Quantcast

Looking Back

Our ‘balimbing’ is the Coromandel gooseberry

By

In the past 10 months at Sophia University in Tokyo, my host professor Takefumi Terada, dean of the faculty of Foreign Studies, has patiently rounded off my culinary education by pushing me out of the Pinoy comfort zone that is familiar with tempura, sushi, sashimi, tonkatsu, ramen,  and karaage chicken. While I am normally adventurous and have tried whale and horse sashimi, my Pinoy upbringing makes me wary of chicken sashimi, as well as the gooey, stinky fermented soybean called “natto.” When confronted with a new dish, I convince myself that we only live once and should taste anything at least once. After all, it is easy to force it down the throat with a cold drink. If it’s truly inedible, you can politely spit it out. Once out of your comfort zone, you may actually like the new and unfamiliar.

Natto I tried once. It’s not bad, but I’m not excited to have it again. In our home I’m the only one who doesn’t eat durian because I prefer marang. It’s not the smell of the durian that sets me off, or the taste, which is quite good; what I find disgusting is the texture. Food to one is indeed poison to another.

The Japanese food that comes closest to Philippine food is from Okinawa, whose people share the Pinoy love for luncheon meat aka Spam. In the Philippines we have Spam for breakfast, straight out of the square can and into the frying pan, sometimes rolled in scrambled egg and served with fried rice. At our favorite izakaya they serve Spam rolled in batter and deep-fried, making it a tonkatsu Spam that Pinoys will like, though I find it a bit too oily.

Among Okinawan food, the dishes that I have learned to like are a fermented tofu that has the taste and consistency of cream cheese and the braised pork liempo called “rafute” that will melt in your mouth, not on your chopsticks. Once the pork fat in between the meat has melted from slow cooking, the dish becomes a cross between our adobo and humba. Chanpuru, the signature dish of Okinawa, is a stir-fry that contains Spam and vegetables like goya (ampalaya). For once in my life I actually liked ampalaya because the Okinawan dish seemed to have squeezed out most of the bitterness from it. Now that I can eat ampalaya, the only thing I have to work on is okra, which I find disgusting because it has fur outside and is slimy inside. But then in a tempura I can eat okra, therefore cooking can transform food we don’t like into something more palatable.

Whenever we eat out I enrich my vocabulary by learning the Japanese names for different fruits, vegetables and meat. This reminded me of the “List of Philippine Agricultural products” compiled by F. Lamson-Scribner for the Bureau of Agriculture in the early 1900s. This engaging list provides the Latin scientific names of familiar fruits and vegetables in the Philippines and some unfamiliar English names as well. For example, calabasang pula (red squash) and calabasang puti (white squash) are on the list. Their difference is not just in color because the red one is a real squash, while the calabasang puti is better known to us as upo. To complicate things, there even is calabasang bilog.

Guyabano is often translated as sour sop because the sweet sop is atis aka sugar apple. My mother used to translate atis as custard apple, which turned out to be anonas. Ampalaya we translate as bitter melon or amargoso in Spanish, but in English it’s supposed to be balsam apple! Duhat is Jambolan plum (from its Latin name Eugenia Jambolana), while the tampoy, a fruit I have never come across except for a reference in Rizal’s juvenile diary, is a relative of the duhat because its Latin name is Eugenia Jambos with a choice of English names: rose apple or jamrosade. Our makopa is Eugenia Malaccensis, whose Cuban name is pomarosa and English name is otaheite apple.

Latin names sometimes result in common names. Phaseolus mungo is the common mungo, mongo or balatong. Latin names can also mislead, as in Averrhoa bilimbi, which doesn’t translate into the balimbing that gives you a sour star-shape treat when sliced, but its cousin, the kamias aka cucumber tree. Balimbing is Averrhoa carambola, which is a good description of both fruit and political turncoat. In English, balimbing is Coromandel gooseberry!

Musa paradisiaca is the scientific name for banana, or platano in Spanish. The reference to paradise comes from the tradition that the Garden of Eden was located somewhere in Asia and that the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve ate of was neither a delicious red apple nor a fig but either a banana or a mango. There are several banana varieties in the Philippines: saguing, latundan (named after a Frenchman Le Tondal), saba, saba iloco, Musa paradisiaca lacatan, tondoc, Musa paradisiaca maxima Batavia, platano de mono (monkey banana), platano colorado (colored banana), platano morado (purple banana), Musa paradisiaca suaveolens (bungulam, whatever that means) and finally Musa paradisiaca Ternatensis aka gloria. Where do “señorita” banana, Chiquita banana, and Cavendish banana come in?

Camoteng cahoy we know as cassava, but it is also known as Adam’s needle. So much to learn, so little time. This obsolete botanical list will definitely raise my Scrabble scores.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu


Follow Us


Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


More from this Column:

Other Stories:

No related posts found!

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=45381

Tags: Ambeth R. Ocampo , column , coromandel gooseberry , Filipino food , ‘balimbing’



Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
Advertisement

News

  • Obama, family cause a small stir at Easter service
  • Estrada: Gigi Reyes won’t testify vs JPE
  • Ancient enigmatic carvings in danger of disappearing
  • Tagle: Hope comes with warning on Easter
  • New plant to boost supply of clean energy
  • Sports

  • Goodbye MGM, Las Vegas for Pacquiao?
  • Rain or Shine drops Ginebra in big hole
  • Ateneo whips CSB; Davao debuts with win over FEU
  • PH pug Hipolito Banal decisions Colombian in Aiba
  • Former Pacquiao sparmate Porter keeps IBF title
  • Lifestyle

  • Transitions and resurrection in the performing arts
  • ‘Archaeology tour’ of Cebu’s heritage of faith
  • Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  • ‘Imports’ from London, and play of the year
  • Korean animation comes of age
  • Entertainment

  • Easter musings
  • Solenn in shorts
  • Unmerry mix of attention-calling moves on ‘Mini-Me’ TV tilts
  • Persistence pays off for The 1975
  • Special section in LA fest for Filipino films
  • Business

  • BDO seen keen on bidding for Cocobank
  • Bataan freeport investment pledges up 1,302%
  • Golden Week
  • Bourse to woo Cebu stock mart investors
  • Supper power
  • Technology

  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Opinion

  • Gigi’s home
  • Palace stonewalls on MRT inquiry
  • Couple of things too
  • There is plenty of water behind Wawa Dam
  • Triduum thoughts of a young boy
  • Global Nation

  • Search for Etihad passengers launched
  • Japan presents $57-B ‘dream plan’ to solve Metro congestion
  • Tim Tebow’s charity hospital in Davao seen to open in 7 months
  • OFW died of Mers-CoV in Saudi Arabia, says family
  • Aquino, Obama to tackle US pivot to Asia during state visit
  • Marketplace