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.

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Side Story: Lechon Cebu, Lutong Sapul Style!

Just this morning, “Sapul sa Singko”, our morning show at TV5, featured lechon Cebu in its “Lutong Sapul” (a cooking portion) segment. It was such a waste that I wasn’t able to watch the whole segment, but I found out that it’s possible to enjoy the taste of lechon Cebu right at your home!

Lourd De Veyra (of “Word of the Lourd” and “This Is A Crazy Planets” fame) and Chef Raymar of Modern Culinaire shared to us a simple lechon recipe that anyone can follow at home. In this case, they performed the recipe, not on a whole pig, but just on a smaller chunk.

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Ingredients

Meat
Liempo (pork belly, probably a kilo will do)
Pepper
Onion leaves
Soy sauce
Salt
Garlic

Stuffing
Tanglad (lemongrass)
Saging na saba (Saba banana)
Gabi (taro)


Procedures
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Rub salt and pepper on the liempo. (Three words: season to taste.)
3. Brush soy sauce on the liempo skin. (Brushing soy sauce on skin gives the skin its reddish look.)
4. Lay the liempo over a bed of tanglad, gabi and saging na saba arranged in a baking pan. (The better thing to do is stuff the herbs in the meat for it to better absorb the flavors.)
5. Place the liempo in the pre-heated oven. Dance the macarena (kidding).
6. Wait for the skin to become crispy. (How long is this – 30 minutes? Probably as soon as steam comes out and the skin gets toasted? Your call, actually.)
7. Serve with a vinegar or lechon sauce dip. (Chef Raymar recommends vinegar with peppercorns and onions as the best dip for lechon Cebu.)
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This recipe looks easy to follow, and maybe one can make a few changes on the recipe along the way. Come to think of it, I guess this is how lechoneros start and develop their business: work on the default recipe, and improve on it. In any case, enjoying lechon Cebu at home is easier now. (Having an oven for this is another story though.)

Anyway, right after “Sapul sa Singko,” the crispy, tasty, juicy lechon was distributed to everyone in the studio. Not everyone was able to have a piece of it though, since the pig disappeared like it was devoured by typhoon Ondoy. As for me, I got a big, fatty chunk of the stuff. To hell with what people will say about my lechon consumption habits. Nothing beats a dose of heaven early in the morning.

On the other hand, normally I’d ask for a larger portion for sharing. Not this time, though. I can’t demand for one anyway. No lechon for you, sorry.

EDIT: I talked to Chef Raymar this morning, and he said you can throw the pork into a pot of hot cooking oil in case you don’t have an oven.