A is for Adobo

Monday, November 30, 2009

In Memoriam: My Grandfather

One of my favorite photos of my grandparents. Minalin, Pampanga, Philippines, 1975

My grandfather passed away on Nov. 27 at the age of 89 years old.

I've always felt disconnected from my extended family back in the Philippines; not because of any family drama or anything, but really only because the geographical distance makes it very difficult to build and maintain relationships. (Let's face it; the flight to Manila makes a five-hour flight to New York seem like a nanosecond, not to mention the fact that a plane ticket can cost about a month's salary for some.) In any case; my grandparents helped raise my cousins; my memories of my grandparents consisted of stories my dad would tell me about them and the three times I've visited. But despite the distance (both literally and figuratively), I've always held a fondness in my heart for my family back there.

Thankfully, the Internet and social networking have enabled the kinds of connections I've wanted to make with my cousins. My cousin, Jon, wrote this tribute to our grandfather the other day, and after reading it, I realized that my dad --- the oldest of all the siblings --- is SO like my grandfather. I may not have had the pleasure or privilege of living with my grandparents, but my grandfather's teachings, personality, values and beliefs were mirrored in the teachings, personality, values and beliefs I've seen in my own father.

And I never felt so connected to my family than at that moment.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

No Reservations

I met Anthony Bourdain Friday night. He was in Santa Cruz doing a book signing for his new book, "No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach," which is more of a travel book with photos.

Can I just say: I lovelovelove Anthony Bourdain. Not only is he an awesome chef and writer, but his TV show about traveling to exotic locations and eating their food teaches you about other cultures and traditions in a way that is insightful, entertaining and, most importantly, respectful.

Don't even get me started on how hot he is. I'm just saying.

I told him as such (about him being respectful, not about him being hot) when we had our conversation (I'll never wash my ear again!) --- I asked him if he had ever done a show in the Philippines (he hadn't) and, if not, that he really needed to to bring his perspective, because that fuckin' Andrew Zimmern guy totally blew it. Don't even get me started on Zimmern. For real.

Anyway, we (that would be my man, Bourdain, and I) went off on that for a minute, and then he asked me where he should go.

"Pampanga," I said. "The folks in that region are known for their cooking."

"Alright. Done," he said.

Please believe my heart just about exploded. Tony, if you're reading this, and you do a Philippines show, give your girl a shout out in the end credits, wouldja?

(Cross-posted on my other blog.)


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Rainy day comfort food

Days before I come back home to visit my parents, my dad usually asks me what I want to eat when I get there. Inevitably, I always tell him the same thing: Some kind of roasted pork and freshly made mungo.

(Or is it mongo?)

However you spell it, this thick and hearty soup (don't call it a "stoup," please) sticks to your ribs and reminds me of home.

The weather here has turned; fall is here, and I have a couple of hours to kill before leaving for my show. What better way to spend a lazy Sunday morning than to make a hot, steaming pot of mungo?

Making this is much easier than I thought, but you'll definitely have to go out of your way to buy some of the authentic, Filipino ingredients. Keep it real; it's worth it.

One 12 to 14-oz. bag of mung beans, washed and drained
1/4-lb. side of pork, sliced
1 pound of shrimp, peeled and deveined*
4 cloves chopped garlic
1 small onion, sliced
1 medium tomato, chopped
Salted shrimp paste (bagoong)
2 packages frozen bitter melon (ampalaya) leaves

In a soup pot, pour enough water (about 2") over the mung beans. Bring to a boil. Cover, and simmer until beans are cooked and water is more or less evaporated. Press about 1/2 of the cooked beans along the side of the pot to bust them open. This will help thicken the final mixture. Set aside.

In another soup pot, brown the pork in about 2 tsp. oil over medium heat. Once brown, throw in the chopped garlic and sautée until golden brown. Add onions and sautée until translucent.

Add one tbsp. bagoong and stir. Then add tomatoes. Stir. Add about 1/2 cup of water to deglaze the pan and simmer until the meat is slightly tender. Add shrimp. Cover.

When the shrimp is cooked, add mung beans from other pot to this one and stir.

Check for seasoning. It shouldn't be too salty, and you should be able to the combination of pork and shrimp.

Add water to your desired consistency. I like mine thick, but it's all really up to you.

Add ampalaya leaves to pot and simmer.

Serve over rice if desired. Me? I like it straight up. No, I'm not on Atkins.

*For this particular batch, I didn't add any shrimp because I couldn't be bothered to do all the prep work. However, if you do use shrimp, try to keep the orange stuff in the shrimp head; that's where a lot of the flavor is.


Friday, September 14, 2007


Mom celebrated her 63rd birthday this past weekend. In addition to inviting everyone she knew to her party, she also made sure everyone had enough to eat, plus go back for seconds, thirds ... fifths.

