Gatâ, what is known as coconut milk in most regional languages in the Philippines, is widely used across spans of Filipino cuisine. For those who may have figures out already, we are going to talk about coconuts again. All Saints’ Day or Fiesta Minatay in our language is one occasion where this proverbial fruit, which is not even a nut, is most in demand. While the rest of the people are trying to get their last piece, we are overflowing with coconuts at home. What is the best way to get rid of all these coconuts in spirit of the upcoming holidays? Since we were not able to go home to Bacólod for the Fiesta Minatay, we would just have our coconut cookfest in our quaint house in the Metropolitan Manila.
Among our stack of coconuts, we chose the ones with a little sprout on top. The one I chose was the one with the biggest sprout that in fact, it already has roots. Since we don’t have an machine grinder for coconuts, we headed out to the market to buy our fresh produce. The advantage of wet markets over supermarkets is the availability of fresh products especially seafood. Since we are planning to cook fish curry, I am tossed between tuna and hito until we passed by a stall. I found something very interesting among the fishes which I instantly recognized as sea-caught tilapia. I know it was a sea-caught tilapia and not a tilapia raised in brackish water fishponds since it has the characteristic red fins, also it does not have much langsa or strong fishy smell.
The fish was still alive and flipping when we bought it and so I am much assured it is fresh. What could be fresher than that? With fish flipping in the basket and coconuts on the other, we headed for the coconut sellers where we could have our coconut ground. When the coconut vendor opened the one which had the sprout, it revealed a large buha much to my delight for it was bigger than those I have seen before. Grinding done, we kept the payâ or coconut shells ourselves for us to shine and use to traditionally store a native delicacy, kalamay-hati sa payâ.
We got a fairly good amount with our gata and I didn’t expect it would be that creamy after all, creamier than your average cow’s milk. Its a good sign that this is going to be a good first day for the coconut cook-off. The ground coconut meats were squeezed to their last coconut milk for us to use in for the tilapia fish curry and the traditional Chinese coconut milk drink. As I explained in my last entry that coconut milk as a drink is very much popular in southern China and Taiwan during the Spring and Summer months. No wonder since coconut water is refreshing and much more of that with coconut milk.
For appetizer, I got the giant buha to cut it up. It is unusually big for a sprout of medium size and I have to cut it up. For those who are not familiar with buha, it is an almost turnip shaped growth inside the coconut which grows as the bud sprouts. The bigger the sprout grows, the bigger it also becomes. It is foamy in consistency and usually hollow in some coconuts but this one to my surprise is one big mass! It was not hollow as I expected but very foamy. I cut it up into pieces for us to eat with a muscovado dip.
After we’re done with our buha appetizer, our fish curry is now tender and well-cooked. As a sort of family tradition, all our viands always have a sili labuyo or two at least, you heard it right, at least. Since we love our food spicy, we put a lot more sili in the dish. Negrénses are not much fond of spicy food that much but count as out of that. Our tongue’s well adjusted like that of the Bicolano’s palate. Since there are a lot of hungry mouths to food, there was not time to take a nice picture. I only hurriedly took a picture of the tilapia fish curry since I was hungry and so eager to eat it.
Even as the dish lacks much of the presentation I actually like with my food, it was splendid. It was not your ordinary tilapia by the way so I did not taste that weird taste I usually associate with fishpond grown tilapia. In just a few minutes, what was left of the fish is the head, tail and bones. I rarely finish eating my tilapia lest I get a nausea feeling grumbling in my stomach but not this time. I guess culinary wonders lie in the simplest of local recipes after all. There are documented recipes using your coconut milk and most of them are associated with Bicol but as the use becomes more popular, there are more dishes invented with it. In order to push down that sumptuous food, it must be coupled with a sweet drink and we just have the best one.
While your gatâ or coconut milk is a popular drink in China, it is not associated much so in the Philippines. With not what ifs, I decided to dig that coconut drink recipe I got from the internet and mixed the concoction. Nothing fancy really, just your coconut milk, condensed milk for sweetener and water to dilute the creamy liquid. Coconuts are a good way to flush out waste out and I do notice I have a good “move” after eating feasting on coconuts. Scrap that though since coconut milk is more potent but since it is more potent, I suggest you dilute your coconut milk drink a bit much. Will this be the end of the coconut cook-out? Nope! There will be your more than amazing kalamay hati sa payâ later cooked the most traditional way for the Halloween.