I’m a sucker for a recipe list at the end of a book. Thank goodness Mia P. Manansala includes a selection of recipes in the back of her new release cozy mystery, Arsenic and Adobo because the food in this book practically constitutes a character itself!
It was also my first buddy read! Megan over at The Hungry Bookworm and I read this book at the same time, and you can see her review and dish here. Be sure to check out the rest of her blog too. She has some great book review and recipe posts!
For me, the food was the best part of this book. You really get the feel of how passionate Manansala is about food’s role in her culture, other cultures, and the human experience in general. I share this passion, so I ate that up. Manansala is also fantastic at creating characters. I felt like I knew Lila, the main character, and her family. It’s always a plus when the characters in a story feel like friends. Manansala also includes a Tagalog glossary and pronunciation guide, which is fantastic and adds to the realness of her characters by allowing them to speak their native language occasionally while giving the non-Tagalog-speaking readers a chance to understand and learn a snippet of the language.
However, the story itself seemed a bit choppy and rushed at times, and some elements felt a bit too convenient. Having said that, I could not imagine how difficult it must be to write a cozy mystery book, and I’m not very familiar with the genre. This one criticism did not impact how much I enjoyed this book overall, and I’m very glad I read it! It’s quick, pleasant, and FULL of food. That checks a lot of boxes for me!
🍔🍔 🍔.5 / 5 burgers
A Brief Summary
Lila Macapagal has been through a lot. She left her small hometown and aggressively loving filipino family to move to Chicago for a shiny new start, but those dreams are dashed by a rough breakup that sends her back home to help out at her Tita Rosie’s restaurant. Things go from not great to worst case scenario when an old boyfriend turned nasty food critic dies while eating at their restaurant. All of a sudden, not only is Lila unsure of what to do with her life, but she’s also accused of murder.
With her family’s livelihood and quite literally her own life on the line, Lila takes matters into her own hands to track down the killer. What could go wrong?
After reading this book, I felt like I just couldn’t NOT make adobo! Adobo seems to be the unofficial dish of the Philippines, and for good reason — it’s delicious. Adobo is not just one dish. Rather, it refers to the style and technique of cooking. When making adobo, some sort of meat (commonly chicken or pork) is marinated and cooked in soy sauce and vinegar and seasoned with peppercorns, garlic, and bay leaves. The meat is then pan-fried on its own to make it nice and browned before adding it back into the reduced and thickened sauce. This is a dish you’ll want to start the night before because marinating the meat overnight is best. When done, the meat and sauce is served over rice, and when I tell you that this is top-tier comfort food, I am not exaggerating.
We first see adobo in the story when Lila takes some to her best friend to discuss the murder that just happened in her Tita Rosie’s restaurant:
I followed my friend to the back and thrust my aunt’s offering at her. ‘There’s the chicken one your brother loves, but she came up with a new vegetarian recipe for you. Let me know what you think.
Quite a few Filipino recipes involve pork, and pork adobo was one of the most popular dishes. Adeena was a vegetarian and her family were Pakistani Muslims, so my aunt loved coming up with new variations to share with the Awans. Adeena watched with concern as I started rambling about how young jackfruit was the best meat substitute ever instead of telling her what was going on.Arsenic and Adobo, Chapter 4, pg. 23
As a note, I used the recipe from the book to cook the adobo, so I won’t replicate it here. Here are some links to similar chicken adobo recipes:
With the smorgasbord of delicious food presented in this novel, there was no way I could only cook one dish! I decided to make these ube crinkle cookies because I’ve never cooked with ube before, and, like the adobo, they seem to be a real comfort food.
Ube is basically a sweet, purple yam. Its flavor is very similar to taro, and it’s used in several Filipino desserts. They first pop up early in the book as part of the very meal that preceded Lila’s ex-boyfriends sudden death:
Seeing the ube, or purple yams in Derek’s dish, I realized this was the perfect chance to test my creations on a customer.
‘This is your lucky day, Mr. Long. I’ve been working on a fusion dessert for the restaurant, and you could be the first customer to try it. Would you be interested? There’s no coconut in it, I promise.’
He agreed, and I hurried back to the kitchen to grab the batch of ube crinkles I’d baked earlier that morning. I piled the cookies, their lovely violet color peeping through a light coating of powdered sugar, on a plate. I studied the offering, then added a small bowl of vanilla ice cream as well as a serving of my ube halaya, the purple-yam jam I’d used to create the cookies, to the dish. Perfect.Arsenic and Adobo, Chapter 2, pg. 11
These cookies are so delicious that my husband said they were his favorites! I agree that they do a great job of satisfying a sweet tooth, and I bet serving them a la mode like Lila did in the book would be heavenly. Soft and packed with ube flavor, they are unlike any cookie I’ve ever made. Like with the adobo, I used the recipe at the end of the book to make these, so I’ll link some similar recipes here:
I highly recommend checking out Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala if you’re a fan of any of the following: good food, relatable characters, and fun stories. And definitely give these recipes a try! Your tastebuds will thank you.