half way across the country from me so she has nothing to fear, except when we visit at the holidays.

    foodhoe – You did miss a great time, I think they are planning something else this fall, so keep your eyes open. Definitely worth it!

  42. July 5, 2010 at 8:24 AM

    Being Cuban, we use adobo in most of our foods. Interesting how our cultures mix, though not far stretched since having Spanish backgrounds. I do wonder though, why there aren’t more Filipino restaurants as you point out. I can’t name one in Atlanta. You’ve challenged me to go find one now…

    Nice finding you via my good friend Crystal over at Duo Dishes.

  43. admin
    July 5, 2010 at 12:35 PM

    Bren – You hit on why I love to study food from a cultural perspective. I find it fascinating to check out the permutations that food stuffs go to as they are passed off from county to country.

    I’d love to hear if you find a Filipino restaurant.

    Wow, the Duo Dishes are some incredible food bloggers with talent to spare. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a note.

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