Fruits from a Southeast Asian Garden

My memories of childhood summers always include the tambis. One of the bigger trees  in our garden, the tambis or macopa (water/rose apple) was also the only one in our street and bore so much fruit that it gave us our version of a lemonade stand. Every summer afternoon, my sisters and I would set up a small table in front of our gate, arrange the tambis in pyramids and sell them to neighborhood kids for about ten centavos per three pieces.

We also had aratiles and guava trees and our playmates were free to pick a few from those. (I remember that guava tree. I kept peeling off the top layer of its trunk because it was always smoother underneath — a victim of my misdirected quest for neatness even in nature.)

The fruit trees in my mother’s garden are especially prolific now that it’s summer. Around this time, neighborhood kids regularly come around and ask if they can pick aratiles or hagis or tambis. Ma always says yes but also always with a warning for them to leave some on the trees or else, heh. Some things never change. 🙂

We call this hagis and it’s a very, VERY TART fruit. (I have tried in vain to find out what it is called in other climes but even in Philippine websites, nothing came up.) While bright red outside, its flesh is white. Did I mention that it is sour? It is best eaten by nibbling after dipping in some rock salt. Eating it has the desirable effect of making one’s teeth feel as dry as chalk.

Another sour fruit often eaten with some rock salt is green mango or indian mango. These are not merely unripe regular (sweet) mangoes but is a distinct variety. Sometimes it is shredded and included in Asian salads with some vinaigrette, or diced and mixed with salted eggs and tomatoes and sprinkled with salt, or blended with ice and heaps of sugar as Green Mango Shake. It’s sometimes eaten after meals but is never considered dessert. 🙂

The tambis or macopa is also called water apple or rose apple. It is bell-shaped, has a slightly spongy white interior and has a taste similar to either not-so-sweet honeydew or water with lemon. How to eat: Pick from the tree, rub off the dirt with the hem of your shirt and take a bite. (Optional: dip into some rock salt or chill first before eating.)

Iba or kamias (also variously called sour cucumber, pepino de indias, bilimbi) is another of those super sour fruits that we in Southeast Asia love to eat (often only dipped in salt). It is delicious cooked in coconut milk (with lots of bird’s eye chili) and, like green mango, is also wonderfully refreshing as a fruit shake.

And one more…

I, too, was amazed when I found out that my Ma has a cashew or kasuy tree in her backyard. Although I’ve been eating cashew nuts forever, I had never seen a cashew tree or fruit before. (While I was preparing the pictures for this post, my hubby saw this and asked, ‘What’s that?’. Turns out he has not seen one either.)

The seed or nut of the cashew grows atop the fruit. Once the fruit turns yellowish or falls from the tree, the seeds are gathered and roasted for hours, dried under the sun, then roasted again until the shells crack. Inside are those delicious, slightly oily cashew nuts we are all familiar with.


(Next Sunday/Monday: Things will be sweeter around here.)

Also featuring my Ma’s garden:

53 thoughts on “Fruits from a Southeast Asian Garden

    • Thanks, Angeline! They’re mostly unfamiliar to you, I think, just as the culinary use of cactus leaves was to me before you posted about them. 🙂

  1. Some of these were staples in our backyard! Especially the cashew fruit. I love it, Haven’t seen one in years! It isn’t native to where we currently live. I can almost smell the aroma of roasting unhusked cashew nut! The cashew trees had very low branches and I used to carry my books up onto a branch and study hidden from the world below 🙂 You brought back so many memories Tita!

    • I love that this brought back happy childhood memories for you, Madhu. 🙂
      Our cashew tree does not have the usual squat trunk and low-lying branches or I’m sure my little nieces would be climbing it regularly, too, haha.
      Oh yes, ditto to the smell of roasting cashews! 🙂

  2. Tita, you took me straight back to my childhood in Sri Lanka. I basically lived on my Hagis and Iba( which we called Jambu and Biling) trees as a child, because they were the best trees to climb with a book. I was into Enid Blyton and pretended I was on an adventure spying into my neighbors house, either that, or I was avoiding my mum 😉 I cannot tell you how joyous my childhood was. Thank you for reminding me of our abundant blessings, growing up in South East Asia. By the way, my mum cooks Iba almost similarly to what you describe, we add salt and sugar to make it tangy, it is out of this world. The sour mango curry is so divine, that I long for it now. I used to have a swing made out of rope with a wooden plank for a seat, hanging off our mango tree, it was so much fun.

