Year of Grace, Day 190. Encounters with mabolo in Batanes and elsewhere

One fruit that I delighted in seeing in Batanes, on Batan Island to be precise, was mabolo (Diospyros blancoi). I hadn’t eaten this since childhood, and seeing it transported me back in time. It’s not a fruit that is sold in shops, perhaps because it doesn’t travel or store well. It’s the kind of fruit that one only gets directly off a tree, ready to eat, and usually it’s someone else’s tree, as it’s not a tree one finds in home gardens in the city. My grandmother Bonifacia is the only family member I know who had one such tree, right by a well, but that was in Santiago, Ilocos Sur.  And the mabolo from that tree was the first and only time in my life that I had ever tasted it, that is, until Batanes. Once tasted, never forgotten. It is extraordinarily memorable.

On Batan Island, in the town of Mahatao, by chance I passed by a house with a fruiting mabolo tree. I should correct myself. Only the fruits are called mabolo. The tree itself is known as kamagong; it was my second brother who had passed on that bit of botanical trivia back in the day, in reference to a choice yoyo he was playing with. It was small, much smaller than the usual, dark, almost black, and highly polished, and of a convex shape so that the yoyo looked almost like a complete miniature globe in profile. He said with great pride that it was made of kamagong — the best for unbeatable yoyos. Although native to the Philippines, the kamagong tree is now rare and endangered. So much of it has been so sought after for furniture that very little remains, alas. (Why weren’t more of them planted for replacement, I wonder? It’s not too late to do so, is it?)

Anyhow back to Batanes. I remarked on how wonderful the fruits were, up in the tree, and took a photo. Rather fuzzy I’m afraid, as my companions had gone way ahead, and I was in a rush to catch up. So if you don’t mind, I won’t share that doozy with you. Imagine then my surprise and delight when these lovelies were delivered to my lodgings. I was so touched.  This was the first of many such instances during my Batanes trip that I would be the beneficiary of such acts of kindness: Mahatao folk in particular and the Ivatans in general are exceedingly thoughtful and generous.  Now aren’t these mabolo totally fetching in their fuzzy velvetiness? I was tempted to hug them and nuzzle them.Mabolo fruits Their fuzzy coats remind me of peach skin, and their warm enticing scent is somewhat reminiscent of that of a peach. But mabolo fruits have so much more ummph. In shape, the  remaining calyx at the stalk rather resembles that of a persimmon: unsurprising as both belong to the same family.

Mabolo flesh is so silky, it just melts in the mouth. When was the first or last time you’d tasted a mabolo?Amazingly, there are some who regard this lovely mabolo scent as offensive, likening it to cat poo (caca de chat). Curious!

Years later, I would have another surprising encounter with mabolo, this time in the province of Nueva Vizcaya, at the Santa Fe municipal market on a Saturday, the usual market day.Veg mabolo sellers Sta Fe croppedThese ladies were the only ones I spotted selling mabolo. I wasn’t even expecting them here, to be honest. I was just checking the market to see what exotica I would find — something I customarily do wherever in the world I happen to be.

There were only four mabolo, here being weighed. If you look carefully, there is a bunch of wild watercress to the right of the spring onions — a rare sight in a Philippine rural market. Watercress grows plentifully along the cold, clear streams and rivers of Santa Fe and Imugan village, much higher up, at 1000 meters above sea level. When I asked why there weren’t more of them, the woman said, no one really likes them. What?! Why? I said I adore them, a nostalgic fruit from my childhood. My children don’t like them, she went on. They say it stinks, nabangsit kano.

There is no accounting for taste, indeed.