Memoirs of a Skinny Filipino Kid

Memoirs of a Skinny Filipino Kid

Here we are again Cozy readers, another month and another comfort food diary. But this isn’t just any comfort food diary. This diary is near and dear to my heart (and tummy) because it comes from the man who taught me many things, including my very first lessons about food – this month’s diary is from my dad.

Dad | Age 25

The very first lesson I was learned about food was not to love it or to indulge in it or how to cook it. No, before all else I was taught to appreciate food and be thankful for every little bite that entered my mouth. I was taught to always eat everything on my plate and never waste. To take only what I could eat. To not be a picky eater. To eat leftovers rather than toss them out. And to never, ever, no matter what, complain about what was being served at the table.

Should any of my siblings or I show signs of un-appreciation of the meals prepared of us, we were playfully and quasi-threatened with what my dad would call a “Famine Exercise,” where we would experience what it was like not to have any food available to eat. But this was solid reasoning on my dad’s part. My dad would preface the potential exercise with his childhood stories that were perhaps less fortunate than our own when it came to food. You see, my grandparents immigrated from the Philippines to work on the pineapple plantations in Hawaii and raised a family of four. My dad being the second oldest child, knew what it was like to spend hours in the hot and dirty fields doing backbreaking work and still not always have a feast to eat at the end of the day.

So when he was raising a family of his own he made sure we knew how good we had it. Granted he never followed through with a “Famine Exercise,” and my siblings and I knew he never would because he just loves us too much. But in the end, he still got his point across. And now all three of us kids view food with a unique lens of appreciation and gratitude.

As I look back at it, this is a very fond memory for me and my siblings. We may laugh at how we were taught not to take our nourishment for granted, but it worked! And I find it quite funny how this first lesson of appreciation (no matter how unconventionally it was taught) has matured into the passion and relationship I now have with food. 

And I have my dad to thank for that. 

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With that, I’m happy to present to you the diary of a once skinny Filipino kid from the island of Maui and the comfort food that was actually meant to fatten him up – Pork Adobo.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Filipino cuisine, I like to call pork adobo the “unofficial” national dish of the Philippines. Adobo is more of a cooking process rather than a recipe – where the protein of choice (chicken, pork, seafood, etc.) is marinaded in the holy trinity of seasonings in Filipino cuisine: soy sauce, garlic browned in oil, and an obligatory heavy dose of vinegar (along with some black peppercorns and bay leaves.)

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I was a skinny kid, second generation Filipino and my parents both work on a pineapple plantation. I think my scrawny size was part of the reason why my mom made what came to be one of my favorite dishes. There are many, of course, but the work involved with this made me appreciate it even more. I’ll not include the details of a weekend backyard slaughterhouse scene, but back in the day, we got a lot of our protein inexplicably fresh. No refrigeration required.

My mom had a funny method in selecting prime pork. We’d go to the farm and look at the animals, particularly the ones that lie down a lot. She would say, “That one. It’s got a lot of fat because it lazy.”

Aside all that, at the end of the day and beginning of a multi-meal gorging, a large family size pot would simmer on an old electric stove. The cover jiggling from the steam, releasing the aroma of a secret combination of sweet vinegar, shoyu (soy sauce) and garlic, and the freshest pork butt that you’ll ever get ever!  All of it, just permeating the entire house, inside and out. Yes, I would already be drooling as I anticipate the first bite of pork adobo.


Pork Adobo | Photo by Foxy Folksy


The secret of taste, I found out later in my years was that fat morsels combined with pork and cooked just right, that makes everything melt. We had a lot of pork adobo growing up. In later years, the pork was not as fresh as when I was much younger. You’d have to cook it longer and you couldn’t taste all the work you would have to put in to appreciate it more. Still, it reminds me of those good old days and all the amazing cultural culinary recipes you can get from one pig. But that’s another story.

Despite all that glutinous eating, I’m still…a skinny (older) Filipino kid…

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by Reuben D.

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