This is my third, and probably not the last, column on fruits, starting with New Year practices using fruits to lure good luck and China cashing in on the demand, to the phenomenon of branded and trademarked fruits like Fuji apples and Sunkist oranges.
The columns are all related, as you will begin to see today as I offer a mystery that I hope readers can help solve.
About 10 years ago, I was first offered Sagada oranges by a fruit vendor at a weekend “tiangge” (bazaar). I was intrigued to find out that oranges were being grown in Sagada, which we know more as a tourist attraction.
I was even more intrigued when I was given a sample of the oranges and found them sweet and juicy.
I was hooked, buying the oranges whenever I was at the tiangge. I found out from friends that Sagada did grow navel oranges, but that they were hard to come by.
Then one Sunday, I noticed some of the oranges had little stickers on them, with Chinese characters. I was incredulous and pointed out the stickers to the seller, asking if the oranges were from China. With a straight face, he said, oh, some Chinese oranges got mixed with the Sagada oranges.
I stopped buying from him and wondered if I’d ever taste Sagada oranges, short of going to Sagada.
Imagine my joy then when, one day, a man approached me in front of the Mercury Drug store on Katipunan, offering Sagada oranges. I was ecstatic, bought several kilos and told him to contact me whenever he had the oranges.
Then again, I began to wonder, because he would call every few days, getting really pushy. I stopped buying partly because I thought of the China angle and, more, because I don’t like pushy sellers.
Then, during a trip to Baguio, I was delighted to find people with big signs saying “Sagada oranges.” After that, whenever I’d be in Baguio I’d buy several kilos, especially from vendors near the Good Shepherd convent, a favorite stopover for tourists to buy jams and cookies. I was confident the oranges were from Sagada simply because Baguio is closer to Sagada.
One day during one of my anthropological expeditions to Quiapo, I found a vendor on one of the side streets, again with the sign Sagada oranges. Aha, I thought, here’s my chance: I asked him where the oranges were from, and he answered without hesitating: China.
There were no telltale stickers, so this time, I thought, my goodness, doesn’t this man know that Sagada is in the Philippines? I bought a few kilos, enjoyed them and that was it.
But I began to get stories from Cordillera friends about widespread “fake” Sagada oranges.
Over the Christmas holidays, I again got obsessed with Sagada oranges, thinking it would be nice to get some as gifts. This time I asked a fellow anthropologist, Mai Taqueban, whose husband, Dennis, is from Sagada, if she could get me some.
She told me the oranges weren’t in season, but a few were probably available.
Then one Saturday, in a fruit shop in San Juan, I found crates of oranges, each with a large sticker that read, in large letters, “Sagada Fresh Fruit.” The background showed mountains with clouds, and on the top of the label was “Jinjiaya.”
The shop has fruits from all over the country and the world, so I asked the owner of the shop, who is Chinese, where the oranges were from. He answered: Zhongguo, China.
I bought them anyway—yes, with some guilt, and a determination to get to the bottom of this Sagada oranges thing.
When I got home, the guard told me someone had dropped off some “dayap.” I peeked in the bag to find lemons and green citrus fruits. I tasted the green fruits and said, yup, dayap, good for fruit juice.
Then I got a text from Mai: She had sent Sagada oranges! The dayap were Sagada oranges.
The internet has lots of posts complaining about fake Sagada oranges, pointing out that the real ones are sweeter and have rougher skins than China’s. I looked at the dayap, and they were worlds apart from the Chinese Sagada oranges which, admittedly, were too perfect. As for “sweet,” will I ever know?
See the connections now among my three columns, about consumer demands and marketing?
Wait, wait, there’s more about the history of Sagada’s oranges, but I’d like to hear from readers about their experiences and what they know about these elusive oranges, from Sagada or China. Help me with the detective work.
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