What was Filipino adobo called before?

Adobo is a Filipino dish of pork, onion and garlic stewed up in soya sauce and vinegar. The word ‘adobo’ is Spanish, and that’s the problem. What was the dish called before, in Tagalog or any other native language? Filipinos I know just call it adobo.

This cookbook has the recipe, and the author says he has seen an early manuscript saying, in effect, that the natives have a dish similar to the Spanish adobo, so that’s what they called it. Has the original name been lost in the last four or five centuries, or can somebody satisfy my curiosity?

How do we know that the dish that is called “adobo” in the Philippines today was a native dish 400 years ago?

One of the earliest cites I can find for the word “adobo” refers to dishes in a Cuban cookbook(1857).

I’m certainly not saying that the origin of the dish wasn’t native to the Philippines, and that the Spanish adopted it and spread it to their other possessions, possibly three hundred years ago, or more.

But first you’d have to establish that the dish was in existance in the Philippines before it existed in other Spanish possessions.

The term “adobo” could, of course, go back three hundred years or more. I just don’t know.

The probably called it “meat with onions and garlic cooked in soy and vinegar” (only in Tagalog of course :wink: ).

But one thing that’s likely to me is that the dish that we NOW know as Filipino adobo may really be a syncretic dish derived from the union of whatever-that-reported-dish was, and the Spanish one, and thus arises out of the culture mix.

And in any case, if Filipinos call it “adobo”, then the Filipino word for it IS “adobo”.

FWIW, down here in PR “adobo” refers to a dry-rub (garlic, black pepper, salt, onion powder) or marinade (all that plus olive oil and vinegar) for meats, rather than to a dish. So word meanings can also drift over time.

Thanks for the replies. Sorry I didn’t get back sooner.

All I can recall about the manuscript Sokolov claims he saw is that it was from the 1500’s, not even if the author’s name was mentioned. It apparently described the local dish, and said only the name was Spanish. As I said in the OP, the dish was allegedly independent and only similar to the Spanish one. I don’t have a copy of the book and don’t know if he gives a cite for the doc.

Now this is bothering me. I’ll have to find a copy of the cookbook and start from there.

The word “adobo” comes from the Spanish word for “to pickle, prepare, dress, tan (hide)”. Adobo itself means “dressing, preparing, sauce for seasoning or pickling”

So, it applies to both the Filipino dish, and the Latin American dry rub preparation.

In the Philippines and other Indo-Malaysian areas, a common technique of preserving food was to use vinegar to preserve meats (fish, pork, etc) so it would keep (hot + humid + no refrigeration = quickly spoiled food and difficulty drying anything). As vinegar is one of the main ingredients in Filipino adobo, it makes sense that “adobo” would be applied to it (especially since it is also a savory sauce).

It might have been called “atsara” before the Spanish (although i’m not sure if that word is from Spanish), as this is what “pickle” is in Tagalog (although this is usually applied to vegetables).

As the dish exists today? Probably not before the Spaniards, as the common ingredients include bay leaves, which were brought by the Spanish. However, the technique of using vinegar to prepare dishes IS a native technique.

Thanks, Doobieous! I feel a little better now. I tried “atsara” in a few translators and Spanish dictionaries, and got no results. It seems that isn’t Spanish, and could have been applied to what we call adobo.

BTW, bay leaves in adobo are just wrong. The basic ingredients are in the OP, and you could add some chopped ginger, or even chili paste. (I know chilis aren’t native to Asia, but they’re so good I’ll live with that.)

Thanks again to all.

Oh NO you just did NOT say that!

Bay leaves in adobo wrong? Excuse me, I STRONGLY beg to differ! My family is Filipino and this is what we use to add to it. Filipino food is cooked how your family cooks it, there isn’t a single recipe (If you’re filipino you should know this).

How is bay leaves any more wrong than using chili paste, which i’ve NEVER EVER seen ANY filipinos using in adobo (my family or friends)? The only dish i’ve ever seen chili commonly used is Dinuguan (pork blood stew).

