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Around the world in 80 Filipino food

On food tourism and gastro diplomacy

By CLAUDE TAYAG, The Philippine STAR Published Jun 09, 2022 5:00 am Updated Jun 09, 2022 3:54 pm

Incoming Department of Tourism (DOT) secretary Christina Frasco declared in an interview that she’ll be giving priority and much attention to food tourism during her term.

In the same interview, as reported in Philstar, she underscored the importance of local cuisine (emphasis mine) to provide tourists with a “multi-sensory” experience during their visit to different destinations nationwide.

“I think it is very, very important to look at the potential of the domestic market being able to sustain the tourism in provinces, cities and municipalities, because we have seen as well the improvement and the economic status of local tourists. So, the approach cannot singularly focus on foreign tourists, but also to further develop domestic tourism,” she added.

Incoming Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco

This is definitely very welcome news to the hospitality industry. After all, it was the local tourists that sustained the local restaurants, resorts and hotels during the pandemic. And, for the first time, local cuisine is given its due, celebrating our regional diversity rather than “standardizing” recipes, as the DTI-BPS tried doing in July 2021.

On another government-agency front, Ambassador Jose Maria “Jomari” Cariño, director-general of the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the Department of Foreign Affairs, launched “Pancit 101: Dishes of Luzon” sometime last month at the DFA main office in Manila. This is the first of three books of FSI’s “gastro diplomacy” thrust, with Kakanin (rice cakes) and Adobo next in line. The books will be distributed to all DFA embassies and consulates around the world.

Speaking of adobo, a week prior to the book launching, the good ambassador recalled over breakfast the adobo of his youth growing up in Abra province.

Adobo for keeps (Kawa)

Adobo for keeps: “I clearly remember when my grandmother would have a big, fat pig slaughtered, it was cut into big chunks and placed in a large kawa (cauldron, vat). They would dump all the seasonings — vinegar, garlic, black pepper, bay leaves and salt —and simmer it for long hours over a wood fire. When it was all tender and its fat rendered, the big chunks were transferred into a garapon or large glass jar, and the lard poured in to completely cover the cooked meat. It was then sealed with a metal lid. The lard prevents the meat from spoiling and could last for several days or weeks even without refrigeration. The meat and fat would be used to flavor pinakbet, dinengdeng or any boiled vegetables, sometimes a treat would be the meat with a little bagoong isda (anchovy paste) and a squeeze of dayap (native lime) over hot rice. Oh, before I forget, grandma would set aside the adobo belly portions and continue cooking them in fat until they became bagnet. I guess this would make it a crispy adobo.” 

Menage a trois adobo: Happy Ogpauco-Tiu’s Pamana restaurant concept is preserving the delicious heritage recipes she learned from loved ones, especially her signature three-way adobo. 

This showcases on one plate three generations of adobo: Adobong puti, from her Kapampangan great-grandmother; siniling adobo sa gata from her mom’s grandma from Samar; and her very own specialty: twice-cooked adobo flakes.

Sinaunang adobo: Cebuano Joel Binamira, better known as food vlogger Marketman and founder of Zubuchon, did an instructional video on how he imagined pork adobo was cooked during the time the Spaniards had first contact with the natives in 1521.

Antonio Pigafetta, Ferdinand Magellan’s chronicler, wrote they were served “an oily pork dish,” which Binamira surmised was an early, stripped-down version of adobo sa puti (without soy sauce). It has less sauce, is a bit drier and saltier, and has more oil compared to the adobo with soy sauce, he said.

In cooking the adobo, Binamira used a palayok (clay pot, our pre-Hispanic cooking vessel), smeared the interior wall with a cup of lard (pork fat), and lined it with a banana leaf to prevent the meat from sticking to the bottom.

He then placed 3 kilos of pork belly (cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes), 3 bulbs of peeled garlic, 1/3 cup of sea salt (not iodized, he specified), 2 tbsps of whole black peppercorns, 10-15 bay leaves, 1 1/2 cup of coconut sap vinegar, and 1 cup water (add more if needed).

The pot is left uncovered for the initial 15 minutes of cooking “to burn the vinegar, letting the fumes come out of the dish. And if you don’t, it’ll make it a little sour. Then put the lid on, simmer until the meat is tender and the fat rendered,” he instructed.  

In the Coconut Cookery of Bicol (Bookmark, Inc. 1994) by Honesto C. General, a lone adobo recipe is included, made with chicken and coconut milk (adobo sa gata). Mr. General recounts in his book that he was in his teens during the Japanese Occupation when he was thrown into the frying pan.

Left without any house help, the household chores were distributed among him and his six siblings. He got to learn the rudiments of cooking from his parents, both experts in Bicolano cookery.

Of all the regional Philippine cuisines, Bicolano cooking (encompassing four mainland provinces of Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay and Sorsogon, and two island provinces of Catanduanes and Masbate) is perhaps the only one that could be described as homogenously spicy and extensive in its use of coconut milk, be it in their sauces, viands and desserts. 

Arobung ema (mud crab adobo): In Atching Lillian’s Heirloom Recipes cookbook (Center for Kapampangan Studies, Holy Angel University, 2011), there are five adobo dishes. Notable is the arobung ema (arobu being colloquial Pampango for adobo), or mud crab adobo cooked with tausi (fermented black beans).

The crab is first cooked with aslam sasá (nipa palm vinegar), garlic, black peppercorn, and salt. In a separate pan, tausi is sautéed with red onion, and then the cooked crab is added for additional cooking.

Atching Lillian Lising Borromeo is the torchbearer of traditional Pampango cooking. She lives in Mexico, Pampanga, where she still bakes her famous sanikulas, as well as accepting breakfast or lunch group reservations. Tel: 0915-773-0788; email: [email protected]

Adobong Camaro: Maritel Nievera, founder of the Cabalen chain of restaurants, celebrated her 35th year in the food industry with a glossy cookbook featuring the best of Pampanga’s culinary treasures.

One of the most iconic dishes from the “Food Capital of the Philippines” is adobong camaro (aka kamaru). Fear factor aside, camaro or mole cricket is actually a pest feeding on the roots of the rice plant. It is high in nutrition, a good source of protein and vitamins (speaking of insects being the food of the future).

Cabalen’s version shows how this lowly creature climbed up the social “larder,” becoming today’s top exotic gourmet pick. Its wings and claws are removed and then it’s marinated in vinegar, salt and pepper. Garlic, onion and tomato are sautéed in oil until translucent. The marinated camaro are added, cooked further until dry and crispy. And voila, crispy, dry adobong camaro.

Disclosure: Due to the high seasonality and rarity of the camaro, it may not always be available in any of Cabalen’s branches.