Tabada: ‘Butong’

·2 min read

NOTHING different sets apart the husband’s “suki (preferred seller)” for coconut, the family’s shack surrounded by an oasis of dark green coconuts and browning husks beside the Sta. Rosa-Tagaytay Road.

Ever since a Laguna pioneer returned home from working as a helper in the U.S. and used the plentiful coconut as substitute in making the local version of apple pie, “buko (young coconut in Filipino)” pie is a favorite “pasalubong (present)” in these parts.

Due to its white sugar and condensed milk, though, buko pie can only be an occasional treat, not daily fare. Paring down to the basic and essential, the husband bought buko from this couple in their 30’s and was pleased to find that a coconut sold for P20 yielded about two liters of “water” and “meat,” a leap in savings from the P100 bottle of coco juice only sold in supermarkets.

In Cebu, coconut fetches P40 to P50 a piece, especially during holidays when buko strips are popular for fruit salads.

Beneficial for many ailments from diabetes to kidney stones, coconut is ideal as a snack or even a meal. The Cebuano “sagbay-luwag” that slips from the still pinkish coco shell to throat and gut has a less literary, ruder translation in Filipino: “malauhog” or mucus-like. I cannot think of anything else that looks and feels slimy but tastes so good.

According to Binisaya.com, sagbay-luwag is the stage between “dalinog” and “butong.” Dalinog refers to a white and creamy substance surrounding a coconut sprout. As a child, I was often given “buwa,” a spherical, spongelike bulb found in germinating coconuts. Despite its strange appearance and texture, buwa is juicy and delicately sweet.

Cebuano is rich in capturing the diversity of desirable young coconut meat: “balatungol (tender),” “kuyamis (soft),” and “lamog (meaty).” Between the Bisdak husband and the Silang-born suki, there is no loss in translation because the wife (her husband is often away on buying trips, as well as takes on tree-felling and -cutting) performs the time-tested technique of “reading” coconuts: knocks the coconut and listens to the echo to determine if the meat is young or mature.

A coconut between butong and “lahing (mature)” is called “bagatungol” or “ungol,” the latter term also meaning “grumble.” Shaken, the lahing rumbles. Harder and thicker, mature coconut meat is more filling, a bit akin to the consolation of accepting our easily peeved older selves.

When the suki recently sold a load of coconuts to a buko pie maker, she gave the husband and other buyers free water since the entrepreneur only needed the meat. Sweeter than butong is the kindness of strangers, unforeseen and thus, more exquisite.

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