Can Filipino Food Like Adobo Be 'Standardized'?

Each family has its own secret recipe.
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How do you "standardize" something like adobo?

It's the unofficial national dish of the Philippines, and the best version is the one cooked at home. Whose home? Now that is the question. 

When the Department of Trade and Industry said adobo will soon have a standard cooking technique for export purposes, netizens got as sour as their own take on the dish. Filipinos pride themselves on heirloom recipes (some are top secret) handed down from one generation to another. Ask any family. Surely, your own adobo is what you consider the gold standard. 

Adobo is like a warm embrace from your mother or grandmother welcoming you home and saying "kain tayo". It's comfort food, not fiesta fare, something you miss when you're away.

Adobo is basically meat or vegetable stewed in garlic, pepper, vinegar, and soy sauce. What makes it distinct to each household are the proportions of the main ingredients and the addition of others like coconut milk, chilies, sugar, and ginger.

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While the DTI has clarified that the "standardization" of adobo refers to the cooking technique meant for the international market, it begs the question of whether there really is a strict way of cooking Filipino dishes.

To answer simply, no. As the DTI puts it "there is a lot of creativity going on and it must be encouraged."

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Filipino food is regional

Filipino recipes that vary from region to region are cooked depending on the available ingredients in the area.

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Think of tinola. To some, tinola is best cooked with green papaya while for others, sayote is the go-to simply because it's more difficult to find green papaya or vice versa. Others serve it with malunggay while the more famous recipe uses dahon ng sili.

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Even names of Filipino dishes reflect either their origins or the area where most of the ingredients are endemic.

An example is Bicol Express. The two defining ingredients of the dish--chilies and gata (coconut milk) -- are endemic to the Bicol region.

The same goes for Sisig Kapampangan. The ultimate Filipino pulutan traces its roots in Pampanga hence the name. The dish, made of parts of a pig's head, is often attributed to Aling Lucing--the Sisig Queen--from Angeles City, Pampanga.

Joel Guinto
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But while the so-called original is Sisig Kapampangan, there have been many varieties of the dish across the country. In Metro Manila, for instance, sisig is often served crunchy, sizzling, and topped with an egg--something that will never be done in Pampanga kitchens.

Take sinigang and lechon

Sinigang too is a dish that has been modernized in many ways like restaurant Manam's watermelon-style sinigang.  The dish--while different from the traditional sampaloc-based recipe--retains the signature tartness or sourness of sinigang.

The souring agent in sinigang is dictated by the produce available in the region. For the Negrenses, it's batwan, an uncommon fruit to those who live in Luzon. In the Central Luzon flood plains, santol and bayabas are as common as sampalok and tomatoes.

Lechon is simply spit-roasted pig but the taste varies per region. In the Visayas, there's a distinct flavor from the lemongrass and spices stuffed into the animal's carcass. And it's dipped in spiced vinegar, unlike the lechons in Luzon that are eaten with a sarsa of liver and bread crumbs.

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Once on a rare tour of the Zamboanga peninsula, the lechon flavor differed slightly in each of the three provinces. One variation had crackling skin like chicharon (from it being pierced before roasting, a familiar technique to the air fryer generation). It was also served with banana catsup.

So the next time you doubt whether your cooking is "standard," remember that even the government believes that the best Filipino dishes are the ones cooked at home. And if we could add, the ones cooked with love.

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