The One Nut to Rule Them All: Pili

12:01 PM

I really have to stop coming up with tacky titles.
Had to argue with myself a couple of times before agreeing with the title. For one, I didn't want to say I love walnuts or macadamias less, but then they wouldn't stage a rebellion in response to my favoritism, right? Let's hope not. I love you all equally, yumyum nuts.

As summer came to a close and gave way to a brunch-like season, I had the privilege of visiting one of the most breathtaking vacation spots ever: Catanduanes somewhere in the Bicol region.

From Manila, the travel lasted 16 hours, 12 by land, 4 by boat. I will never again take for granted the greatest invention of the Wright brothers . The plane ride lasts about an hour

Once we caught sight of the Mayon volcano--perfect, cloud free and smokin' hot (it erupted recently), I regained some feeling in my behind. But what really made the trip worth all that drive, next to spending time with friends, was the chance to eat fresh pili without a care.

Pili is a tropical tree that grows in limited areas around the globe. It thrives in the Bicol region of the Philippines where it is grown commercially. It is a "stress-loving" tree. The more wind and rain it gets, the more fruit it bears. This makes Bicol, a region situated in the typhoon belt, an ideal habitat.

The fruit turns a dark violet shade once it matures and signals it is ready for picking. According to locals, to cook these pretty tear-shaped fruits is pretty easy.Submerge in hot (not boiling) for 5 minutes or so , take pictures, panic, test to see if the fruit is soft and it's good to go!

Now the first test: The edible pulp, yellowish and fibrous and is usually dipped in fish sauce or sugar.

I tried once, twice. After the 17th attempt, I have conceded that it may be an acquired taste after all. The acquisition by which, is not happening today. Therefore creating the need for me to return soon!

Now for the mother lode. After the pulp, what remained was a thick shell that separated me and my precious pili. These kernels are bloody difficult to open! By bloody I mean countless punctures, cuts and BFTs before I finally got the hang of it. While the shell is rock solid, the nut inside is pretty delicate, this is why machine operated nut crackers do not come close to an experienced Bicolano's pili opening skills called "pagtilad" or cracking open pili using a bolo.

The nut was fragrant and had a creamy, delicate taste similar to a sweet almond but less crunch.
The raw version has the same fragrance and tastes like young bamboo shoot and pumpkin seed.

Achievement Unlocked! Crack open pili without losing a finger
These nuts have endless culinary potential. From simple roasted, glazed, salted nuts to marzipans, nougats, ice cream and even pesto! Yes. pesto sounds like an experiment. I will try that one next time. Well, I'll go regenerate punctured bits and pieces of me for now.

PS: In Catanduanes and looking for a place to stay? Try Rakdell's Inn. The place is clean, cozy and is about 200 steps from the Virac port. Don't miss the exhilarating view from the roof top while having breakfast or lunch. 

Thanks to Imaginary Trina and Mark Garchitorena for the Catanduanes photos! 

Miss summer? Yeah, me neither.

Chef Kuno

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