Adobo Throwdown!

24 May

Last weekend, I participated in an Adobo Throwdown. For the uninitiated, Adobo is a Spanish word that refers to multiple different kinds of spices, dishes or rubs, but in this instance it refers specifically to a Filipino dish made with chicken or pork and stewed in vinegar, garlic, sugar, soy and pepper. It’s funny because adobo can refer to either the Spanish dish or the Filipino dish. It all dates back to the Spanish invasion and occupation of the Philippines back in 1500-whatever.

So-my fiance is Filipino. Sort of.

Anders the Red!

No one ever believes us because of how he looks – plus he’s 6’5. It’s strange, because his Grandmother is full Filipino which makes Anders 25% – and my Grandfather is full Greek which makes me 25% Greek – but I consider myself much more Greek than Anders considers himself Filipino. I don’t know if this is because my father’s family kept the Greek Orthodox religion and thus all of the traditions and language and food, whereas (from what I can tell) Anders’ family’s Filipino ties are his Grandmother and her adobo. I’m really not sure what the difference is, I just think it’s interesting.

A few years ago, I asked Anders’ Grandmother for her adobo recipe. I honestly didn’t think she would give it to me, but she did! I’ve been making it for Anders and various friends for the past 4-5 years. A few weeks ago I heard about this Adobo Throwdown via Twitter. One of my favorite San Francisco food carts, AdoboHobo, entered, so I decided to. I mean, hey. I had the recipe, and it was pretty good! Plus I thought it might be a nice way to honor Anders and his family. I had to name my adobo recipe, so I named it for his family.

My application was accepted, the day came, and I made 20 pounds of chicken adobo in 5 pound batches. I borrowed a gigantic pot from my father to hold all of that chicken, and Anders and I made our way to the competition site in a taxi.

We get there (this is going to sound super-racist) and we appear to be the only white people competing. (Side note: this wasn’t true. There was one other white competitor, she just wasn’t in my kitchen area). I IMMEDIATELY feel out of place, and we both start freaking out. I have to keep my freak out under control though, because I’m carrying a vat of chicken and I came there to COMPETE dammit, and that’s what I was going to do. Anders starts to mention that maybe we should just leave the chicken and run. There is a part of me that feels this is a good idea, but the other more rational part knows that I made 20 pounds of chicken and I said I was going to show up and there is a sign bearing my name and the name of my adobo, and I am not going anywhere. So we just start doling out the adobo and try to ignore the fact that we feel really out of place and unprepared.* All I brought with me was adobo, but lots of contestants had fancy garnishes, dishes, accompaniments, and decorations for their booth. I had NOTHING! I felt like such a slacker.

My face says, oh shit. (That's my adobo vat in the back to the left).

After sticking it out, a magical thing starts to happen. People begin to tell me that they LOVE my adobo! They ask me where I learned, and I tell them about Anders and his Grandmommy. They ask if Anders is still in the picture, and I tell them that Anders is the big bearded guy helping me serve adobo. They all stare in confusion, and it’s pretty funny.

I have to prepare a sample dish for the judges, and though the competition organizers said they would have rice for participants, they are out of rice. I have to use old crappy rice for my sample dish.

I also have to tell the judges and the crowd about the adobo and the ingredients I used. This is totally nerve wracking for me, and I rarely get stage fright!

I know, I'm a big giant bag lady.

I make it through. We go back to my station, wait on more rice, and continue serving the adobo. More and more people are telling me how much they like it, and I’m starting to feel a little bit better.

Towards the end of the competition while we are waiting for the winners to be announced, the real surprise comes. There are two competitions – the taster’s choice, and the judge’s choice, for a total of six prizes. I win third place in the taster’s choice competition! I am SO surprised. So are the people giving me my prize!

What is this girl doing here? (I'm not sure).

Buuut I win them over with my irresistible charm.

I don't know why this was my first instinct.

Sometime during or between these pictures one of the lovely ladies told me that I could marry a Filipino boy now. I just laughed. I was way too flabbergasted to say that I kind of am. ❤

Accepting my prize!

Anders told me later that he didn’t snap any pictures of me (these are from the event’s photo page) because he didn’t think I would win and as a result didn’t get the camera from me! That’s ok. I didn’t think I would win anything, either.

I am so honored to have won anything. I have my little plaque in my kitchen in Boston, and it’s so awesome to think that I make anything that I can really call award winning! It wasn’t really me, though. It was Susan, Ander’s grandmommy, who gave me that recipe so I feel like it belongs more to her than to me. Without her, or without Anders, I wouldn’t have won anything at all.

