Friday, January 11, 2008

Adobo aspirations

My dinner tonight took three hours to prepare and finish. No, it's not paella. It will take me a day to prepare that Spanish fare, if ever I attempt to, which is unlikely. I got a kick of Pinoy nationalism from reading Persepolis (the comic book, however, is not from a Filipino, but from an Iranian), and tried my hand at cooking adobo- my country's unofficial national food.

Tired of eating pasta and non-rice confection, I headed to the main train station, not to take a train to the airport and fly back to the Philippines, but to buy the basic ingredients of adobo. The Asian store is located within the building complex of the train station. To spare arriving Asians from the trouble of looking for their rice, curry, and other secret spices, perhaps some enterprising Asian (or maybe German) must have lobbied for this strategic spot. This person must have justified to the local authorities that most Asians cannot live on bread alone.

I skimmed through the shelves of the Asian shop, and my vision narrowed to an unmistakable logo of the UFC banana ketchup on a top shelf. Within its midst are bottles of Mang Tomas (an all-around sauce). The soy sauce and vinegar shouldn't be that far. I searched further down the isle and found my hunt. A Silver Swan soy sauce and Marca Pina sugar cane vinegar. I've picked up a two-kilo bag of Jasmine rice earlier, first thing I saw once I entered the market. I headed to a "normal" grocery store afterwards to buy some meat cutlets, and settled for chicken gulasch.

Some might say I could try using a soy sauce found in the grocery store around the corner. I have bought a small bottle of the Chinese soy sauce and tried it with one dish, but it doesn't quite make the cut. It is dark and salty, alright. But there's a hint of sweetness and something else I couldn't put my finger, or taste buds, on that makes a lot of difference. Using it in adobo is sacrilegious. The sugarcane vinegar is non-existent at all.

There's not much fanfare in preparing adobo. It's basically a stew, where pork or chicken, or a combination of both is left to simmer in the mixture of soy sauce and vinegar. Throw in a palmful of pepper (crushed or otherwise, but not the powder) and several cloves of crushed garlic. Leave it alone and let the flavors seep in through the meat, and voila, the Philippines in a pot! Be careful though not to mix the stew right away after pouring the vinegar. If one does so, the vinegar will get 'cooked.' Of course it will get cooked, but that's how we put. It will taste different, bad even. There's a hundred and one ways of cooking this supposedly simple dish, but that's basically it. I got two compliments from a couple of my German dorm-mates who got a whiff of what I was cooking. I'm glad they didn't bother tasting it. I am pretty sure they will find it saltier than salt, knowing the usual European tongues' affinity to savory over tangy.

The meat didn't get that tender though. It's my second time to buy those packed chicken fillet cutlets called gulasch. And on both occasions they were still tougher than rubber even after more than 30 minutes of simmering. I am now considering gulasch actually means 'tough meat.' The rice wasn't as sticky as I wanted to be, but its 'Jasmine rice' smell almost gave me a high.

I was thinking of pushing the authenticity a little farther by eating with spoon and fork, but the knife was much-needed just the same against the tough chicken fiber. I wiped the saucy insides of the pot clean with some more rice. The mix of chicken flakes, garlic morsels, sauce, and rice was another full meal in itself (some Pinoy restaurants serve 'adobo rice'). I kept the leftovers in sealed plastic containers for tomorrow's lunch. I can hardly wait. But then again, why wait for lunch?

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