Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Adobo: Unity in diversity

What is the National Dish of the Philippines? If your answer is Adobo, you are right in all probability. Although there is no such official declaration, it is the one dish that unites Filipinos, cooked by us for centuries, even before the Spaniards came. It is served on the table of every Pinoy household whether here or abroad. There is, however, diversity in how Adobo is cooked and in the main ingredients used. One can make Chicken Adobo, Pork Adobo or a mixture of the two. There's Adobong Pusit (squid), Adobong Kangkong (water spinach), Adobong Kamaru (crickets) and even Adobong Palaka (frogs) and Adobong Sawa (snake) . Some provinces around the Philippines have their own version of Adobo. In Laguna and Batangas, for instance, there is Adobong Dilaw, where the spice turmeric is added to give the dish a vibrant yellow hue. In Bicol Region, Quezon Province and in the Muslim-inhabited southern region of the country, Adobo sa Gata is a favorite - chicken or beef cooked adobo-style and mixed with coconut milk. In all these variations, however, the basic marinade is present made of vinegar, soy sauce and garlic. However, there is a somewhat rare version of the dish, known as Adobong Puti, wherein soy sauce is absent. 
The Adobo is indeed an interesting dish, one that is loved by most Filipinos and even foreigners who get to taste it. This is probably the reason (plus the pocket-friendly prices!) for the success of a fairly new fast food chain that built its name around this dish - the Adobo Connection. Truth is told in its slogan - "Adobo connects us all."
According to its website, Adobo Connection was established by two Harvard Business School graduates in 2010, when its first store opened in Makati. Today or two years later, there are more or less 30 branches not only in Metro Manila but also in the nearby province of Laguna and farther north in Baguio City. When the SM City Sta. Mesa branch opened last year, its cute logo and sleek interiors immediately caught my eye. However, I wasn't drawn to dine at once as I thought: "We always have adobo at home. Why must I have it at the mall?"  
But then, my mind's resistance gave way to my tummy's reasoning last week (that there are other things on the menu. hehe.). It was a Sunday. I was at the mall with my husband, buying some things needed at home and groceries to fill the pantry. Naturally, we went hungry after more than an hour of going around, up and down the mall. As we checked out the grocery counter, I made a spur-of-the-moment suggestion to the hubby: "Let's eat at Adobo Connection"  which was not met by any violent reaction. Haha! 
So there, my husband ordered Pork/Mix Adobo sa Gata and Fried Adobo Paos (three pieces per order), while I went for Arroz Caldo (my comfort food! glad they have it here) and shared the hubby's Adobo Paos. I was delighted to see brewed coffee on the menu and instinctively got myself a cup. (Well, where there's coffee, I'm there!) . My cup of joe was not exactly fantastic but good enough to satisfy. I would have loved it more if it was stronger and with a deeper flavor. I loved the Arroz Caldo, though, and wished it was served in a bigger bowl. Haha! I loved that it had chicharon bits, aside from the usual toasted garlic and spring onion on top. Meanwhile, eating the Fried Adobo Paos was like having fried asado siopao. The shredded pork adobo filling filled the toasted bun to the walls and I liked its rightly-seasoned adobo taste. I asked my husband how his Adobo sa Gata was and his answer was that the meat didn't come very tender. As if to justify his comment, he asked the waiter for a knife, which was readily handed to him. I took a bite of his chicken and I thought, with a bit of disappointment: "This isn't the adobo sa gata that I'm used to having in my beloved hometown in Quezon". It's not bad, really, it's just that I so love our version of this dish and anything that diverts from it would have to be really good (hint: we don't put soy sauce). 
Nostalgia then set in. I remember when I was young, my aunt who we call Ate Remedios would often cook adobong native chicken (authentically free range!) for us and I would affirm it was the yummiest chicken dish in my life. Sigh..that was many full moons ago. Now, Ate Remedios is weakened by stroke and alas, can't cook anymore. When we came to visit her last year, she tearfully told us she would cook adobo sa gata for us if she weren't in that situation. :(
Anyway, here are the pictures of what hubby and I ordered at Adobo Connection that Sunday. If they're not very pleasing, it's because I just used my camera phone.

Pork/Mix Adobo sa Gata, P135. (with drink)

Fried Adobo Paos, P49.
Arroz Caldo, P49.
Brewed Coffee, P29.

