These bananas are an all-time personal favorite. My kind of comfort food. I eat saba bananas at least once a week. Boiled, fried, stewed, or braised in sugar, saba bananas are delicious, nutritious and economical. Available throughout the year, I think they are at their finest a few months after the monsoon rains have begun and worst after a long hot summer.
When buying, pick solid bananas still somewhat green but just on the verge of turning yellow. Our cook, who hails from Bohol, has a great word for the skinny inferior sabas – “pidjasut” which loosely translated is something like “the fruit doesn’t fill the peel…” Think airhead. The opposite quality to being “pidjasut” is being “bus-ok” — the banana equivalent of looking and feeling “buff.” The yellower the fruit, the limper the cooked product. I often buy saba bananas in whole bunches of 120-140 pieces of fruit at Batangas roadside stands (the real roadside stands, not the outrageous ones in Tagaytay which get much of their fruit from Divisoria.) At just 50-80 centavos a fruit on average, these bananas are a bargain. Prices in Manila range from P1.50 at the market to P2.50 at fancy groceries. Even at these prices, I still think they are great value.
A Southeast Asian native, bananas were probably in the gardens of nearly every hut in the Archipelago for eons. When Magellan’s ships landed in Cebu in 1521 and he and his crew stepped sea-sick and scurvy-ridden onto shore, they were almost certainly served some bananas… Bananas are, believe it or not, a humongous herb, and not a tree. They are extremely useful with the flowers, heart, fruit, leaves and trunk being all edible or otherwise useful.
Banana Turon. There are so many ways to cook bananas but turon is one of my favorites. Buy some good “lumpia” or spring roll wrapper or make it from scratch. Slice saba bananas lengthwise and roll a slice in the wrapper. Tuck in ends and seal with a bit of water to moisten the wrapper. Deep fry in vegetable oil until golden brown. Serve immediately with some sugar on the side. If you are feeling exhuberant, serve with dulce de leche (an excellent recipe for a real one appeared in Saveur magazine and is available on their website). Variations to turon are infinite. I once spent an afternoon trying all ways of cutting the fruit, frying it with brown or white sugar inside the wrapper, adding butter, chocolate, etc. But I still like the plain original version. Many people like to put a sliver of ripe langka or jackfruit with the banana before wrapping, but please, do as you please. Banana turon a la mode (with Haagen Daz Vanilla Ice Cream) is also heaven. Yum!