Word count: 1490
Estimated reading time: 8 mins
Note: this symbol (//) indicates a new chapter.
If you don’t know how to cook, this book is for you. If you’re a house cook wanting to discover new flavors, this book is for you too. If your only interests are recipes, expect to be overserved. This book is a window to food inspired by home.
Possibly after reading each recipe you will discover that cooking is fun and it’s for everybody. It’s a way to discover yourself. A homey practice to connect with the earth. A way to unlock past methods and reveal combinations you didn’t know existed. Cooking can teach you how to pause and question. It’s the most generous way of improving yourself while sharing with others. It can even transport you to the past to meet your ancestors. I experienced all of the above. I didn’t know it would happen. Every time I served dishes I made I realized I was creating the home I always wanted to belong to.
The home I lived in with my partner, Hiro, had no kitchen. It was a flat that came with two bedrooms and a bathroom. When we visited the place for the first time it smelled like a deceased dog. There was no sink, no stove, and no kitchen cabinets. It was an unattractive place to be because it wasn’t normal. In 2016 we decided this would be our first home together.
In our second week of living in our kitchenless home, our landlord gave us a stove. A black electric stove with a glass top. It was the first stove I had access to that belonged only to me and my partner. Previous to that I lived in places where I was not allowed to use the kitchen or it had none. Due to years of having no association with a stove, I only saw it as a big black thing that could boil my water.
Hiro, who was not a fiance yet at the time, had a different experience. He was excited about the stove. He came from a home where the kitchen was a place to care for family. He made elaborate Japanese meals and pancakes for breakfast. He cooked curry, szechuan food, and french toasts. He baked scones from scratch. His movements elevated our kitchenless situation into a home with a semi-kitchen. The smell of the deceased dog was gone. He added shelves to the blank walls for spices and built a small cabinet to shelter our tea. Hiro was so exceptional in the kitchen that I felt inadequate next to him.
One time I was chopping onions when Hiro made a sly comment saying I wasn’t chopping it correctly. I snapped back. “Show me how then! You never show me how.” He heard the frustration and showed me how to chop onions.
Hiro passed on simple kitchen skills to me here and there. He taught me how to mince garlic. He showed me how to be safe with a knife and fry the perfect egg. I gained enough skill that eventually he trusted me to make miso soup.
With my newly found confidence I attempted to make dishes like lasagna, honey walnut shrimp, baked tilapia, and cupcakes. To my disappointment each of them turned out uninteresting. None of them were exciting to eat. Cooking was not fun and I almost closed the door until one day I realized that maybe they were uninteresting because none of the dishes I made felt like they belonged to me.
// How to Make Chicken Adobo
If you ask any Filipino what the national food of the Philippines is, they might tell you it’s Adobo. Chicken Adobo to be exact. It’s not the official national food of the country, there is debate, but that’s how many of us feel because it is the most familiar.
The true origins of Filipino Adobo is not clear because literature on Filipino food history is limited; however, I suspect that just like our culture, Filipino Adobo emerged from a blend of influences from visitors across the seas throughout human history. Adobo is Spanish for marinade. Doreen Fernandez in her book Tikim describes that maybe Mexicans who came to the Philippines made their version of Adobo and Filipinos adapted to its taste. Raymond Sokolov, a food historian, claims that Adobo is merely a name associated with the marinade and that the dish is uniquely Filipino (2020: 172).
Every Filipino household has its own take on Adobo. Some keep it traditional by limiting the seasoning to vinegar, garlic, bayleaf, and black pepper while others welcome their own adaptations by adding onions, soy sauce, and vegetables. As a child, I always associated Adobo to the person or family who made it. For example, I liked visiting so-and-so’s house because someone in their home cooked really good Adobo. I also looked forward to my nanny’s version which was sweet and tangy at the same time. Different eateries offered various styles. Some sprinkled fried garlic on top. Some were soupy. Others were more pan fried. Some came with a lot of vegetables while others with none. Filipino Adobo has an attachment to the creator’s taste and I wanted to have my own.
In our two-person household, Hiro was a qualified critique of the food I made at home but not with Filipino food. Adobo was a dish I genuinely knew and belonged to. I wanted to show him my version of it but I didn’t have one. I set on a quest to create my own.
A whole chicken cut into genuine pieces. When I say genuine I mean to cut the whole chicken yourself. Avoid store bought pre-cut pieces. If you don’t know how to cut a whole chicken, seek a good teacher who will show you. My teacher was Jacques Pepin via his Essential Pepin DVD.
1 head of garlic, sliced.
½ an onion, sliced.
1 bay leaf
¼ cup of vinegar. Use the Silver Swan or Datu Puti brand to achieve a true Filipino taste.
1 tomato, diced.
Substitutions and Additions:
Replace chicken with pork if you like. Combining chicken and pork is common too.
Add vegetables to the dish if that interests you. Potatoes are a common addition.
Banana leaf. This can easily be found at Asian grocery stores in the frozen section.
First, we must marinate. Place the chicken pieces (that you cut yourself) into a large bowl. Marinate it with vinegar and garlic overnight. We have to soak in our new elements so we can show up best for the next step.
When the marinating hours are complete, you can start to cook. Use tongs to pick out the chicken from the bowl and gently place it on a pan to cook in medium heat. Scrape off the leftover garlic floating on the marinade and add it to the pan with the chicken. Let the juices flow and add a bay leaf into the liquid. Our goal here is to brown the chicken on all sides. It should look shimmery.
Add the diced tomatoes and let it simmer in medium heat for 20 mins. If you have another vegetable in mind, this is the time to add it too. A lot of versions add potatoes. I like to add Japanese sweet potatoes.
How to Eat and Serve:
It’s always best to serve Adobo the day after it’s cooked. I consider this part the second marinating phase. We have to soak into our new form so we can show up best for the next step which is the part where we can enjoy. The part where we can sit around the table and share something exciting to eat.
When serving Adobo choose a wide shallow bowl to serve it in. If you have banana leaves, lay it on the surface of the bowl and pour the Adobo on top of it. Carefully arrange your chicken pieces nicely. The dark green color of the banana leaf will transport you to a home in the Philippines. I like to top the dish with the tomatoes and garlic slices from the pan. You’ll see specs of red, shimmery brown, and cooked yellow on top of a bed of dark green. You’ve made Chicken Adobo.
Adobo is a type of ulam. Ulam is the dish paired with rice and completes a Filipino meal. Learning how to cook Filipino cuisine is learning how to cook different types of ulam. It is never eaten on it’s own and if you try it without rice it will feel half-done, incomplete, or broken.
To throughly enjoy Filipino cuisine and other ulam you’ll learn from this book, do your best to serve it with a genuine plate of rice. Do not replace rice with extra broccoli, couscous, a bed of lettuce, noodles, or tortilla if you want a true taste of home. Home in this case is the Philippines. I am Filipina, my name is Nica, and this is my cookbook about food from home.
Next pages: Nica will email you when ready to read. Thank you!