27 Sep2007

Saba at Sago

by Marketman

This post dates from July 2005, and decided to post it again today as I am very busy and in transit, thus unable to write something new. I am feeling like something sweet and sago-ey so I will post two desserts in a row with sago… yum. Enjoy! We had a taste for some sago in palm sugar and ice the other day in the sag1sweltering heat and rushed out to the grocery to buy a small pack of sago and a bunch of ripe saba cooking bananas. Just before starting to make minatamis na saba (stewed bananas in syrup), I noticed that it would take a whole day to reconstitute the sago! I have obviously never made sago at home. What the heck is this stuff made off that it takes longer to reconstitute than dried legumes? Sago is actually made from the powdery starch that is obtained from the pith of sago and related palm trees. The starch is often used as a food thickener and in some places a textile stiffener (according to a Princeton University site)!!! Yikes. Here are some reference sources. Grown in the Southern Philippines (typically in marsh areas), Indonesia and Malaysia, the sago palms yield oodles of these starch balls that are sold in all different sizes and sometimes artificially colored. Cook, soak overnight, blanch again, soak again and you end up with these gelatinous, somewhat tasteless soft marbles that many of us have grown used to in Asian desserts and drinks.

To make this dessert, I made minatamis na saba with white and brown sag2sugar and a touch of honey. I had intended to add some light molasses to add flavor and color but my pantry yielded none. Once cooled, I put the bananas in a glass (here for photo only, then transferred to a bowl to eat) added sago, some of the sweet syrup, shaved ice and milk…yum! This was really good though it might have been better with real palm sugar (panocha), some molasses and a thicker syrup to really put it over the top. I was also a little impatient and the bananas were still a little warm so my ice melted faster than I would have wanted it to. Nevertheless, a great snack in hot and muggy weather. By the way, a tiny pack of sago yields gallons of reconstituted pearls so be careful…I haven’t the foggiest clue what to do with all the leftover sago!



  1. Maria Clara says:

    Both of these delights are great thirst quenchers. I love sago with plain gulaman with the addition of liquid flavoring – the name of which escaped me in sugar syrup with shaved ice. Our saba banana variety are the best when it comes to minatamis. They are great plain or if you want to go overboard flavor the sugar syrup with rhum or dry vermouth and butter like caramel for extra kick real kicker minatamis na saba!

    Sep 27, 2007 | 12:43 pm


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  3. linda says:

    Leftover sago? Mix it with runny or chunky custard,parang bang sago pudding or pour coconut milk over sago and sprinkle some grated panocha or palm sugar syrup.Yum!

    Sep 27, 2007 | 1:15 pm

  4. Silly Lolo says:

    Stop it! You’re killing me! I can’t eat this heavenly stuff because of my diabetes! But tomorrow, I will have some at Kuya’s Restaurant in San Bruno (Calif.) and then check in at Seton Med Center and wait for my diabetic coma to set in! They release me in 24 hours.

    Sep 27, 2007 | 1:39 pm

  5. bernadette says:

    Ay naku! I never realized that I would miss this sweet stuff! Thanks for reminding me :-)! I usually add some calamansi juice in making the sugar syrup. It gives it a slight kick.

    Sep 27, 2007 | 3:51 pm

  6. betty q. says:

    That looks so good, MM…must try the mango one too…left over sago calls for BUBBLE TEA! Did you bring back home with you those powders like taro, coconut, etc. A friend of mine here in Vancouver gave me sooo much of those powders…I only like the honey green milk tea though…I use the jasmine tea sweetened with honey, coffee mate then add the sago…Oh, like you I have been on a quest to make puto pulo. I am really getting close to getting it. One more try and I think I finally got it. Let me know if you’re interested…e-mail or through Canada Post…Might run out of space if I type it on your wall…includes fool proof hints.

    Sep 27, 2007 | 3:59 pm

  7. elaine says:

    WOW, the first photo(with the milk and all)REALLY LOOKED GOOD!!!!!!!

