oriental kitchenette doesn’t have a sign. what it has – and all it needs – is a few stools at a narrow counter and a display case of richly colored philippine adobos teeming with meat or fish, bay leaves, spices, and whatever is special that day.
it’s one of those stalls tucked among the innards of pike place market, squeezed between a butcher and cheese shop, staring out at shy giant frozen yogurt. there’s always activity at the restaurant, and i’m never sure who’s working and who’s just stopping by to chat. i’ve learned that rather than get impatient when i’m not the first priority, i should just enjoy the (invariably happy) social exchanges around me.
the cause of all the buzz is the apostol family, who emigrated here from the philippines in 1973. both the family and the business have grown along with their base of market regulars. the adjoining oriental market and house of woks and bowls are theirs as well, all run by family. hi-chews and cookbooks linger on the counter, hoping to go home with you and your lunch. the mart is packed with sauces, noodles, rices and spices of every flavor and nationality.
i always get the chicken adobo. the pork adobo is wonderful, as is everything else i’ve had, but the chicken’s still my favorite. i get a little flutter in my heart when i see one of the ladies pick up my styrofoam box (and not from guilt about the styrofoam). first in are generous scoops of gleaming rice from the rice cooker behind her. then it’s the pancit bihon, an adobo accompaniment of noodles, vegetables, and some kind of meat. lastly, at least two drumsticks and rivers of sauce a top it all. each time i finally have my lunch (and dinner) in my hands, i’m shocked by how heavy it is. and that it only costs $6.
the food itself is hearty, but refined. the sauce has a tartness from the coconut vineagar, and is rich with gentle garlic, while the meat is tender from hours spent in the sauce. the spanish word “adobar” means “to marinate”, after all. philippine food is highly influenced by many other cultures, particularly mexican and spanish, and adobo is now widely considered to be the national dish.
i have yet to finish a chicken adobo in one sitting. fortunately, i also like it cold, when the sauce has congealed with the rice on the bottom of the container (and i’m too lazy to heat it up). the dish isn’t spicy, but a little chili sauce does wonders to brighten it up.
a large, handwritten poster on a back wall of the kitchenette displays the recipe for chicken adobo. they’re right in recognizing that giving away the secret won’t hurt their business. the charm of the restaurant and its owners is as fulfilling as the food.