Why ‘adobong pusit’ makes me cry
Adobong pusit always had a particular place in my heart.
To be clear, it’s not my favorite food or seafood dish. Sure, small squid being simmered in vinegar and soy sauce makes for a tasty meal. If I had to choose what the best asset of this dish is, I would probably say its black sauce that’s either savory or sweet. It has rich flavors, just as it has a rich history.
It came into existence in coastline areas where meat was scarce, thus the people used the practice of braising food in soy sauce and vinegar with the blessings of the sea. This makes me think of how our place, our environment, and the nature that surrounds us, influence the food we cook and the food culture that a community creates. This is proven by how adobo has many faces. There’s chicken and pork adobo. There’s adobo in gata, adobong puti, and vegetable-based adobo like adobong puso ng saging, and kangkong or water spinach-based adobo. What is available in our homes, in our backyards, and is close in proximity, is seen in different dishes that we put in our bellies.
Still, I would pick calamari or grilled pusit over adobo with no hesitation. Fried and grilled foods are just a personal preference. This dish just reminds me of my lolo and lola like how my sister is reminded of them when there’s sinabawang bangus on the table. I miss my grandparents. It’s true that the food we eat is imbued with emotion, can bring everyone together, and can evoke memories of specific people.
It was a scorching afternoon in 2012 and I was visiting my aunt’s house in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato. My lolo, who had kidney complications, and my lola, who had pneumonia, were both admitted to the hospital. Tita asked us to help her prepare adobong pusit and sinabawang bangus. Me to my adobo, my sister to her milkfish. I remember being oblivious to what was happening at that time. The parents of my mother were both ill, and their children, my aunts and uncles, were worried and were under so much stress. Innocents as we were, we were just excited to hold the knife, use the chopping board, and operate the stove.
My lolo and lola were Ilocanos. This identity is seen in how the family cooks squid adobo. The squids are cooked longer until it is chewable to get rid of their fishy taste, a reason why the dish comes as black as possible. They even call it black adobo. If the squids could reminisce just like what I am doing right now, they would remember how the god of the sea punished their species for dipping their siphons in the mud and squirting dirt on other creatures in the sea. The sea god gave them all the dirt, the jet black ink, all over their body, that they would continuously squirt in their lifetime. I feel bad about that legend, but I would say that the dark substance that they got, their flaw, is what makes them delicious and unique. They should see the silver lining that they taste good. They got punished and received a gift, ironically. Kidding aside, the gist here is in making this type of adobo, one should cook the squid longer.
In the same room, both of them lie on different beds, dextrose on their side. The light outside penetrates the glass windows as if it’s summer inside. It’s quite a confusing scene. The environment was not bleak, but something felt gray. Summer and the color of their illnesses were probably clashing during that time. Their faces switching from gloomy to sunshine was pure though when they saw us with tita, holding a plastic bag that contained the lunchboxes that had the food. Tita told them that we made their lunch and they were amazed.
Lolo acted as if he didn’t believe, teasing us. He tasted the adobo and smiled. The same smile that we would normally see from him. Lola thanked us and gave her usual embrace, much like a kiss of cocoa. The hospital blanket was even smeared with squid ink. A “mumho” was even left on lola’s lips. They loved it. Mom and dad finished theirs too. I felt like crying. That was the last time I saw them alive. What my mother told us about on the drive home was accurate. That day may have been the final time we would see them. That didn’t sink into me before. I thought they would get better. I thought they would be all right, like the squids that the sea god chastised. Flawed, yet remained special. Is there ever a chance that a squid blinded me as a child with its ink about the truth of life? If then, how come my tears aren’t black? Still, whether a product of increased dopamine and nostalgia, each tear to me, much like the adobong pusit, remains special. Lolo and lola’s memories will forever be special.
John Mark Gravidez Parlingayan, 23, is from Polomolok, South Cotabato. He graduated with a degree in psychology from the Notre Dame of Dadiangas University. He is reviewing for the psychometrician board exam.
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