After an early start from Manila and a morning spent documenting the fish whisperers at the Cavite City (Philippines) market we were famished. Our host Rody wanted to show us the seaside house he'd grown up in and then, he said, we'd swing by his sister Lydia's house for lunch. The beach in front of Rody's childhood abode was quiet, just a few kids and a lone fisherman mending his nets. It was high noon and the sun scorched the backs of our necks, so we didn't linger. Besides, our mid-day meal was waiting.
At the market, under the pandawan (where the fish whisperers whisper), Rody introduced us to Lydia's husband, who was toting a couple of bags of goodies fresh from the sea. Cavitenos take the sea's bounty for granted - almost every meal includes fish or shellfish, Rody told us.
Lunch was simple - two dishes to eat with rice and sublime child fist-sized 'baby' mangoes - and wonderful. The most interesting dish featured itsy-bitsy shrimp - what we Americans (anyone else?) think of as krill, whale food. In Southeast Asia, of course, shrimp this size aren't left to the sea creatures. They're dried and sold as is, fermented into cincalok and Philippine bagoong alamang (Lydia makes her own bagoong at home), processed into shrimp paste - and bought by the kilo to cook with.
Lydia had sauteed the shrimp with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and patis (Philippine fish sauce). She cooked them for only a short while, so that they still sang of the sea and its natural saltiness. The tomato lent a bit of tartness. Dave's spoon kept straying back to the platter for just one more taste, and then another... We wondered why more of the world doesn't eat krill.
As luscious as the shrimp were, it was Lydia's squid adobo that really knocked our socks off. Rody confided that every time he visits his sister he crosses his fingers that she'll have cooked up a big batch of squid adobo, enough so that he can eat a plate full at her house and then carry home more when he leaves. 'Lydia is known for her squid adobo,' he told us with a grin. Boy, do we understand why.
Adobo is a stewed-in-vinegar Philippine dish most associated with pork. The best adobo is the simplest and most straightforward. To make her adobo Lydia starts with squid no bigger than my thumb, just a little over two inches. She cleans them extra carefully to preserve the ink sac, then stuffs the sac and the tentacles inside the whole squid. After heating them slowly in a dry frying pan to draw out excess water she stews them in vinegar with garlic and a pinch of ground pepper added. In total the squid are cooked about 35-45 minutes, long enough to thoroughly tenderize them.
Lydia's adobo is one of the best squid preparations we've ever eaten. Stuffing the tentacles inside the body of the squid made for a great textural contrast as we bit down through softness into chewiness. The vinegar was pronounced, but not overwhelming, and the garlic added a bit of 'ooomph'. This was among the finest of the taste memories we took away from our first stay in the Philippines.
Later that day Cora, Rody's wife, told us that Cavitenos are known for 'pakiki sama' - treating strangers as friends. Indeed.
Lydia's Squid Adobo
Whenever I've been in the mood to attempt to duplicate Lydia's dish tiny squid haven't been available in the market, so I can't vouch for the accuracy of this recipe that Lydia recited to me. Still, if small squid are available to you (I wouldn't try it with large squid but then again, you never know), give it a try. Lydia uses Philippine cane vinegar. Plain white vinegar would be too harsh for this dish, but Japanese rice vinegar might work well. She says the dish may be served warm to hot, but that it improves after standing for a bit.
small squid, cleaned and ink sac and tentacles reserved
garlic peeled and pounded to a paste (2-3 cloves for a kilo of squid)
freshly ground black pepper
1. Stuff each squid body with tentacles and an ink sac. Place the squid in a frying pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Turn the heat to low and allow the squid to release their retained water. Discard the water.
2. Place the squid over medium heat, add vinegar to almost cover them. Add the garlic and pepper, bring the liquid to a boil, reduce it to a lively simmer, and cook the squid for 15-20 minutes. Pour off and reserve the vinegar.
3. Add small amount of cooking oil to the pan and fry the squid over medium heat until just touched with color. Pour the reserved vinegar back into the pan and cook until the squid are tender, about 10-15 mins. Remove the squid to a bowl, pour over the ink-vinegar sauce, and serve warm or at room temperature.