Here's One Simple Trick to Cooking Good Adobo, from a Pillar of Kapampangan Cuisine

Straight from Atching Lillian Borromeo.

There are as many versions of adobo as there are cooks, but if you’re looking to level up your adobo game, here’s a tip from a true expert. Eighty-one-year-old Lillian Borromeo—or Atching Lillian to her family, friends, and followers—has a simple trick to elevating your standard adobo from good to great. 

Di ba papakuluin mo yung adobo, lalagay mo lahat ng ingredients,” she says during a casual chat at her home in Mexico, Pampanga. “Halfway ng luto, tanggalin mo yung sabaw. And then i-caramelize mo. Sunog-sunugin mo, tapos pakonti-konti ilagay mo yung sabaw (hanggang sa mag-sizzle). Sunog-sunugin mo pa ng konti until mag sizzle ulit, tapos dagdagan mo ulit ng konting sabaw.

Iba ang lasa,” she adds. “Kesa yung papakuluan mo ng isang beses tapos ise-serve mo na.”

The advice to caramelize meats and slowly add sauce to whatever it is you’re cooking extends to nearly every dish, not just for adobo. “Halimbawa sa atchara mo, lagyan mo ng konting sugar, then i-caramelize mo,” she says. “Magiging iba ang lasa. Kung ang ulam mo, lalagyan mo ng sugar, i-caramelize mo. E di dumikit di ba? Wag ka matakot. Kumuha ka ng konting tubig para matunaw. Tapos ilagay mo ulit. Yun ang old-fashioned way. 

Yung toyo nilalagay na nila agad,” she adds. “Pero yung toyo…dapat konti-konti ang lagay. Dapat matiyaga ka lang. Pag nakatikim ka (ng luto mo) tapos tumikim ka ng iba, pipintasan mo na yung iba. Sa loob-loob mo, isipin mo, ‘Bakit ganyan. Bakit yung akin, ganito?’”


And if there’s anybody who knows just how good Atching Lillian’s adobo is, it’s her family.

Ang mga apo ko, alam nila,” she says. “Sasabihin nila, ‘Lola hindi ikaw gumawa nyan.’ Sabi ko, ‘Bakit?’ Pag tikim ko, oo nga.’”

Photo by PJ Cana.

While we weren’t able to sample her adobo, she did prepare quite a spread at her Kusinang Matua during a casual visit organized by the Department of Tourism. There was pan de sal panecillo; Tidtad or Kapampangan dinuguan; Daing na Bangus; Pistu (or Tortang Kapampangan), Tamales; Kapampangan Longganisa and Tocino; and Suklati or traditional hot chocolate. For dessert, there was a selection of puto, suman, tiboc-tiboc (or Kapampangan maja blanca), Dulce Prenda (or Hopiang Kapampangan); and of course, her famous San Nicolas cookies, which she and her family have been making for generations.

Atching Lillian is a local legend, and many stories have been written about how she is preserving traditional Kapampangan cuisine. And the way she is doing it is by teaching others. People come from all over the country—and sometimes even abroad—to eat her food and learn her culinary skills. And now she’s reaching even more people through her own YouTube channel.

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Tinuturuan ko lahat,” she says. “Hindi lang Kapampangan. Kung sino ang interesado, ituturo ko.”

You can visit Atching Lillian and her Kusina Matua in Mexico, Pampanga. We’re sure she’d appreciate hearing how your adobo went.

To know the latest updates and travel advisories about the Philippines, visit Philippines.Travel or download the Travel Philippines App at the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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