What is your family adobo?

Let us standardize the adobo, said the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). What an impossible task, chimed my Rizal lady cousins last Monday, 29 August, as we celebrated National Heroes’ Day at the chalet of Gen. Paciano Rizal. We reminisced about a couple of adobo recipes inherited from respective grandmothers that certainly defy standardization.

According to a news item, the DTI aims at “standardizing basic cooking techniques of adobo, sisig, sinigang, lechon and other popular native dishes for international presentation.” Apparently, the Thais did that with some of their food. With regard to the adobo, often called our national dish, the DTI believes standardization will “help ordinary citizens, foodies, food businesses determine and maintain the authentic Filipino adobo taste.” A committee of prestigious gastronomes, culinary artists and gourmet chefs was formed. “Kulinarya, a guidebook to Philippine cuisine” is one of DTI’s resource materials.

My cousins and I wondered why Jose Rizal never mentioned adobo in any of his letters, journals and novels. Felice Santa Maria, foremost culinary historian, has not found a primary source where Jose Rizal alluded to having adobo; neither has Claude Tayag nor Ige Ramos, both renowned chefs and researchers, unearthed information during long years of culinary excavations. At Capitan Tiago’s dinner (chapter 1 of the Noli Me Tangere), Fray Damaso was furious that by the time he was served the tinola nothing was left but the chicken neck. There was no adobe at that feast.

Cousins Tess Herbosa and Peachy Herbosa Romualdez said their Lola Concha Herbosa y Rizal will surely somersault in her grave should they surrender her adobo recipe to DTI. I had never heard of it, my mouth was watering as Peachy recited the main ingredients– the usual garlic, salt, peppercorns, local vinegar, laurel leaves and beef belly, beef liver and radish (labanos) cut in chunks. No toyo (soy sauce). After marinating overnight, the beef belly and liver are simmered in the marinade after which these are braised in lard for color. The rest of us begged the Herbosa sisters to prepare Lola Concha’s adobo for our next patriotic celebration.

Daniel Cruz of Biñan was famous for his adobo, in fact, that was his nickname. No town fiesta was complete without it. Tall, good-looking with light brown eyes (bulagaw ang mata), this lady’s man eloped with Maria Rizal who was older than him. Her younger brother Jose was hurt that she did not even write him a hint; they were barely a year apart and were quite close. It was Paciano who casually mentioned Maria’s marriage in one of his letters.

When my parents, Carmen Francisco Guerrero and Ismael Arguelles Cruz, got married, Daniel Cruz wanted to prepare the famous adobo for his grandson’s wedding reception held at the Guerrero home in Ermita. Daniel had a restaurant in Binondo set up by his son, Mauricio, which went bankrupt because he never charged his flock of friends.

The Cruz adobo recipe has come down to us through Lola Pina, Daniel’s love child; she was tall for her generation, a handsome woman with an enviable complexion and the same bulagaw eyes. Lola Pina lived with one of my aunts and she would prepare Sunday lunch for a houseful of guests. Needless to say, her father’s adobo was the “piece de résistance”. It had three kinds of meat– chicken (and its innards) , pork and beef (the fatty parts, probaby liempo, brisket and belly), garlic, salt, peppercorns, laurel, white vinegar. Like in Lola Concha’s recipe, the meats were marinated, later simmered and braised. At one point, chicken liver was mashed and mixed with the sauce. No toyo. I tried my very best to prepare Lolo Daniel’s adobo for my children when we were living in Mexico. They enjoyed my Cruz adobo, more so the stories behind it.

From Sampaloc, across the Pasig River, came another adobo, better known as adobado, from Filomena Franciso Guerrero, my maternal grandma. She was the daughter of Gabriel Beato Francisco, Filipino novelist, cajista, writer of anti-American zarzuelas, the first lady pharmacist and an admirer of Jose Rizal. She must have been elated when her daughter Carmen married Ismael Cruz, grandson of the hero. Oyay, as I used to call her, cooked a delicious red adobado which was best eaten with kare-kare and kilawan (lining of innards, am not sure if belly or intestine). The adobo could have been pork or beef and cooked with achuete, that was why it was red. When I told Claude Tayag about it, he said that the kare-kare “trilogy” was originally from Cavite, could the Franciscos of Sampaloc have come from Cavite? There seems to be no end to this adobo trail as it penetrates geographical jungles and genealogical forests.