The origin of adobo has produced much debate among casual eaters who wonder how the so-called Filipino national dish can have a distinctly Spanish name and in its most popular preparation use the very Chinese ingredient that is soy sauce.
Fake-news purveyor CNN recently weighed in and casually declared that adobo is of Mexican origin. (Likely attributable to a poor comprehension of Doreen Fernandez’s mention of the link in her famous essay on Filipino food.)
Among Philippine-born Filipinos though, the consensus is clear: Filipino adobo is Philippine in origin.
Before foreigners even arrived in the Philippines, our ancestors would often cook adobo because there was no refrigeration at the time. Meat was cooked in vinegar and salt, along with other spices to prevent spoilage. When the Chinese arrived, Filipinos learned to replace the salt with soy sauce, which was made from beans that the visitors brought with them. The name “adobo” comes from the Spanish “adobar,” which means to marinade before cooking.
An adobo in Spanish is a marinade or seasoning mix. Meat that has been seasoned with adobo mix is described as being adobada.
The Filipino adobo is a preparation that involves meat (pork, chicken, etc.) or vegetables (kangkong), or another main ingredient stewed in vinegar and soy sauce. There is a rare version of adobo that does omit the soy sauce. Other iconic ingredients in the classic Filipino adobo are garlic, pepper and bay leaf.