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Adobo for the Soul

A family recipe for Filipino stew



My Filipino grandfather immigrated to the United States and started a family in 1927. He died in 1933 — essentially of poverty — in a Filipino section of a Chicago slum, leaving my grandmother to fend for herself and her two children in the middle of the Great Depression. But the Filipino community took care of its own. My grandmother and her little family were shuttled from one home to the next. This was not a time or a people with much to give, but they gave what they could. The few tattered pictures of my father from that time show a 5-year-old boy whose thin frame is barely keeping starvation at bay.

The soup kitchens helped save my father, and he remembered standing in those long lines for a bowl of soup and a piece of bread. But that was not a story he liked to linger on. Instead, his eyes would shine as he told me of the Filipino Community Hall, where the women would gather to cook and share great pots of adobo, a flavorful meat stew with vinegar and garlic. Our family recipe for adobo originated in that community hall, and has descended from those generous ladies.

I never had a chance to meet my Filipino grandfather, but I think of him every time I drop the pieces of chicken and pork into the bubbling oil. I find myself wondering what stories he could have told me about the island of Manila from which he came. I never met any of the ladies of the Filipino Community Hall, but I think of them whenever the sharp tang of vinegar rises from the pot. I think of those women gathering together and filling their kitchens with this same aroma of adobo. They fed my father in his time of need. And really, this tells me everything I need to know.


Like so many stews, adobo is always better the next day. So make enough for leftovers, or prepare it a day ahead. Cook a pot of rice to go with it.

Ingredients and Method:

2 pounds boneless pork roast cut into 1-inch pieces

6 to 8 pieces of chicken (legs and thighs)

¾ cup vinegar

8 cloves garlic

½ cup soy sauce

¼ cup water

A pinch of salt and pepper

3 tablespoons vegetable oil.

Put all the ingredients but the oil into a heavy-bottomed pot. Simmer the pot for 45 minutes. Set the timer and don't forget, or the meat will fall off the chicken bones. Remove the meat and drain the liquid back into the pot. Brown the meat in the oil and return it to the sauce, adding more salt and pepper as needed. Serve over rice to feed six to eight people.


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