HUMBA (or adobo in the tagalog regions) is undoubtedly the dish that best represents the Philippines. It is a pork dish cooked in vinegar, soy sauce, and spices. Almost every household in the country knows this recipe and the method of preparation and ingredients vary from region to region (even household to household). It can be found in any banquet table and in every occasion be it pyesta (feast), kasal, bunyag, or lubong. It is easy to prepare and will not spoil for a longer period compared to other dishes. On the contrary, it is even more delectable the longer it is stored and after it has been reheated.
It is said that even before the Spanish conquest of the islands, the natives already know this method of preparation due to the access of the main ingredients (soy sauce and vinegar) that time, but this is yet to be verified. Humba is a Cebuano term and is used in the major parts of the Visayas and Mindanao. Its name was purportedly derived from “HUMot nga BAboy” or delectable/aromatic pork which I think is the best way to describe it.
There are various ways to prepare humba and the taste varies from salty to sweet depending on your preference. Growing up in Leyte, humba is reserved for special occasions. I can still remember old cooks prepare this dish in large cauldrons or “kawa” and they use “palwa sa lubi” or palm fronds as ladle during fiestas. Their method of preparation is more complex since the pork belly cubes still need to be cooked in their own fat and brought to a crisp (in Cebuano term, pakupsan) before other ingredients can be added. The texture of the pork is very chewy especially the skin part, and it is most of the time sweet almost like “ham”.
I grew up with the humba my mother cooked for us. It is a simple no frills kind of humba which I loved. It was also because of her that I wanted to learn cooking (she’s very good in baking by the way, although my father is more of a gourmet cook). I asked her how to cook humba and she immediately taught me how to prepare it. She taught me the basics in cooking which I think every guy should know. Since then, I acquired a knack in cooking and I could say for certainty that I already know how to cook any dish.
So, here is my version of the humba:
1 kilo pork belly (cut into cubes 2 inches thick)
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 red onion (quartered)
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vinegar
3 bay leaves (paminta dahon)
a few peppercorn seeds (paminta liso)
1-2 star anise (very important)
azucena or bulaklak (just say bulaklak to the store keeper)
4-5 tablespoons brown sugar
1 small can tausi or black beans
3-4 tablespoons of cooking oil
How to prepare:
- In a pot. Combine the pork, soy sauce, vinegar, bay leaves, peppercorn, star anise, and water.
- Cook in medium heat and don’t cover the pan.
- Bring it to a boil until the pork is tender.
- Add the tausi, brown sugar, azucena, and oil.
- Lower the heat and simmer for 10-20 minutes. Cover the pan.
- You can adjust the taste according to your preference. Add sugar if you want it sweeter or salt if you prefer the salty taste.