In fact, i googled recipes for adobo and ALL of them on the search results came up calling for bay leaves. Bay leaves aren’t a recent innovation in Filipino food. In Tagalog, the word for bay leaves is “laurel” the same word as in Spanish (and was brought to the Philippines by the Spaniards). Very few of the recipes called for chiles and that was an optional ingredient.

I’m wondering if atsara is related to the japanese word “achara” as in “achara zuke” (turnips in vinegar). “Ts” is often used for the “ch” sound in Tagalog. It wouldn’t be too odd since the Japanese traded with Filipinos until the Japanese closed their borders and ports. Atsara in the Philippines refers often to a papaya and vegetable pickle. Of course it could be pure coincidence.

Bay leaves: yes
Chili paste: no

I was born and raised in the Philippines and only came to the States about eight years ago. I have eaten and cooked a lot of adobo in my time. Family, friends, restaurants, street vendors, everyone uses bay leaves. I have never encountered chili paste in adobo.

Adobo is an all-meat dish, which is a rarity in Filipino cuisine. Traditionally, Filipino dishes tend to feature fish or vegetables. Dishes that have meat as the main ingredient tend to have been introduced from elsewhere: lechon, afritada, menudo, kare-kare. Notice the names? Filipinos will happily adapt a disk, keep the name and adapt it to suit their tastes. Other dishes that have been adapted include pancit, mami, bihon, sotanghon, siopao, bistik, lugao, arroz caldo.

I’ve traveled (granted, not too extensively) throughout Southeast Asia and have not encountered any other food like Philippine adobo. Given that, the prominence of meat in the dish, the similarity of the ingredients to the Latin American marinade, and the name itself, I’d say that adobo was introduced or developed during the Spanish colonial period.

As an addendum: Filipinos tend to use fresh chili (sili) in their dishes rather than chili paste. The tropical climate allows the plant to florish, so most everyone (even in the city) has a plant growing in their backyard. Need some sili to spice up a meal? Pick some from out back.

OK, my apologies, I’ll take the bay leaves, and maybe even put some in the next time I make it. I usually use fresh chilis myself, since they’re around in any good produce store.

I talked to my Filipino friend today, and she agrees that “atsara” is a good possibility for the original name if it really is a local dish, since the recipe is pretty close to the meat version.

If it was introduced early by the Spaniards, that document mentioned above could well be mistaken. As I said, I don’t have a date for it, and haven’t found the cookbook to look at the cite.

True, the bits of chile in dinuguan i’ve seen is chopped jalapeños (used since it’s easily available in the US). Chili paste is probably never used except if someone is “innovating” on a native dish, but never in adobo. Adobo is not a hot dish. I’ve never had it hot or even spicy, and i’m betting if I asked friends and family they’d say “perish the thought”.

Meat was considered a luxury. Pre-Spanish Filipinos did keep pigs and chickens, but pigs were much more valuable for a feast, or as bride price (the husband to be paid the bride’s family to marry the bride), and to show your wealth than to use as the daily meat. Since most ancient Filipinos lived by the shore, or rivers, fish was the main protein (yes, there are mountain folk, but they would usually hunt for meats, rather than fish as the lowlanders do).

And yes, most of the native dishes (probably: Pinakbet, sinangag, binakoe, sinigang, etc) all have some vegetables with the meat.

Here’s a few dishes from my grandfather’s province (Aklan) that show pre-spanish techniques or at least things i’m betting the Spaniards wouldn’t eat :)):

  • inubaran (chicken cooked with banana pith),
  • inigpit (broiled tuna pressed between bamboo sticks),
  • binakoe (chicken cooked inside a bamboo),
  • inasae (barbecued chicken or fish),
  • buroe (jellyfish salad),
  • tinumkan (freshwater shrimp or crab cooked with young coconut and wrapped in gabi (taro) leaves)
  • eaba-eaba (seaweed salad)

Notice the lack of Spanish names.

Damn, I’m getting hungry!