Episode 65: The Filipino National Dish

Hear, hear. There’s a proposed bill that is making the buzz among netizens now, and it’s not the Freedom of Information Bill. You see, Bohol Rep. Rene Relampagos has just filed House Bill No. 3926, AKA the proposed National Symbols Act of 2014, which will name several objects synonymous to Filipino culture as national symbols. The most talked about of these symbols is the proposed national food, adobo.

This Interaksyon article explains this for us:

“On making adobo the country’s national food, Relampagos said the dish deserves the title because of its versatility and variety.

“Whethere (sic) using chicken, pork, fish, squid, kangkong, sitaw, puson ng saging and ithers (sic) as main ingredient, there are many ways to cook adobo – adobo sa gata, adobong matamis, adobong tuyo, adobong masabaw, adobo sulipan, adobo sa pinya, adobo sa kalamansi, adobong malutong, adobong puti, adobo flakes, spicy adobo, just to name a few,” Relampagos said.”

While the discussion over the bill (which I refer to as the “adobo bill”) has become non-serious and taken in stride, the thought of having a dish that defines the Philippines is a good matter to ponder, as far as a foodie like me is concerned.

Adobo, by origin, is a Spanish invention, except their version – immersing meat in a sauce with spices – is different from ours. The Spanish adobo pertains to the cooking of food with a certain type of marinade (called “adobo”); the Filipino one – independent of Spanish influence – is the dish itself, as well as its cooking method, with vinegar as the primary ingredient. (It’s said the Spanish colonizers saw Filipinos perform the same technique and gave it that name; the original term is now lost.)

The Philippine adobo has many versions, all of which are based on the ingredients in cooking. This is why adobo is a favorite anywhere in the country. Every region has its own version, they even say. Even in other countries, adobo is recognizable; the scent of meat stewing in vinegar, soy sauce, and spices is uniquely Filipino.

It’s also good to note that adobo is a staple dish in every household, eatery, restaurant, feast, and food-related gathering that Filipinos host. The dish barely spoils (thanks to the vinegar), it’s easy to cook, and it can be enjoyed anytime (especially when there’s rice).

Back to the adobo bill. Should we officially call “adobo” our national dish? As mentioned by Relampagos, given its popularity, versatility, and variety, we might as well should. The original recipe of the adobo may be enshrined as the standard for adobo. (Then again, we’ll leave the discussion on the adobo recipe to the culinary experts.) We could market adobo as the quintessential Filipino home recipe, something we could prepare, enjoy, and share to the world.

Which begs the question: is there a Filipino dish that can challenge adobo for the title of “national dish”?

So far, I can think of only one: lechon.

Yeah, I know. Lechon is luxury food, and more representative of the rich. But it’s also the star of every Filipino feast, synonymous to the Filipino’s love for food and festivity. The Filipino roasted pig has even gained international attention (Anthony Bourdain? Best pork in the world? Remember?), and it’s just as popular by name.

We also have halo-halo, the popular Filipino summer cooler with its wide selection of ingredients, a perfect dessert in this tropical paradise.

Oh yeah, hasn’t anyone considered balut, the Filipino duck egg dish from Hell?

And now I’m out of ideas.

Philippine cuisine is so vast in scope, pinpointing a dish aside from adobo that will represent the country is. It’s because Filipinos love food so much, the list of favorites is so long. But back to our adobo bill. Do we actually need a law like this in the first place, while more important ones are being sent to the backburner (cough*FOI*cough). Maybe we can send this one to the shelves too, and give the task of determining the symbols of our country to the experts, including the food.

For now, though, let’s just retreat to our homes and favorite food establishments, and ponder on the wonders of Filipino food, especially adobo.

Which reminds me, back when Dan Brown’s “Manila as the gates of hell” brouhaha erupted, there was this restaurant that promised to make an adobo version in his honor. Where’s this adobo from hell now, I wonder? Dan Brown, please come to the Philippines and make it happen. The adobo from hell, I mean.


Episode 64: Where To Eat Near (and somewhat near) the TV5 Media Center

TV5 moved to its new headquarters, the TV5 Media Center, in Mandaluyong last December. The place is huge, it houses better equipment, and everything’s so stylish and neat-looking that it feels more like an office for an international news agency than a TV station. It’s quite far from home, but the excitement brought by driving at full speed to the new office and zipping past heavy traffic kinda adds to the romanticism of the job.

Working at the new TV5 Media Center is more comfortable now, but the only problem is where to eat. Unlike in Novaliches where there’s a canteen and a mall across the street, we’re sitting amidst a sea of concrete buildings, with no visible place to get a quick, cheap meal, much more breakfast. (Not to mention breakfast is very important to me. “Higit sa balita, almusal muna,” as I always say.)

