Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Don't Go Down to the Swamps Today...

...because the Nipa Palm flower may get you.

The nipa flower's the nearest thing to a space monster that I've ever seen. They look as if they're about to come bursting and bubbling out like distinctly unfriendly extra-terrestrials. Just like Day of the Triffids. And they're big.

The flower usually grows more than a metre high, and in the fetid darkness of the brackish swamps that nipa palms inhabit, they stand out like, well, aliens.

Later, a seed head will grow, with about 40 large seeds, each enclosed in a strong husk, the whole about the size of a basketball. The seeds themselves are often called 'vegetable ivory' and are reputed to be carved by native tribesmen somewhere or other.

I tried carving them myself, but they didn't live up to their advance billing.

The nipa palm (Nypa frutescens) itself is quite innocuous, as are the flowers, of course.

The leaves are used as roofing material , widely available as roughly 4ft x 15" 'tiles', at about 8รง each. They don't last a lifetime, but they are waterproof, and a lot cooler than the corrugated iron sheets that are nowadays replacing them.

They don't need to be 'farmed' as such, but nipa stands do have owners, so be careful to ask if you want a nipa seed head as a souvenir.

The flowers, when they have grown seed heads, are tapped, like coconut flowers, for their sweet sap, which is then distilled to make pa-oroi, a strong-tasting liquor which, thankfully, is very cheap. (It's the local hooch that I mention in my blog title; I usually buy it by the 5-gallon jerry can).

I keep my hooch in a plastic water dispenser with a tap. It is half-filled with coconut-shell charcoal, that filters out the fairly awful natural taste of the pa-oroi.

My original intention was to make fruit-flavoured liquors of the stuff, by macerating some of the local fruits in it, but each time I tried that, I took to tasting it frequently, and none of my efforts ever matured, as they should have done, for more than a month.


PS 1 I just found I did this same story about a year ago at: Shows how forgetful pa-oroi makes you.

PS 2 A wonderful photo-essay on the making of pa oroi, or laksoy, as the Butuanons call it (about 3 hours drive from Surigao City is at EatingAsia:

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