BUENOS AIRES 17 September 2021 – There are a variety of ways to make adobo. Widely considered the quintessential Filipino dish, it is said that each province has its own version of making it. One of the more popular takes on adobo prescribes the use of laurel leaf, an herb that is native to the Mediterranean, but not the Philippines. The very word adobo comes from Spanish. Why, then, is it so representative of the Philippines?
This was one of the questions tackled by food historian Felice Prudente Sta. Maria in her talk entitled “Tiene un nombre espanol pero tiene un sabor filipino”, held on 09 September 2021. Organized by the Sentro Rizal of the Philippine Embassy in Buenos Aires, in cooperation with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Department of Tourism (DOT)- Los Angeles (USA), the conference sought to trace the curious evolution of Filipino cuisine and its links with Spain and Latin America, drawing on the participation of food historians and gourmands from the Philippines and Argentina.
Ms. Sta. Maria describes the encounter between Filipino cuisine with materials and techniques from Spain and Latin America as an irreversible event. Through the Manila–Acapulco galleon trade known as the La Nao de China in Latin America, Spain introduced various fruits and vegetables that would form an indispensable part of our diet. The popular nursery rhyme, Bahay Kubo, taught universally to pre-school Filipino children, is also a catalogue of fruits and vegetables originally from Mexico.
Spain also introduced the concept of the guisado, another essential hallmark of Filipino cooking, which has greatly enriched Filipino cuisine’s flavor base. Meanwhile, the introduction of wheat led to more exposure to European baking traditions, and the rise of bakeries and Filipino pastries.
This encounter was not a one-sided event. The galleon trade also brought Filipino settlers and traditions to Latin America, principally Mexico, where they introduced the fermentation of coconut wine tuba, which is known as tuba fresca in Mexico and is still popularly consumed there.
Among the more talked-about ideas proposed in recent years holds that Peruano ceviche traces its genealogy to kinilaw, which, more than a mere name of a dish, is technique thought to be at least a thousand years old. Chicken also came to Latin America by way of the Spanish maritime trade route.
In the case of adobo, the technique of cooking meat or fish in vinegar is certainly indigenous to the Philippines. However, the base recipe has evolved over time to embrace various ingredients and permutations, making it truly authentic and innovative at the same time. It owes its present name to Spanish attempts to describe its salty, tangy flavor profile.
Any discussion on Filipino food would be remiss without tackling its social function. According to Ms. Sta. Maria, the Filipino context of eating is always communal, serving to reinforce interpersonal bonds.
To complement the lecture by Ms. Sta. Maria, Buenos Aires-based chef Christina Sunae, owner of two popular restaurants in Argentina serving Filipino food Apu Nena and Cantina Sunae, shared her experiences in writing her book, Kusinera Filipina. The book, realized in tandem with the Philippine Embassy in Argentina, is the first Filipino cookbook written entirely in Spanish. Chef Sunae described the many parallels between Filipino and Latin American cuisine, remarking on the similarities in taste, as well as their respective social contexts. In the Philippines, as in Latin America, food is enjoyed within social groups, and not simply eaten.
Philippine Ambassador to Argentina Linglingay F. Lacanlale remarked on the diverse and often surprising links between Filipino and Latin American cuisines. She expressed hope that the webinar might serve as a bridge for deeper understanding and appreciation of our culinary traditions and their truly global heritage.
Text by Department of Foreign Affairs; Photos by Buenos Aires PE Photo