    Sep 27, 2007 | 4:01 pm

  8. Apicio says:

    At the height of the bubble tea bubble here you invariably found them next door to an internet cafe ran by young Chinese entrepeneurs. Probably just a felicitous translation of some mundane Chinese phrase for “sa malamig” but it caught on even with the mainstream young and old alike for whom drinking meant something entirely different (usually alcohol). Anyway, it has this enduring and challenging appeal of colourful glass of cold liquid with suspended solids in it be it strands of young coconut, cantaloupe, tiny dice of agar-agar that you have to be really skilled to drink together since you are not provided with any implement to pick the solids from the glass bottom. In the case of bubble tea, the fun is provided by slithery sago shots that you can pelt your palate with by sucking through special straw.

    Sep 27, 2007 | 7:19 pm

  9. kayenne says:

    you can freeze the remaining sago by the cup to thaw as needed. easy to thaw, boil some water, turn off heat and dump the frozen stuff in. it’s more economical to make a big batch and freeze.

    no need for all day cooking. a couple of hours or so would suffice. boil some water, throw in sago and boil for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. steep for about 30 minutes or until water turns lukewarm. strain, save the cooking water. rinse sago over cool tap water, separating clumps. reboil and repeat all over until sago is thoroughly done. add more fresh water while reboiling is water gets too starchy.

    if you want sweet sago, i think you can add sugar to the cooking water when the sago is, at least, half-cooked already, otherwise, it takes forever to cook.

    Sep 27, 2007 | 9:59 pm

  10. Brownedgnat says:

    Tapioca is quite prevalent in Northern California where I live. There’s Tapioca drink to be had anywhere there’s a concentration of Asian population. These days, tapioca can be bought at most Asian markets and can be made at home. Chinese Tapioca I buy at the market takes 8-10mns to cook. The final product is a perfect chewiness that I rarely find in Filipino restaurants that serve Sago. I think it’s meant be eaten right away as I find that it hardens when it sits in the pot for a long time after cooking. The best Sago concoction I had was from a Thai vendor. The drink consists of agar-agar, palm nuts, tapioca and coconut milk with shaved ice. Of course not to be outdone is Vietnamese halo halo. On the other hand, I’m always partial to Filipino sweet drinks. I tried Saba and Sago with Latin American banana plantain and it was remarkably good. This reminds me that I need to add Digman halo halo on my list when I visit Manila next year. The original stall in Bacoor, Cavite is unbeatable.

    Sep 28, 2007 | 1:17 am

  11. pinky says:

    Boiling sago has always been a challenge for me. They either come out too mushy or the middle still uncooked, no matter the size of the sago pearls I use. Like Brownedgnat I also noticed that the Thai sago in the Bubble Tea are more chewy (the way I prefer it) than the ones in Filipino restaurants – why is that?

    Sep 28, 2007 | 4:02 am

  12. CecileJ says:

    Are palm sugar and panocha synonymous? Parang mas masarap ang palm sugar. I tasted palm sugar in Malaysia but didn’t buy any in the grocery store there. Do you have an idea where it is available in Manila?

    Sep 28, 2007 | 1:29 pm

  13. Marketman says:

    CecileJ, I think they are the same thing, from palm sap, but maybe the type of palm or length of cooking affects the final product? There is an interesting post on palm sugar here.

    Sep 28, 2007 | 1:47 pm

  14. kayenne says:

    try the method i mentioned above. i’ve always had perfect sago. the steeping and rinsing steps are important to keep the outside from getting mushy. the steeping step allows the inside to cook, while the rinsing prevents overcooking the outer part.

    Sep 29, 2007 | 1:32 am

  15. dhayL says:

    this is one of my favourite afternoon merienda after school, very refreshing and satisfying!

    Oct 1, 2007 | 1:22 am

  16. Lenlen says:

    i love the cantaloupe juice with sago you can get from the street markets. its so refreshing!!!!!!!!!!!

    Aug 27, 2008 | 2:44 am


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