What a treat to be vacationing in the Philippines during May! The markets are teeming with summer fruit, among them the beloved siniguelas of my youth.
But first, let’s rewind to the month before. I was strolling in a port town of Colombia during a day-long break from a cruise to the Panama Canal.
I wasn’t surprised at hearing the name. The siniguelas, a fruit of the cashew family, is native to the Mesoamerican region which extends from central Mexico to Belize,Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica.
Other names for it are ciruela and jocote (from xocotl, a Nahuatl word which means “fruit”). Nahuatl is a language known informally as Aztec.
Siniguelas, when “just so” between green/red and hard/spongy, are easy to bite into and taste delectably tart-sweetish. It has more seed than flesh, but that doesn’t matter because the flesh, skin included, is sooo very delish and aromatic in its own right. (I say this because there are many fruits that can claim #1 position in my ranking!)
Some folks put the whole oblong-shaped fruit into their mouths, chomping away at the flesh and spitting out the relatively large seed. I prefer to hold a washed siniguela between thumb and two more fingers, gnawing at the fruit until all is gone but the seed. Yum!
Seeds of the drupe fruit siniguelas are relatively large;
the hard stone is surrounded by a thin layer of flesh
and shiny skin which, fortunately, are super tasty.
Green (unripe) fruit have a distinct tartness, but
not unacceptable, tastes good with some rock salt.
Ripe ones are juicy and sweeter.
Siniguelas is almost always eaten fresh in the Philippines. G. Stuart reports that Ecuadorians process this fruit into sweets, such marmalades, and also into wines…
Some cultures focus on its curative properties. Again, G. Stuart: Guatemalans use it to remedy gastro-intestinal disorders. In Brazil, it is used to remedy both diarrhea and constipation. Cubans use it to induce vomiting, while Jamaicans boil the leaves for use as a cold remedy and to help with sore gums.
The siniguelas is said to have given its Thai name, makok farang, to the country’s capital city. A theory suggests that “Bangkok” is short for Bang Makok, bang meaning a village near a stream, and makok being the local name of the siniguelas. The trees grew prominently around Bangkok’s historic Wat Makok temple, now renamed Wat Arun.