Now I know you’re salivating for the recipe. I normally wouldn’t have a problem giving it to you, but Anders is super-protective of it. I gave it to a friend once and he was SO MAD! So, what I will say is this.

Always use dark meat chicken. The award winning batch I made had chicken thighs with the skin and the bone on.

Cover your chicken pieces in water.

Use 1 part vinegar.

1/2 – 1 part soy sauce.

1/2  part sugar.

LOTS of garlic

and black pepper.

Boil until you have about an inch of sauce, and serve over white rice.

❤ Stef

*I know you’re probably wondering why I thought a FILIPINO food competition wouldn’t be populated mostly by Filipinos. I thought it was a competition put on by the Art Institute’s new International Culinary School, where the competition was held. It was actually part of the Asian Culinary Forum’s 2010 Symposium, and they had borrowed/rented the facilities at AI. That said, it was an awesome experience. It also made me think about race-something no one ever wants to talk about. People in my class at BC will sympathize, because we spend a lot of time talking about race. But the competition did make me wonder about my minority status within that particular gathering. Do I, as a white person, never consider race because mine is the dominant one (within the US)? Are my feelings of awkwardness, of “not-belonging” experienced more often by people of other races when confronted with mostly white people? Food for thought, ladies and gents.

6 Responses to “Adobo Throwdown!”

  1. Brian May 25, 2010 at 4:27 am #

    AGH! That’s fantastic! Congrats on the win! Even though I normally don’t eat meat, I’d totally try this dish. 🙂

    What a fantastic story too. It’s always wonderful when you can share these aspects of your culture with others… as his grandmother has done with you.

    • steffanyf May 25, 2010 at 11:04 am #

      Thank you!
      Let me tell you…it is SO good. I know someone who makes a vegan version and I assume it is very tasty but there is no way it is the same! You should try making it. There is really no way to mess up.

  2. Albert May 31, 2010 at 10:02 am #

    Congratulations Steffanie!

    As for the race issue, here are my two centavos…

    I agree that white people don’t consider race as much as non-whites because they are the majority.

    Then again, majorities (Raider fans vs. Niner fans in Oakland, grass vs. that needle in that haystack…) will always overlook (whether on purpose or not) the “awkwardness”, the issues, the voices, of the minority.

    But it still takes two to tango, to meet in the middle. The majority needs to listen to the minority and the minority needs to speak up. Simple as that. However in practice… not so.

    I’ll end with more of my bias =)… Filipinos are a welcoming people because they themselves have their own unique differences among each other. I hope you got a taste of that as much as they had a taste of your adobo!

    Daghang salamat Steffanie!

  3. Nila Pugliese December 19, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    I loved hearing this story! I am Italian and my boyfriend is Filipino. He is 100% Filipino, but a total coconut! (Brown on the outside only) We recently moved from Florida to the state of Washington. Since we have been here, we are totally overwhelmed by the Filipino influence. We have met in-laws and cousins etc… everyone speaks Tagalog but us. All of our new neighbors are Filipino and they stare at me when I step foot outside my house… as if a Pink Flamingo is walking across the front yard and totally doesn’t belong here! We have been invited to Christmas parties and everyone brings a dish. I would love to make Adobo because it seems fairly easy enough. Today I have a practice pot going on the stove. I tried using your (1 part, 1/2 part) instructions. If you have a change of heart & you want to give me a little further instructions, that would be of great help and I will go to the grave with it!

    • steffanyf December 20, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

      Hi Nila!
      Dude, I’m sorry, but my fiance has that recipe on lockdown.
      However, this one is REALLY similar.
      Note that I use boneless, skinless thighs only. As for as water, I use enough to cover the chicken meat, not a specific measurement. Cover the chicken with water before you add anything else. I don’t use bay leaf, I use crushed pepper and no whole peppercorns, and definitely add sugar. Maybe 1/4 C and see how you like that.
      Good luck! Honestly, there are zillions of ways to make adobo. You can play around with it until you find something you like. I’ve even seen versions that use coconut milk.


  1. Flippino throwdown | Imagearmy - April 2, 2012

    […] Adobo Throwdown! « Dinner Love.May 24, 2010 … Last weekend, I participated in an Adobo Throwdown. … It’s strange, because his Grandmother is full Filipino which makes Anders 25% – and … […]

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