MANILA: A day after the Philippine government said it was considering a proposal to standardize the recipe for adobo, several across the country denounced the move, questioning the government’s priorities amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The protests spilled over online, with the hashtag #donttouchmyadobo trending on social media and users claiming there were “more than 100 ways” to cook the traditional dish of meat stewed in vinegar and soy sauce.
The outcry followed the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) announcement to set up a committee to develop national standards on cooking adobo and other local dishes such as sinigang and sisig.
“With various cooking methods for Philippine Adobo published online ...the (committee) aims to standardize the cooking technique for the well-known Filipino dish,” the DTI said in a statement on Friday.
“Benchmarking the cooking technique for Philippine Adobo will help preserve the country’s cultural identity despite the variations made to it,” it added.
The agency’s announcement, however, drew flak from many Filipinos, who said those “behind the move lacked an appreciation and understanding of the Philippines’ multifaceted culture.”
“Standardization goes against the very grain of Philippine traditional cultures, where every person or community has the creative freedom to make (his or her) own version of a dish — resulting in great richness and variety. You are going to kill this communal creativity,” Felipe M. De Leon, former chair of the National Commission for Culture and Arts, said in a Facebook post.
De Leon further asked whose recipe the DTI would base the standards on, as every dish had hundreds of variations.
“There is no such thing as a generalized recipe (in the same way there) is no generalized human face. Likewise, there is no such thing as a standard ice cream flavor. Each one is distinct in taste and texture,” he added.
Others drew attention to the COVID-19 outbreak raging across the country.
“Which is more important: setting a standard on how to cook Adobo or standardization of health protocols against COVID-19 (being enforced) nationwide to avoid confusion,” Twitter user @RafsChivas said.
Chef Waya Araos-Wijangco suggested a committee be set up to “establish standards for the government,” while Pangasinan Historical and Cultural Commission Affairs Commissioner Virginia Pasalo said the DTI’s attempt to standardize adobo and other Filipino dishes “would not succeed.”
“You can’t standardize or legislate taste,” she told Arab News. “We come from different regions and different cultures with different cuisines.”
Food preparation, such as that of the adobo, she added, depends on the available ingredients.
“It’s a foolish idea coming out of nowhere. Other countries have tried to do the same thing before, but they have not succeeded,” Pasalo said, adding that the move was “an attack on creativity.”
“Cooking is an art,” she said. “You cannot limit its borders.”
Meanwhile, labor group Kilusang Mayo Una (KMU) slammed the DTI for its “insensitive” proposal at a time when “many Filipinos were already going hungry even before the pandemic.”
Jerome Adonis, KMU secretary-general, said the DTI should instead be thinking of ways to help raise the standard of living for Filipino workers.
Others on social media called DTI’s move “food fascism,” with some using the hashtag #ExtraJudicialCooking.
Following the backlash, the DTI retracted its announcement with a new statement on Sunday, insisting that the move was an attempt to define what it would promote internationally and not an effort to redefine what adobo is.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez reiterated this on Monday. He explained during a press briefing that the DTI had consulted with local chefs to identify what constitutes a Philippine adobo recipe in order to promote it abroad and distinguish it from other countries’ takes on the dish.
Lopez emphasized that the government’s priority was to fight the pandemic and attain economic recovery.
Araos-Wijangco, however, remained unconvinced.
“The DTI is saying they are doing this for the international promotion of Pinoy food. Again, why would you promote only one version? Adobo is a cooking technique, not a recipe. They are trying to use the Thai model of promoting food abroad. The Pad Thai was invented to be the national dish by a fascist dictator who forced the populace to adopt the noodle dish and address a rice shortage,” Araos-Wijangco told Arab News on Tuesday.
“The adobo is much older and has evolved through the centuries, adapting to various terroirs of our archipelago and economic statuses of our populace. Even our overseas workers have contributed to its diffusion, using the ingredients available in their adopted countries. And that is why they should leave our adobo alone,” she said.