    • This made me smile. I love those childhood memories.
      We were not allowed to climb the tambis because it had grown too big but there was an old tire that was tied to its branches and we would swing on it.
      Good times. 🙂
      Iba in coconut milk is so tasty and spicy we can only eat it when there’s a large serving of rice in front of us, haha. It seems you need to pay a visit soon to your mum soon?

  3. What an interesting post. I had never seen a cashew in its shell before seeing your photos, Tita. I have heard that raw cashews are poisonous. Is that true? How did you harvest and prepare them?

    • Thanks, Naomi. 🙂
      The cashew shells (though not the nuts) have some poisonous substances in them. So they have to be roasted for hours and twice AND outdoors because they release the toxins when heated. It’s only after the long process that we can safely break open the shells and eat the nuts.
      (My husband says, now that he’s aware of this, he will never haggle to bring down the price of cashew nuts again, haha.)

      • Hi Tita! What I always wonder about is how many people had to be poisoned before they figured out this time-consuming complicated way to process them, and why would they have persisted after the first people got poisoned? There are certain roots in Australia that the First People had to wash and pound and let sit in streams for weeks to get the poison out. It is fascinating to me!

        • Heh, this reminds me of a time my sisters and I were wondering who was the Brave Person who first attempted to catch and eat a crab. How did they even know there would be flesh inside? 🙂
          The effects of the poison in cashew shells are similar to allergies. We can actually handle those shells raw. Cracking a raw cashew shell, though, is not easy and roasting makes it crack or turn brittle. Maybe the First People found that out accidentally?
          We do have the Brave People to thank for a lot of our culinary delights now. Think lobsters. 🙂

  4. Gorgeous photos of tasty treats. Instead of rock salt, I’d dip some of them in chocolate. That would take away that sour taste. In Florida, the mango is sweet – great made into ice cream or just eaten as is after it’s been peeled.

    • Ahhh, but Philippine yellow mangoes are the sweetest, Judy, hahaha. No, seriously, it is the best. Especially the ones from an island called Guimaras. It’s actually our national fruit.
      I wish you guys would be able to taste it (even as mango shake), it is so good. 🙂
      Iba or hagis with chocolate? Hmm, we haven’t tried that although we sometimes mix in sugar with the salt. 🙂

  5. Wow I’ve never even heard of these fruits, let alone actually see them or their corresponding trees (except for Indian mango and cashews). What a lovely variety! But it’s not just the novelty of the fruit that amazes me – it’s the suggestion of dipping it in rock salt?
    The iba fruit made me giggle: a friend of mine calls me “iba”, imitating the way a former (British) colleague pronounced my name (my real name, that is!) So it seems I was named after a fruit from the Philippines!

    • We sometimes mix sugar with the salt if the iba or hagis are extra sour, but yes, basically it’s just pieces of sour fruit and rock salt.
      Another popular dip for indian mango is ”bagoong” or fermented fish/shrimp. (I know how that sounds, haha, but it is really good.) 🙂

  6. I can still remember how I always confuse myself what an iba and tambis look like! Even up to now, I still find it hard to remember which is which. Hahahaha!

    • I take it, your variety of tambis is the light-colored one?
      Most tambis is red or pink and is shaped like a bell. Iba is like a small pipino. 🙂
      Try cooking iba in coconut milk with some sili, Mikhail. Super sarap.

  7. Ahh, your photos are making me miss iba and Indian mangoes even more, Tita Buds! Your tambis looks different from the ones we had in Bacolod. Or maybe I just remember them inaccurately? Ours was pink and white at the tip.

    • Hehe, our tambis in my childhood home used to be of the pink variety, too. The one we have now is already a ‘hybrid’ so it’s red and squat. 🙂

  8. omigosh!!!! i love everything here! at lahat nasa backyard namin maliban sa macopa! sayang kasi swerte daw ang macopa tree sa garden kasi it symbolizes love. :p

    grabe. hindi ko ma-take na pinapahinog ang indian mango at ginagawang dessert. eeewww! lasang gamot.

    ang bayabas masarap ipangsigang sa beef. ang kamias masarap ipang-sgang sa bangus belly!

    ohmygosh! i wanna go home to bataan now na! wheeee! love this post, tita buds! maghahanap ako ng macopaaaa!!!!

