Portions of this blog entry came from Eating While Immigrant: The Bitter Taste of Assimilation and the Joy of ‘Stinky’ Food by Joseph Hernandez, Chicago Tribune, August 1, 2018
Ever since I remember, my brother always liked chicken adobo. Almost every weekend, he would always asked my Mom if she would make it. My mother would always indulge him and make him his favorite dish. The house would smell of garlic, vinegar and soy sauce. My brother would relish the last bits of brown, soy sauce and smear it over white rice. The adobo smell seemed to stick to the kitchen walls as the aroma permeated our tiny kitchen for days. I asked my brother once, “Do you make chicken adobo at your house?”
“No, I don’t like it to stink up my house,” he said.
Was my brother ashamed of my mother’s cooking? Was he ashamed of being Filipino? Was my brother trying so hard to look, act, and, yes, eat like an American? We certainly didn’t grow up eating grilled cheese sandwiches or chicken nuggets. Or was he just getting used to peanut butter sandwiches, Lunchables, and cups of diced peaches drowning in high-fructose corn syrup for lunch?
Filipino food is not stinky or weird. It’s comforting. It was how I experienced the world, both old and new. Food is how I knew I was loved.
Fast forward to 2018, Filipino cuisine — and Korean, and Sichuan, and Thai — is trendy. Restaurants around the country, run by white chefs, have “elevated” the foods of my mother and my people, of other immigrants, having profited off stacks of lumpia, bowls of pancit and adobo, and bottles of house-made fermented vinegars, without so much as a nod to the brown kitchens and people from which these foods originated (The Joys of ‘Stinky Cuisine’: Hernandez, Chicago Tribune, August 1, 2018)
It’s a little bittersweet hurt to see my people’s food celebrated now as the new “it” girl of cuisine. To know that for years, my brother and countless others needlessly felt embarrassment and shame for loving the food of our mothers. To know that my mom just wanted us to fit in, as much as our brown skin stood out. There’s also the simultaneous joy in sharing, in the invitation of a meal — “come, get to know me, to know us, to know our food. There’s plenty of knowledge (and rice) to go around (The Joys of ‘Stinky Cuisine’: Hernandez, Chicago Tribune, August 1, 2018).
Nowadays, when I bring a tray of pancit to work my Latinx coworkers would gobble it up in a heartbeat. No more comments of “that smells weird” or “what’s that?” They would heap their plates with my Mom’s noodles and said, “Hey this is good. Can you bring some more next time?”
At the age of six, I had, for the first time, a friend from school over for a play date. At that time, my family and I were living in a suburban town that was predominantly white. My playmate, Linda, was white. As it is customary, my mom provided us with a snack. Instead of crackers and juice or cookies and milk, she decided to put out a plate of rice and pork chop adobo. I was mortified. As Linda stared at the plate seemingly confused, I protested to mom, “She does not eat rice!”
Excerpt from Glimpses into the Indigenous: Cultural Portals and the Ethnic Identity Development among Second Generation Filipino Americans by Maria Ferrera, 2013
My Mom’s Chicken Adobo Recipe
1 whole chicken, cut up in pieces
1/4 cup Marca Pina brand soy sauce
1/4 cup Marca Pina brand vinegar
1 whole garlic, chopped
3 bay leaves
10 to 12 whole peppercorns
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Cut up whole chicken to pieces. Mix the soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorn as marinade. Pour over chicken. Marinate the chicken overnight.
Take chicken from marinade. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry chicken pieces until golden brown on both sides. Add marinade back to chicken. Bring to boil then simmer until the chicken is tender and cooked through for an additional 15 to 20 minutes.
Serve with white rice.