Years ago he sent me a postcard from the Philippines the featured a fruit market. I still remember the bountiful displays of exotic fruit! Tirso sent me new year's wishes from the Philippines, so I thought I'd ask him to send some pictures of some real-life markets to help me forget our blustery, freezing weather for a minute. With the help of his nieces Bea and Inna in Ilocos, in northern Phillipines, he obliged.
Here are some highlights:
"These are the sweetest mangoes in the world!" Tirso writes.
Tirso was always nostalgic about Filipino mangoes. Over the years he shared many mango treats with me - dried mango, mango candy - so I know of his enthusiasm for the fruit. And of course, someone who has lived and traveled as much Tirso has doesn't use superlatives lightly. Trust this guy with your mango selection!
They really have you covered at this market: yellow mangoes, green mangoes, pre-peeled and cut (artistically, too) mangoes for the mango lover on the run.
Pineapples and melons! What's not to love here?
Tirso wrote, "These are tropical fruits called Chicos. They grow in Latin America and Florida, but they're bigger there."
I remembered a fruit that looked just liked these from Vietnam (minus the University of Luzon advertisement, of course). I asked Tirso, "Aren't these sapote?" Tirso answered that they were indeed, only a smaller variety.
Sapote, or sapodilla, is a tropical fruit that is indigenous to the Americas, but came to the Philippines via Spanish conquest. I sometimes see sapote in the fruit markets in East Harlem and the Bronx that cater to customers from the Caribbean. Sapotes are sweet and relatively caloric, like bananas and other tropical fruits, but - less typically - they have an astringent quality because they are high in tannins. (Tannins are believed to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial capacities.) More strikingly, their juice is like latex! After a fruit or two the mucilage will do its trick and you'll have to pry your mouth open.
The final fruit featured looked appealing, but aroused some suspicion when I showed the picture to my Filipina friend Bea, who also hails from the northern part of the Philippines. "Ha!" she said. "That's imported! We don't have oranges like that in the Philippines."
I posed the question to Tirso, who listed the citrus fruits native to the Philippines: limes, sour orange; and dalanghita or daladan, sweet tangerine-oranges with green skin. But not mandarin-oranges. Bea was right. These market oranges were indeed imported from China.
This got me thinking. The Filipino markets should diversify! Forget nearby China, even if it is the world's biggest apple exporter. As long as the fruit markets in the Philippines are open to importing produce, how about trading mangoes for some New York State apples?