Beyond adobo: A challenge to DTI, from a respected champion of Filipino cuisine

The “don’t mess with my adobo” fever is still ongoing in some circles online, and maybe every time an adobo was cooked in a Filipino kitchen in the past week, from Tondo to Forbes Park, mula Aparri hanggang Jolo, people were reminded of the DTI’s plan to standardize the dish’s recipe. 

If you were living under a rock the past few days and have no idea what the online community is currently riled up against, it’s the announcement of the DTI that it was forming a technical committee that will create a standard recipe for adobo and eventually other Filipino dishes. The government agency got a lot of flak for the idea, with the collective online sentiment being, ‘Why will you dictate how we make our adobo? Don’t you have better things to do?’ 

The DTI has since explained itself, of course, saying the standardization will only cover those that the agency will promote abroad. “This is just among the many groundwork to develop more creative industry exports,” the DTI said. “The attempt is to define what we will promote internationally and not redefining what adobo is to different people now.” 

One of the more meaningful responses to the DTI’s follow up statement that we’ve across is that of respected food author, restauranteur and champion of Filipino food ingredients, Amy Besa. Besa, together with her husband Romy Dorotan, runs the successful Purple Yam restaurant in Brooklyn, but they’ve been purveyors of Filipino food in New York since opening their first restaurant in Soho in 1995. When it comes to championing Filipino cuisine abroad, Besa and Dorotan are definitely two important names. (They also continue to maintain a Purple Yam operation in Malate and, before the pandemic, regularly visit the Philippines.)

Anyway, now that you have an idea who Besa is, what she wrote on her Facebook page was basically a challenge to DTI, zeroing in on its agenda to promote Filipino food internationally. 

She said that instead of sending over their “watered down committee recipes,” just “send us local indigenous ingredients from food manufacturers that pass GMP [good manufacturing practices] standards.”

Amy further suggested the DTI should invest taxpayer money on the country’s native vinegar, patis and bagoong makers. “The reason Thai and Vietnamese restaurants thrive here in the US is because these restaurants have access to a great variety of high quality ingredients from their home countries.”

Instead of coming up with a handbook that will easily get “obsolete the moment they come off the press,” sending over the real thing abroad—our Philippine ingredients—says Besa, will make more sense and, if we may add, even benefit our farmers. 

To illustrate her point, Besa took a trip down memory lane. “In 2017, the Dept of Foreign Affairs (DFA) partnered with my Purple Yam team to do the Hidden Flavors of the Philippine Kitchen tour of New York City, Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia and Toronto,” wrote the co-author of the award-winning “Memories of Philippine Kitchens” (2006) in her Facebook post. “We shipped via diplomatic pouch over 50 types of ingredients encompassing native palm vinegars, patis, bagoong, preserves of fruits, cashews, pili, native leaves like anise, cassia bark & powder, heirloom rice from the Cordilleras, danggit from Visayan fishers, coffee and chocolate from Mindanao and Benguet and many more. 

“We used these ingredients for tasting menus and formal dinners. The extra we gave away to local chefs and restaurant owners who were so hungry for a taste of ‘Philippine soil, water and air’ that these ingredients inherently carried in them.” 

We asked Besa if she found anything in the DTI’s intentions worth commending or maybe even executing. “I think that some of their intentions may come from sincerely believing that standardization would ‘help’ businesses,” she told ANCX. If there’s something good that could come out of this whole ado about adobo, it is, according to Besa, to “redirect people’s attentions to the real problem and the solutions that the DTI can do.” One of those solutions, reiterates Besa, is to invest in Philippine ingredients “that form the basis of good food,” and to improve access to these ingredients for chefs and cooks who are making and promoting Filipino food abroad. 

Besa’s final statement to the DTI: “The ball is in your court.” 

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