One adobo for all?

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Adobo, all of them (Clockwise from top left, photo credits: Maggi, Ang Sarap blog, Food Tribe, Kawaling Pinoy, Lutong Bahay)

by Susan Mae Loseo

Filipinos take pride in their adobo, all its different iterations. So when the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) proposed to standardize the recipe of this Filipino-favorite, among other well-known dishes, there was an uproar — pot-banging discussion online among food historians, food writers, chefs, bloggers, etc.  

What happened?

              The Bureau of Philippine Standards of the DTI established BPS/TC 92, the technical committee on Filipino Dishes tasked to develop a Philippine National Standard (PNS) on popular native dishes including adobo, lechon, sinigang, and sisig.

              On July 9, the DTI released a statement saying that the committee has started developing a PNS for adobo since May 11, referencing the 2008 book “Kulinarya: A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine” as a guide on how to cook and prepare the dish.

              BPS/TC 92 is headed by Chef Glenda Barretto, founder of Via Mare Corporation, along with vice-chairmen Chef Myrna Segismundo from the Food Writers Association of the Philippines (FWAP) and Chef Raoul Roberto Goco from the Hotel and Restaurant Association of the Philippines (HRAP).

              The technical committee members included representatives from the University of the Philippines Diliman-College of Home Economics (UPD-CHE), Philippine Chamber of Food Manufacturers, Inc. (PCFMI), Philippine Association of Meat Processors, Inc. (PAMPI), Department of Science and Technology-Industrial Technology Development Institute (DOST-ITDI), Philippine Association of Food Technologists, Inc. (PAFT), Le Toque Blanche (LTB) Chefs Association, Asia Society Philippines, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and Philippine Daily Inquirer, Inc.

              Two days after DTI’s announcement, netizens heaped criticism on the agency and questioned the government’s priorities.

DTI responds

              On July 11, in a clarification, DTI said the move aims is to distinguish the basic traditional recipe for Philippine adobo, and to guard it from other countries that may lay claim to the dish. Moreover, it is mainly for international promotions and would not be imposed on local households.

              According to BPS Director Neil P. Catajay, the adobo recipe standardization “will help ordinary citizens, foodies, and food businesses determine and maintain the authentic Filipino adobo taste,” emphasizing a “more distinguished Filipino food culture” resulting from the standards development process.

              BPS Vice-Chairperson Chef Myrna Segismundo, also recognizing the existing methods and techniques in cooking adobo, said, “There will be different approaches and opinions [on cooking Philippine adobo]. As long as I have, say one to three steps, it’s this recipe. Anything else you add to it is a variation to the cooking technique.”

Adobo-lovers react

              For Chef Kenosis Leo Gadapan, of Cebu’s Instagram-famous cheesecake Cheezken, adobo standardization is unnecessary. “Cooking is a form of art, prepared according to the chef’s interpretation and taste preferences. Standardizing food or a recipe is restricting one’s freedom to create, innovate. There are already 100+ Philippine adobo variations out there, so to standardize is pointless.”

              According to Duchess Veloso, writer and teacher at Cebu City Central School, the issue “was blown out of proportion because of the vague statement posted on DTI’s Facebook page.” She said it was not clear that the intent is to promote the Philippines’ rich culture.

               “Also, there are more pressing matters the government needs to address instead of paying exorbitant fees on food experts/consultants. Bad timing,” she said.

              For Geneviev Mae Nerves, an incoming Communications senior at the University of the Philippines Cebu, “Every household, every region has its own adobo recipe. It proves that Filipinos are family-oriented. It shows diverse cultures in our country.”

              Raf Mikhael Peligro, a Public Relations senior at Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) in Halifax, Canada, is “ambivalent” towards the idea, that is, acknowledging different preparations of adobo and yet setting a standard that invalidates other methods.

              “As someone who grew up in Visayas and Mindanao, I noticed that the discussion about Filipino food is often very Luzon-centric, or more specifically, Tagalog-centric. I fear that regional cuisines from down South and their unique preparations of adobo will even be more sidelined,” he said.

              Will the different adobo versions be represented once a “national standard” is set?

              “It could discredit Filipinos abroad who are promoting their own versions of the Philippine adobo,” Chef Gadapan pointed out. “DTI should weigh the pros and cons of   standardization – who will be affected, how they will be affected and such.”

              Being a Filipino student abroad, Peligro admits to being “annoyed” when explaining adobo to foreigners as the discussion inevitably spirals into “a convoluted conversation” about the diverse types of adobo and their similarities.

              “Sure, we can follow in the footsteps of Italy and Thailand which standardized their food recipes for world export,” he said. “But first let’s have a better understanding of Filipino cuisine in general before trying to standardize a dish with one of the most variations of preparation.”

              Do we really need to set a national standard for cooking adobo, lechon, sinigang, sisig?

               “For me, the authenticity of the food mainly comes from the cook. It’s much easier to promote a dish on an international scale if the cook is representing the Philippines,” said Chef Gadapan.

              “DTI can promote the dish as it is, no need to standardize it. It just looks like they are trying to correct what isn’t wrong in the first place,” said Nerves.        

For his part, Peligro proposes to “present adobo’s variations together” by doing a series on everything adobo-related. “That way we don’t set a definitive version and keep people around the globe more aware of our regional differences.”

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