Since it was a special occasion, and that there would be many mouths to feed, she made sure that her party included that filipino party staple, a whole, spit-roasted pig, lovingly called lechon.

As a child, the image of a whole pig with an apple in its mouth, lying on the table along with typical party fare such as lumpia and pancit, was more unappetizing than anything else.

As an adult, I rarely eat lechon at parties. By the time I get to it, it's already cold, picked over, and everyone's already taken the best parts --- namely, the skin.

Now, don't get me wrong; crunchy, oven-baked (or fried) pig skin is good eatin'. There's nothing I like better than a hot, salty, crispy pork belly. (Wood Tavern in Oakland does it really well, but that's another post.) But I don't think most people pay attention to the sauce that traditionally goes with lechon. It's hard to explain; it's thick, rich, and at once both sweet and sour. It's a meat-based sauce --- okay, liver based --- probably one of the best things to happen to offal.

And my mom makes it the best.

So what's in it, really? Well, I'm not ready to share the details of mom's recipe with you guys just yet. Maybe one day.

And now, dinner:


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Everybody loves Lumpia

And why shouldn't they? Savory meat and veggies fried in a crispy egg roll wrapper. What's not to love?

This weekend, I set out to make everyone's favorite Filipino party food along with two friends of mine. It was a team effort: One friend chopped the cabbage and grated the carrots, another separated the egg roll wrappers (a task my mom always gave me as I was a kid), while I sauteed and browned the meat.

It was a lumpia party of sorts, the three of us sitting around the table, scooping up portions of the meat and veggie mixture onto our wrappers, rolling and wrapping and talking. And drinking lots of vodka and cranberry juice. Good times.

Then we divided the finished lumpias up among the three of us and fried up a few for dinner.

Now that's good eatin'.

There are many different styles of lumpia. We made lumpiang gulai---literally, "vegetable lumpia," because out of all the different kinds, this was by far the easiest and, in my opinion, the tastiest. As always, there's going to be some variation in the recipe depending on the family and what region you come from. Some people in the States add anything from that frozen mixed vegetable mix (peas, green beans, corn, etc.), potatoes, to raisins, which I consider a high crime and misdemeanor.

Raisins have absolutely no place in lumpia. If anyone puts raisins in their lumpia, they must be beaten with their own shoe.

A vegetarian version is absolutely doable, too --- just substitute the meat for tofu, or seitan, whatever the hell you want. Or throw in more vegetables. The beauty of this is that this is more a method rather than a recipe, per se. All quantities can be adjusted according to your own personal taste.

Lumpiang gulai (vegetable lumpia)
1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped - reserve 1 chopped clove for dipping (see below)
1/2 head of cabbage, sliced in thin ribbons
3-4 carrots, peeled and grated
Egg roll wrappers (about 30 or so - buy extra)
salt and pepper, to taste

To make the filling, sautee the onions and garlic in a large pot until the onions are translucent. Add the ground beef, and cook until browned.

Salt and pepper the ground meat mixture to your taste, then take off the heat.

Add the carrots and cabbage and stir until well incorporated. Spoon mixture into a colander placed over a large bowl to catch the drippings - you don't want soggy lumpia!

Lumpia wrappers come in two shapes: square and round. Use whichever one you have available. I prefer the square egg roll wrappers because they're not as delicate as the round ones, making them easier to work with.

To wrap. Oh boy. This is going to be hard to explain, but I'll give it my best shot.

Place the square wrapper in front of you so that it looks like a diamond shape. (If you use the round wrappers, a) you're a masochist, and b) Jah bless ya.) Spoon some of the meat and veggie mixture (not too much, maybe about 1.5 spoonful) closer to the bottom end of the diamond (or circle) and fold the bottom of the diamond up and over the meat. Pull it back against itself to tighten up the roll, and fold it over itself again. Fold the right, then left corners of the diamond over the roll, and um, roll until you run out of wrapper.

Visualize a burrito. But ... different.

If you want, you can seal the flap with some water, or a mixture of flour and water to keep it closed. But it's not necessary.

Have a tray ready for the finished lumpias. Many Filipino families save the styrofoam trays that meat comes in (well-washed and sanitized, of course) just for this purpose. Separate the layers of lumpia with wax paper or plastic wrap, then wrap and cover the tray (plastic bags are just fine, but whatever fits), and freeze.

According to my Dad, you must a) wrap the lumpias while the meat/veg mixture is still warm, then b) freeze the lumpia once you're finished - otherwise they'll spoil. I think this has something to do with the fact that there's onions in the mixture. For some reason, if food has onions in it, it spoils faster. Maybe it's another one of his superstitions, but you know how sometimes pancit can go bad the next day after making it? Onions, man. Tellin' you.

