Guest Blog: “THE ADOBO OF MANY COLORS”
by EUGENE CACCAM
(Eugene Caccam and I went to the same university in Baguio City, Philippines. Thanks to Facebook, we’ve reconnected after many years, enjoying each other’s passion for writing and food! I found this particular post by Eugene quite a treasure, a mark of inspired writing and a fitting tribute to the great Adobo! )
Famine stalked the land of the pescetarians, who were starting to fall by the wayside. Carnivores they were forced to become until the next fish catch came — hopefully. Like Buddhist monks moving from house to house with their begging bowls, they lined up at meat stalls, much like druids in adoration.
And that was how I came to meet Mother Mary of the Imus Wet Market. In a fish-less market, I was in trouble about how to keep my body and soul together. Rumor is that Mother Mary, a stall-owner, is herself an excellent cook of traditional Imus meat dishes, and is always on the lookout for souls that are committed to keeping the Tradition of Good Cooking alive. Hearing she was an unselfish succor to all in need, to her stall I went.
“But ah, my child, you must try this then,” Mother Mary patiently coaxed me like a small child, after I had answered in the affirmative when she asked me if I had tried this or that dish. “Not every one cooks this delicacy very well. I will pass on this secret to you because I can see that you will cook it and love it with all your mind and all your heart. You will make Memory an element of the present. You will experience contrasts in texture, in bite, in flavor that many have forgotten. You will summon the archetypes of Imus cooking, the food of heroes, the dishes of the brave, and will make live on the tongues of men. You will relish it and will want to cook it again and again. And my Inner Eye assures me that you will love it so much that you will share it with peoples far and wide. Thus will Our Recipe will live on.”
“Here,” Mother Mary said as she handed me half of a calf’s heart. “Slice it in thin strips. Then heat a little oil in a pan, throw in some garlic, then some onions. Next, add achuete (anato seeds) and stir until the oil turns yellow. Now add the strips of calf’s heart, stirring until they are fully coated with the yellow oil.” She was making the proper gestures. In my mind, I saw Maria Makiling teaching the people of Laguna how to eat lanzones so that the fruit would not be poisonous.
“Now, add a little of this special patis (fish sauce),” she said, handing me a bottle of dark-brown fish sauce, the brownest I had ever seen. She uncapped the bottle for me to whiff the aroma, while her eyes pierced mine and the depth of my being. The fragrance was ethereal indeed. I was starting to be entranced.
“Simmer, until the meat is tender.” “Do I add water?” I asked. “Just a little,” she replied knowingly, “just enough to cook the meat. You are not making broth. And besides, the juice of the meat will flow as it simmers. Let it cook in its own juice.” There and then I knew I had the makings of a great recipe. Right here, from the Cradle of Noble Heroes.
“When the meat is tender, add this,” she continued with her instructions, as she handed me one-fourth kilo of cubed beef liver. “Be sure to add it only when the heart is tender, or it will be tough,” she warned. “AND BE SURE TO ADD VINEGAR TO TASTE ONLY AFTER THE LIVER IS TENDER. And remember, cook it so that the sauce is thick, not watery; but the liver will make sure of that.” She was my mentor, and she was emphatic. She didn’t want want the recipe to be altered, to be lost because of a misstep no matter how minor.
“Sprinkle some pepper. You may add some soy sauce if you wish. Then add slices of red and green pepper for fragrance. Cover and seal in the flavor and the ambrosia. I tell you, you will love this, and so will others.”
Then I sealed a promise I will keep the Faith and Tradition of Imus cooking alive, Ilokano though at heart I am.
The red of the meat. Brown liver. White garlics and onions. Ebony soy sauce. Brown fish sauce. Black pepper. Yellow anato seeds. White vinegar. Red and green peppers. Gummy heart meat. Tender liver. Colorful. Contrastful — to the eyes, to the tongue.
The Adobo of Many Colors. Very fragrant. Very delicious. Very rare. Very share-able.
And here, in this photo, is Mother Mary of the Imus Market, Who Spoke Words of Wisdom In My Time of Trouble. That she took time to tutor me on this almost-forgotten recipe, despite the many customers badgering her that time, was a privilege in Communion with Eternity. Mother Marys will never want us to be in trouble.