Oh well, Adobo Connection indeed connected with me, so much so that I was there again after six days with two of my kids.  This time, I purposely brought my DSLR camera so I could take better pictures. 
My daughter cared for some spaghetti so she ordered Adobo Spaghetti for herself while I settled for Chicken Sopas and Fried Adobo Paos (again!). Of course, I had to have my elixir - the quintessential cup of brewed coffee. My little boy initially didn't like anything at Adobo Connection so I asked her Ate to buy him a Happy Meal at McDonald's. Thus, hamburger was what the little rascal had. But within a minute of finishing his sandwich, he declared having more space that had to be filled in his tummy and asked for an adobo meal. So I ordered Lola's Classic Chicken Adobo plus Pandan Jelly for dessert. After his first bite of the chicken, my son said, "Mommy, kain uli tayo dito (Let's eat here again)!". Haha! The little boy was smitten by adobo. But well, I'm not protesting. There are other things I'd love to try at Adobo Connection. Fish and Tofu Adobo and Sizzling Sisig on my mind. Haha!
By the way, service is friendly here, too.  I love that they always readily give what you want with a smile. In my case, it's brown sugar for my coffee.

Adobo Spaghetti, P49.
Have a closer look at adobo flakes.

Fried Adobo Paos.

Chicken Sopas, P19.

Lola's Classic Chicken Adobo, P119.
Brewed Coffee

Pandan Jelly, P39.

A lovely and indigenous way to serve the utensils.

I love this nook, makes me feel at home.

I love the solid wood chairs and tables, too.
The counter. Cute logo, isn't it?

Monday, November 12, 2012

A sister to remember

My Ate Mencie loved snacking on Clover Chips and Coke.

We Filipinos recently observed All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (November 1 and 2, respectively) and most, as tradition dictates, went to the various cemeteries to visit the tomb of our dearly departed. My eldest sister, her son, one of my kids and I were among those who trooped to the cemetery, bringing flowers to offer at the final resting place of our beloved sister, Mencie (Menchie to her friends). Visiting her tomb and afterwards, the house that she and her husband built in the late '90s in Antipolo, sent me temporarily sinking into the blues as I remember how good a sister Ate Mencie was to me. 
 She was 11 years older than me, the bunso (youngest) of five children, all girls. Growing up, I wasn't close to Ate Mencie or aware of how kind and generous she was because it was our eldest and second siblings who took care of me. Our parents have lived in the province for all my life, coming to Manila to visit us kids only every now and then. I practically was raised by my sisters with the help of two grandmothers who were my mom's aunts.
When my eldest sister decided to join our parents in the province for good because she was having respiratory problems in the big city, and the next sibling left to work and live in the US, it was the turn of Ate Mencie and the sister next to her to take care of me. I was then a teenager attending high school and a rebellious one at that. Ate Mencie and I would sometimes argue because when she berated me over something, I would talk back. I was quite the "bad girl". But my nasty nature didn't deter Ate Mencie from taking good care of me. When I got into college at UST, there was one school day that was particularly rainy. As you may already know, UST is notorious for getting flooded on rainy days. On that day, because I didn't want to be absent and classes were not suspended, Ate Mencie accompanied me to school, as she worried about me wading in the flood. At least, I did not have to wade alone, I had a sister braving the flood with me.
Two years later, I transferred to another school, the College of the Holy Spirit (where I finished Fine Arts) and by this time, I was into rock music. I adored the Pinoy rock band The Dawn and was always present at their mall shows and concerts. When the band's famous guitarist Teddy Diaz died and a concert was held to pay tribute to him, Ate Mencie accompanied me to watch it even though she disliked rock music (she was into the classics), because my friend who was my constant companion to The Dawn shows could not make it that night. During the show, I danced, jumped and sang into each song and naturally, broke into a sweat (the Metropolitan Theater was the venue). Next thing I knew, my Ate Mencie was slipping a hankie on my back under the shirt so that I would not catch a cold from all the perspiration soaking and drying into my skin.
Meanwhile, my birthdays were always special. In those mornings, I would wake up, but not make it obvious, as my Ate Mencie sneaked into my room before she went to work, to leave a present for me. On my first birthday after her passing, I "waited" for her to "do" this. I wished I'd see her tiptoe into my room to again leave a present for me.
When I got married quite early the same year I graduated from college, my hubby and I experienced financial difficulties as we both had not yet had decent and stable jobs. Thankfully, my Ate Mencie and our sibling after her were there to help our young family, especially when kids came one after the other.
Sadly, in year 2000, Ate Mencie was diagnosed with breast cancer and she passed away in 2002. Now, 10 years later, tears would still sometimes well up my eyes whenever I think of my sister. I still miss her. We all do, my mom even more, I'm sure. We are only consoled by the existence of the two rambunctious but intelligent boys (they're as smart as their mom, who ranked No. 10 in the CPA Board exam in the late '70s ) who she left so suddenly when they were still very young. I guess one would not forget a sister as good and giving as my dear Ate Mencie. Not all sisters are as caring, loving and generous and I was fortunate to have her, albeit for a short time.