Fry the lumpia in a skillet with enough oil to come up the sides of the lumpia. You can deep fry as well, but it's not necessary. Lumpia should be golden brown. Drain upright (not flat) in a colander lined with paper towels to keep them crispy.

Serve with dipping sauce and rice, if you are so inclined.

Dipping sauce
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
Vinegar (apple cider, red wine vinegar, etc.)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and serve alongside the lumpia. Use a spoon to pour bits of the vinegary, garlicky goodness into the lumpia after you take your first bite.

(Photo credit: The Jersey Girl)


Saturday, November 11, 2006


The first Filipino dish I learned how to make. It’s pretty simple, really – just some meat simmered in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and spices – but what you are left with is a magical, flavorful stew. Some people crave macaroni and cheese; I crave adobo.

Pork is the best for this dish. It gets a bad rap for some reason, but, to paraphrase Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, pork just tastes goooooood. Chicken works well, too.

My dad always told me not to touch the meat while it’s simmering until the vinegar is “cooked.” Vinegar? Cooked? I didn’t get it either. But if you smell the adobo just as it begins to simmer, you’ll notice this acrid, sharp, sensation in the nose and a vinegary aroma. As the adobo continues to simmer, this aroma begins to mellow. Then – and only then – can you even begin to touch it.

That was the secret to yummy adobo, he says. And now, I'm sharing his secret with you. Thank me later.

It may sound like a silly superstition, but it really works.

If you’re reading this, and you’re Filipino, you may have a different version. Some people, once the meat is cooked, fry the meat until it’s dry or something. I say, why bother? The mixture of meat, rice, and adobo sauce is nothing short of heaven.

1 pound or so of chicken, pork, or a combination thereof (pork is best)
5-6 cloves of garlic, crushed
2-3 whole, dried bay leaves
½-cup soy sauce (I prefer Kikkoman or Aloha Shoyu brands)*
½-cup apple cider vinegar*
Lots of freshly ground pepper

Place meat in a non-reactive soup pot. Sprinkle with garlic cloves, bay leaves. Pour soy sauce and vinegar over the meat and liberally sprinkle with black pepper.

Simmer on high until mixture comes to a boil, then reduce to medum-low heat and cover. Do not stir until meat is tender and sharp, vinegary smell mellows out.

Serve over white, steamed rice, of course.

Makes awesome leftovers.

* Amounts of vinegar and soy sauce are approximate; depending on the amount of meat you use, you may need more or less than ½-cup. The rule of thumb is you want the soy sauce/vinegar mixture to come up to no more than halfway up the side of the meat. Don’t cover the meat with the mixture – your adobo come out too salty.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hi there.

My dad is from Pampanga. From what I have heard, people from that province are great cooks. My dad is an awesome cook, so it must be true.

Growing up, I remember eating adobo, pinakbet, dinuguan (it ain't made from chocolate, people), pancit, arroz caldo, kare kare. You know, the classics. And as I got older, his "experiments" ventured to the more creative, almost "fusion" in concepts: shellfish in coconut milk, fresh corn soup with malungai (sp?) and a bit of pork and bagoong for flavor.

My dad's cooking spoiled me for any other filipino cooks. Don't get me wrong - my mom, when she does cook - is also pretty good. She has quite a few specialties of her own, which I'll no doubt explore as well. But my dad did most of the cooking in the house. Every day. He still does, actually. Growing up, my family and I made it a point to try the newest Filipino dining establishment that would open up (and subsequently close) in our neighborhood. And we were always, inevitably, disappointed, because we'd set such a high standard. Nobody else could measure up. And it's not like we weren't open minded about it.

Several years ago, Dad sustained a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. It was the worst time of our lives. The very fabric of our small, tight-knit family of three was threatening to unravel, and I was faced with a Moment of Reckoning - if Dad took a turn for the worse, who would take care of the family now? Me?

And for one selfish split second, I thought, who would cook dinner for us now? All I could do was throw stuff in the oven and take it out when it was done. My dad has always been a quiet man, but he shows his love for us in the delicious dishes he cooks, day in and day out. How could anything I cook from here on out ever compare to that?

Thankfully, Dad pulled through from this ordeal (almost) as good as new. And the cooking skills? Intact. Sweeeeet. I took this to mean that I was given a second chance; a chance to learn how to make authentic, homemade Filipino dishes; a chance to continue the cooking traditions my dad (the oldest of seven kids) learned from my grandmother back in the Philippines; a chance to reconnect with my Dad by doing something he loves.

I started this blog as a way to document my journey --- my reconnection with both my father and with my culture through learning, exploration, and recreating the food of my people.