24 Feb2008

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The gabi or taro plant is extremely common and beloved on the Albay Peninsula. An “import” from the early Spanish times, I have previously written a post on the leaves, here. If eaten raw or improperly prepared it is poisonous, with a chemical that can give you some pretty serious if not uncomfortable reactions. But dried and cooked stewed with coconut milk, it is the comfort food of millions of folks from the Albay region and elsewhere in the Philippines. With a really hectic travel schedule of late, I noticed that my photos of markets in Albay, Cebu and Palawan all had some gabi pictures… a testament to its desirability, availability, adaptability and probably most of all, economy.

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Despite it growing EVERYWHERE in and around the suburbs of Legazpi, taro or gabi leaves, stems and root are sold in HUGE volumes at the Central market, particularly on a Saturday morning with is one of two weekly tabo or market days… I have never seen so much fresh gabi leaves from small to enormous, in piles, bundles and baskets full, totally fresh and just harvested, hanging and starting to dry and dry and cut up, ready to cook.

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There appear to be several varieties of taro and the green-stemmed variety is the gabi of choice in Bicol. They also have these large reddish looking roots or “fruit.” The leaves are often stewed with coconut milk into laing, pinangat, etc. The stems are also cooked and the fruit or root is likewise used to thicken soups, desserts, etc. It is extremely versatile and excellent value to boot!

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I was amazed by the volume of gabi on offer, and particularly intrigued by the semi-dried and dried versions in the bilaos in the photo, above. I have tried to make laing with pre-packaged dried gabi leaves and I have to say, I can tell old leaves from newly dried leaves… the older leaves aren’t so good, if you know what I mean. But everything in the Albay market looked pretty good and if I had access to a kitchen, I would have been cooking in a flash…

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I was told by a local that the choicest gabi leaves are the “baby” leaves, the ones that are still curled and unfurled. Apparently they are the most tender (no surprise) and the nicest to eat… They are sold here (photo above) in little bundles…

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…and the juvenile leaves were also considered the “good stuff” at this tiny market in Coron, Palawan, where I found even smaller version, here unfurled for the photo, above.

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In Cebu, however, a dark stemmed (almost purple) gabi or taro variety reigns surpreme, with slightly purple leaves and pudgier roots.

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Bicolans might scoff that this purple variety have almost “inedible” and “bitter” stems and leaves…

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but Cebuanos seem to prefer the pudgier, smaller roots the dark-stemmed variety produce…

 

COMMENTS:

  1. tulip says:

    I have a suki in Baguio selling an imported variety of gabi. Whenever I pass by her stall, she cuts everything for me leaves, stems and roots. One huge overflowing plastic bag for only P40. Then I use about 4-5 coconuts for its milk and cream. More than enough for home, we share with friends within the neighborhood and bring some at the office.

    Feb 24, 2008 | 4:20 pm

     
  2. bernadette says:

    the gabi plants here in Mindoro do not need to be dried like that of the other gabi varieties before cooking it. I cook them after I have harvested them. They also do not have the usual after-taste itchiness and also subtle bitterness. They also have a small red dot in the middle compared with the white-dotted gabi plants. Because of this, we have even used the laing as our pizza topping. I tried the same pizza topping recipe using the usual gabi plant sold elsewhere but it is not as delicious. So, I do not really advise it.

    Feb 24, 2008 | 6:10 pm

     
  3. elaine says:

    I love anything cooked with gabi leaves, stems and its roots. It’s very versatile and with this kind of vegetable everything can be used up…up north they mostly use the stems more than the leaves while down south the leaves are mostly used up. These gabi leaves remind me of my fave bicolano dish which is the pangat. It’s quite interesting to know their availability in different provincial markets and maybe each of these provinces may have their own versions of a good gabi dish.

    Feb 24, 2008 | 6:51 pm

     
  4. raine ramirez says:

    Growing up, I was never a laing eater. My grandmother will cooked this dish and I will run away from the kitchen. Now I kick myself for not indulging in them, i do not even know how to make them without fearing of having the “kati”. Isn’t these the same Hawaiian delicacy called poi extracted from the roots/fruit?

    Feb 24, 2008 | 9:26 pm

     
  5. Silly Lolo says:

    Raine: Yes, Hawaiian Poi is made from the taro root and is almost revered by local people. The root is pounded into a flour like consistency and allowed to ferment some and thus has a bit of a sour taste. Definitely an acquired taste.
    Taro fields/farms are starting to decline because of the work required to tend them. In Hawaii, they are almost zen like about the quality and quantity of the water used to irrigate the plants. Water is so clean people drink right off the irrigation streams. It is amazing how Hawaiians treat taro as almost a religious item. The leaves are also used as a wrapper for various foods which I believe are then steamed to cook.

    Feb 25, 2008 | 1:23 am

     
  6. dhayL says:

    Oh we had “laing” yesterday, my dad cooked it, it was good although my dad chopped up the ginger relatively small, that it was really hard for me to pick them out, sorry i’m not a big fan of ginger specially if it was cut as small as the garlic! :)

    Feb 25, 2008 | 1:26 am

     
  7. kayenne says:

    and i scoff at the purple variety! haha mom’s born in bicol. i’ve acquired her tastebuds through and through.

    Feb 25, 2008 | 8:07 am

     
  8. Mandaragat says:

    Good pics MM! Gabi or Taro is loved by Pinoy and locals here in Saipan.

    Feb 25, 2008 | 3:10 pm

     
  9. honey says:

    MM, next time you’re in Albay, try buying pinangat in Camalig. They are known for making great pinangat there. They sell it fresh frozen for pasalubong.

    It is believed by some in Bicol that the purple tinged gabi leaves are “makati” so it’s not very popular here.