I took the time to look around for places where I could eat, and these are what I’ve tried out, in no particular order:

Robinsons Forum – just near the MRT Boni Station and the tricycle terminal, some of Robinsons’s fastfood chains are already open early in the morning. Country Style, which sells my favorite Triple Choco Boom bread, is also open at this time.

Hanako Express – For those near the Robinsons Forum area, Hanako is located at Madison Street near Globe Towers. It’s a great place to get Japanese rice bowls for lunch. So far I’ve tried their katsudon, which is small but filling.

I also tried their Meiji chocolate cake – it’s rich and sickeningly sweet, like a spring romance.

Fastfood chains – Speaking of fastfood chains, there are two Jollibee branches along Pioneer Street that are a few minutes’ walk from TV5 Reliance. One is at the intersection of Pioneer and Sheridan, while the other is further ahead towards Kapitolyo. Either way, Breakfast Joys are served quite quickly since only a few customers come in the morning. It’s the distance from TV5 Reliance that turns me off, so if I wanted to dine there, I’d go there before proceeding to work.

Meanwhile, there’s a  7-11 branch several meters away from Jollibee, where you can get a quick konbini snack and more.

If you’re facing TV5 Reliance, at the intersection to your right is a McDonalds. On our first day in Mandaluyong, many TV5 employees who reported in the morning dined there, especially because it’s the nearest restaurant from the office. The quickest you can get from there is their Sausage McMuffin with Egg, which is good enough for breakfast in my book. (If I had more time, I’d get the Big Breakfast.)

There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts branch at the intersection to your left (again, if you’re facing TV5 Reliance). I discovered that Dunkin’ Donuts already has a Kani Wasabi Bunwich variety; it turns out they’re sold only in malls and big branches. Nothing beats an infusion of wasabi and crab in the morning.

(Recently, though, their Kani Wasabi tastes only like Kani without the Wasabi. I wonder if they ran out of wasabi to mix with the crab spread. I hope the same’s not happening in other branches, or it’s about to get phased out so soon.)

Greenfield District – The Greenfield District is a shopping and dining complex at Shaw Boulevard. There are lots of restaurants to choose from, both fastfood and casual, so you’re sure to find one for your preference. So far I’ve had lunch at the Ramen Bar and Wendy’s.

Rufo’s  – There’s a Rufo’s branch at the Shaw Boulevard area for those who prefer to start their with the classic Filipino breakfast of champions. I’ve heard so much about their saucy, tummy-filling tapsilog, and I’m not disappointed. I’d like to visit this branch at night though, when customers come there to drink beer and dine on their beer matches.

Persiana – Persiana opened along Pioneer Street in 1994 to serve people’s craving for delicious, filling, and affordable Mediterranean dishes. They’re best known for their gyros, pizzas, and rice meals. The place is good for small gatherings over lunch or dinner.

So far I’ve tried their spicy cheese sticks and shawarma, and for a restaurant-grade treat, they’re quite good.

Kanto Freestyle Breakfast – for those around the Kapitolyo area, Kanto Freestyle Breakfast is the best place for all-day, belly-busting, have-it-your-way breakfast meals. You can get two eggs done as you want it, garlic rice, and the treat of your choice, and you can have the breakfast of your dreams. (They have set meals, too.) Kanto also serves marvelous pancakes and breakfast sandwiches.

My only problem with this place is that seating is quite limited, and you may have to wait for a while to get served since the place is always full with customers. The wait is worth it, though.

Tasty Tucker – Right next door (and the nearest landmark to TV5 Reliance) is Tasty Tucker. The first I visited ever since I came to Mandaluyong, it serves a mean selection of Filipino and European dishes such as rice meals, all day breakfasts, pasta, pizza, and salads, plus cakes and pastries.

My favorite meal at Tasty Tucker is the Australian Big Breakfast, a plateful of bacon, sausage, hash browns, toasted tomatoes, and toasted bread (though I still tend to order a cup of rice with it). The meals here are a bit expensive, so it would be best to dine here on paydays or when you feel like splurging.

Old school street food – There are a few carinderias near TV5 Reliance for those who have a really tight food budget. I spotted one at a garage for jeepneys along Sheridan Street. They serve the standard P30-40 per serving viands, plus P10 for a cup of rice, which is good enough.

Then there’s that carinderia near the police station at Greenfield District. It’s more spacious, and they serve more viands, including pork barbecue and mami. I prefer having their sinigang na baboy and fried liempo.

There are a lot of other places near Sheridan, Reliance, and Pioneer Streets where one can eat and spend time with coworkers and friends. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on your budget, taste, and whether you have the time for leisurely dining. As for me, as long as I can have my breakfast, and it doesn’t hurt my wallet too much, it’s all good.