"To truly comfort, a food must function like a hug from your mother. It makes you feel all better."
- Bonny Wolf, Talking with My Mouth Full: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories
I was talking to someone about writing just recently. He knows about my food blog and he knows I'm a writer, so he asked me what I write about. What I'm passionate about. "You know, besides food."
I got to thinking about that and didn't have an immediate response. Surely I'm passionate about something else, something more significant that just food. I felt a bit foolish for not having an answer. Is writing about food silly? Not as meaningful as some short story drenched with metaphors? Or a poem that bleeds political views? Or an article that reaches out to the oppressed people of the world?
Of course not. We were in a crowded bar, and I was put on the spot, and neither of us gave food the credit it deserves. I wish I had told him that. That a passion for food and writing about food isn't just a restaurant critique, or a recipe, or using descriptions like "bursting with flavor" or "oozy goodness." For me, food has become a type of vessel for addressing all of those other passions wandering around inside of me: the stories and memories and family and people and events and smells and emotions and traditions and comfort that food evokes. Sure, maybe I haven't quite learned how to maneuver this vessel yet, but I'm working on that.
Comfort food helps.
It's tough to write something really meaningful about a new food. It's tasty, and there's always a story behind it, and I love trying new things. But when it comes down to it, the comfort food is what really means something to me. Have you noticed? I often write the most when I make something from home. Chicken adobo is all about home.
Chicken adobo is not my favorite food by any means. It's not even in my top five favorite Filipino dishes. Often considered a national dish of the Philippines, it's probably the one Filipino food that non-Filipinos have tried and liked, even loved. (That and maybe pancit or lumpia.) Unlike the peanut-butter-and-ox-tail combination of kare-kare or the gelatinous mutant coconut of halo-halo, chicken adobo is pretty simple and void of anything too bizarre. It's just chicken simmered in soy sauce, vinegar, water, and lots of garlic. Toss in a bay leaf and whole black peppercorns, and there you have it. There's not much not to like.
Which is why my mom cooks it every time she has anyone not Filipino over for dinner. And the fact that it's such an easy dish to make, and the vinegar preserves the chicken so that it can be eaten for days, explains why we ate it for dinner a lot. And then the leftovers for three days afterward. Adobo became a dish that I'm not too crazy about because I ate it so damn much.
So the comfort doesn't come just from eating the adobo, but more from cooking it. It can be made with any meat, usually chicken or pork. I only eat and cook chicken adobo, since the pork tends to get dry and just not as good. The chicken should be bone-in, as much of the flavor and texture derives from the bone. Chicken adobo is the one of the first meals I learned to cook.
I started cooking for myself my sophomore year of college, when I had my first kitchen. I cooked chicken adobo for me and my roommates. It's easy to add a few more pieces of chicken for whoever is hungry. It's almost impossible to mess up. It's a dish that can be thrown together and left to cook on its own for an hour. It's always a crowd pleaser. And there's nothing more comforting than studying for an exam and suddenly being enveloped in the strong aroma of garlic, soy sauce, and vinegar, and knowing that a hot, home-cooked meal is waiting for you when you close your textbooks. It's all about that smell. And I didn't realize it until I moved out of the house. Suddenly, 200 miles away from home, I was there, in my mother's kitchen. That smell is a hug from home.
Of course, I can never make it like my mom's. Her sauce is thicker. Her chicken is juicier and is more, oh, "bursting with flavor." But I don't mind. I often make the dish all wrong, anyway -- using only chicken breasts (my sister is cringing right now) and not marinating the meat overnight (adobo is one of those dishes that tastes better the next day). I also make way more sauce, as the roommates that I've cooked for have declared that spooning tons of sauce over the steamed rice is the best part. But however I make it, the smell is always the same: comforting.
And yes, it tastes good, too.