    • Hahaha! Pwes.
      Ay, I love carabao mango na green sa labas pero yellow na sa loob. Yun ata ang sabi mo na lasang gamot, haha! Tapos ayoko naman ng sinigang sa bayabas kasi amoy leki-leki. 😀

  9. Poor me, I only had tasted and seen iba, green mangoe and tambis in my life. Yeah, it’s pathetic to think why some Pinoys have seen, much more tasted them while I don’t, considering I’m a probinsiyana…Hihi! The Hagis and Tambis by the way, looked almost similar, Tita. Do they belong to the same family po?

    • No, they’re not in the same family but they do look the same in the pictures, as both are bright red and the picture I have of the tambis shows only the underside. (I didn’t have a close-up picture of the tambis fruit but it’s bell-shaped and not round like the hagis.)
      The hagis is super sour. I don’t know what it is called in other parts of the Philippines or the world. It does not seem to be common at all but in my hometown, everyone knows what it is. 🙂

  10. There is something wrong here. I tried posting my comment twice already but it won’t show up. Either my browser is failing, my wordpress account or something else. 😦

  11. Ah! Yes! Now it is up!

    Hahahaha! Nice pictures of all the fruits Tita Buds. I can still remember how I always confuse myself on what a tambis and an iba look like. I can’t even picture them out in my mind even until now. 🙂

  12. I haven’t seen macopa, kasuy and hagis personally. I will make that a personal quest at some point in my future life 🙂

    We usually spend our summer vacation here in Nueva Ecija when I was young, so I was surrounded by a lot of summer fruits, yay! I remember we had green mango, kamias, aratiles, and sampaloc here in our yard. Sadly, they were cut down for different reasons.

    The aratiles was plagued with maggots, so it had to be cut down, then the mini sampaloc tree (where we usually get the ‘usbong’ of the leaves that we use as ‘pang-asim ng mga ulam) accidentally caught fire when my father was burning fallen leaves too near the tree. The kamias and the green mango tree had to be cut down to make way for the construction of the garage, sadly. But we had no other space to park the car. Sorry, earth!

    I remembered just sitiing on one branch of an aratiles (which we also call ‘saresa’, the branches were a little bit thin so we had to be very careful) and just nibbling on the fruits! Yum! And my brother (who is crazy about everything sour) sits on the bench under the kamias tree with some rock salt, and just starts picking up kamias straigh from the tree, wipes the dirt on his shirt and then dips it into the rock salt. Pretty sweet (err, sour) treat!

    Kinda long comment, I can’t help it because I was suddenly brought back to my childhood! Oh plus camachile! Yummy! 🙂

    • Reading through your comment made me smile. Nakakatuwa that this post helped bring back memories for fellow Pinoys. I can imagine sarap na sarap yung brother mo sa kamias at pwede na sa mukhasim contest, hehe.

  13. Except for the cashews and green mangos these fruits are all new to me. I would like to taste them.
    The sliced iba looks a little bit like okras to me. Are they likewise?

  14. Wow! Great pictures 😀 And though I stay here in our homeland, I still miss this fruits. Living in the city, I seldom encounter these refreshing and healthy blessings from nature.

  15. Did I just spent 18 years in Philippines? I didn’t know some of the fruits you mentioned here, tita buds.
    Oh how I haven’t eaten a macopa in a long looong looooong time.

  16. Pingback: Magical Miracle Fruit | tita buds' blog

  17. Hahaha! I so remember tambis and how I used to climb up the tambis tree infront of our house, taking care not to put so much weight on the branches as I might fall. Remember those good ole childhood days! And I love the Indian mangoes! 🙂

  18. Beautiful post, Tita Buds. I don’t recognize the red fruit which you call hagis. It looks a bit like macopa but is it? You made me miss all these fruits. I love the kamias or “iba” as we call it in Bicol to go with the shrimp paste, chillies and coconut milk. 😉

  19. Tita, this is so awesome.. After seeing this blog, I immediately crave for macopa….. I will plant this as soon as I get the chance..

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