    Feb 25, 2008 | 8:46 pm

     
  10. Maria Clara says:

    As a kid, we loved to play with the water repellent leaves by swirling around raindrops around it!

    Feb 27, 2008 | 2:52 am

     
  11. ging says:

    ay, how i miss the pinangat from camalig!

    i spent a couple of months in bicol for my internship and got to taste many, many versions of the bicol express, pinangat and laing.. and loved them all!!

    Feb 29, 2008 | 12:23 am

     
  12. lovely says:

    i want to find out more about gabi plant.. for my investigatory project.. tnx

    Mar 16, 2008 | 4:54 pm

     
  13. vic says:

    pinagat,bicol express,gabi cooked with gata.. bicol’s best!ang saraaaap!

    Jul 18, 2008 | 2:02 pm

     
  14. ponchit says:

    the itchyness in taro is caused by needle like irritating oxalate crystals (oxalic acid) which needs to be melted by cooking. Under cooked taro leaves and even roots or corms will still have this irritants. the only way to prevent itchiness is to cook it for a long time. you would want it to simmer for some time maybe an hour or so and keep it in the cauldron until it cools down and that would be sufficient to melt the crystals. Don’t mix it too much so as not to have a mushy laing.

    Jul 31, 2008 | 9:23 am

     
  15. cherry says:

    hi.. just want to ask if gabi has flowers? just a bit curious because i saw a taro plant with a flower.. thanks.. :)

    Aug 16, 2008 | 3:44 pm

     
  16. Rose5 says:

    i miss pinaksiw na dahon ng gabi…

    Oct 23, 2008 | 1:19 pm

     
  17. Jerelle J. Marquez says:

    Nice article!

    Only may i ask if you have seen a gabi – binting dalaga (local name) variety? We have lots of it in Marinduque.

    The stalk is pinkish near the roots and you can cook it without sun drying. It’s not itchy and it doesn’t have after taste.

    Dec 16, 2008 | 1:34 pm

     
  18. GenerSumilang says:

    Taro is a common food in south pacific island nations like fiji and solomon islands, if in the philippines is rice, its taro in fiji. Gabi can be found in many countries in asia, africa and even in the jungles of brazil. its a decorative plants in middle east, europe and north africa..In our country, you can found it abudantly in wild or the rainforest,wild gabi is also edible with proper care in cooking, if you made a mistake then you may never ever able to eat it as it will be itchy in the mouth! taste is best with coconut or “bicol style”,leaves can be used as wrapt for a fish steam…some people are using it as replacement for ube…

    Feb 11, 2009 | 9:11 pm

     
  19. Beny says:

    Even if I cook the gabi for a while it still itch my throath.
    I can’t find a gabi here in the States that won’t itch. Is there any specific brand of dried gabi that is not itchy?

    Jul 11, 2009 | 1:41 pm

     
  20. melody says:

    If you want to taste the best Gabi you can go to our place in Tabiguian, Tabaco City, Albay P. It is a the major source of income in our place. The best variety is the yellow one we called “I-pod”.

    Aug 10, 2009 | 5:09 pm

     
  21. Ryan says:

    I just want to know if what nutrient value does “gabi” or “taro” have, is it safe to those who suffer from arthritis and rheumatism? Is it high in uric acid?

    Nov 18, 2009 | 12:27 pm

     
  22. meh says:

    I concur with GenerSumilang – gabi is a staple in south pacific islands. In fact not only in the south pacific, but all over Austronesia (including the Philippines, Indonesia, Polynesia, Fiji, the Cook Islands, etc)! Marketman is wrong in stating that taro is a Spanish import — in fact it is indigenous to our area, and Pacific Islanders brought taro to the new islands they colonized (witness the veneration of taro in Hawaii, as mentioned by previous posters). Taro is part of our roots — taro is awesome!! : )

    ALSO, interesting side note: when visiting Fiji I had something nearly identical to the the pinangat in Bicol! In the Cook Islands, my host cooked laing for me!! Exactly the same recipe minus the chilis. But instead of drying the leaves to get rid of the itchiness, they just boil the hell out of it before cooking the leaves in coconut milk. But it’s basically still the same recipe. I was amazed by all the cultural and culinary connections I saw in these faraway islands….

    Dec 2, 2009 | 10:30 am

     
  23. abcde says:

    My grandmother started the commercial production of the bun long or chinese variety of gabi in Benguet back in 1960’s. Chinese traders highly prized the large, round corms. They fetched PHP 50.00/kg wholesale back in 2000. They even engage in fisticuffs, whenever supply is very low.

    Back then, she used to produce corms of up to 3 kgs. each. Today a 2-kg. corm is already exceptional. Anyway, we have our local gabi dish. They use dried leaves, the stem and the corm in the dish. They also add anchovies and dilis and it is very yummy.

    We have another variety here. The reddish one is called diket or malagkit as it is lot stickier than the chinese variety. Commercial production is very limited as demand is very low.

    The gabi featured in the last picture is called galyang in our place. The leaves and stems of the plant are used as pig fodder in our place. The galyang sucker is what is typically used in sinigang but the chinese variety is better as the corm makes the soup thick.

    There is also another variety called buyon. The buyon is similar to the galyang but it is a lot smaller and more expensive.

    I wish to have a gabi farm somewhere in the fertile lands of Nueva Ecija or Pampanga as returns are good.

    Jan 5, 2010 | 7:34 pm

     
  24. Emer says:

    Hi abcde! I am interested in growing taro here in Los Banos. I am looking specifically for the Bun Long variety. How can I contact you for a possible sourcing of planting material? Please do get in touch with me: emer_borromeo@yahoo.com

    Feb 3, 2010 | 7:56 pm

     
 

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