This post is dedicated to Isabel, a long-time, and apparently avid reader of marketmanila.com, who rarely or never leaves a comment on the blog. She started reading the blog while a resident of Cebu, because her sister, an equally high I.Q., and utterly brilliant lawyer (and defender of Marketman on several occasions where we won or settled several legal cases to our satisfaction), mentioned it one day. Isabel has since travelled the globe, and from the furthest reaches of the planet has logged on to see what’s new on marketmanila.com. She even asked her sister, to ask me, if I could tell which unusual countries she was logging in from and I assured her that the country statistics were available, though I wouldn’t be able to discern if a specific hit was from her. She has now returned to Cebu. And I thought of her immediately when I saw this tambis tree in full bloom at the family office. Why Isabel? Because she apparently thought my first post on tambis was wickedly off the mark. And that Marketman’s native fruit credibility had sunk a notch or two. That I was clearly full of boogers as far as this particular fruit, tambis, was concerned. Heeheehee. I jest, of course. Her sister, the brilliant lawyer, simply let me know that I should revisit the tambis/makopa issue and I have had it on the back-burner for some two years or so…
All my life, my entire family referred to the fruit pictured in this post as tambis. However, in Manila, the same fruit in neighbors’ homes were often referred to as “makopa.” I therefore was pre-wired to believe they were one and the same fruit. Apparently, that is both true and untrue, to some degree. For many Cebuanos and Visayans, they make a clear distinction between tambis and makopa, though as best I can tell from limited resource materials and various web pages, the two are very closely related. In the same way that brothers often look similar, but aren’t exactly identical. To confuse matters further, Doreen Fernandez’s book on Philippine Fruit also refers to makopa as tambis in Ilonggo or Visayan and identifies the underlying fruit as Syzygium samarangense, also calling it a Curacao Apple. Desmond Tate, on the other hand, refers to a Malay Apple as a Syzygium malaccensis and goes further to explain that it is referred to as jambu bol or jambu merah in malaysian, and its closest cousins include jambu air (water apple) and jambu mawar (rose apple) in his book Tropical Fruit of the Philippines (odd that he doesn’t use the pinoy terms, but that’s because he published similar books for all Southeast Asian countries and used the same underlying text in many of them).
So apparently, even the experts like Fernandez and Tate could be confused, or at best, incomplete. And it isn’t easy to sort this out. First of all, everyone seems to agree that the fruit is part of the myrtle family, and that this particular bunch of relatives are “native” to the Malay Peninsula and were introduced to the rest of Southeast Asia in “prehistoric times,” according to Ms. Fernandez and several websites. The fruit was brought by the Portuguese to Goa, then westward and eventually to the Caribbean according to Purdue, etc., where it thrives to this day. Now, to the three similar but sufficiently different fruit – First syzygium malacenssis or Malay Apple, see this link here to Purdue University which has a comprehensive description and which lists makopang kalabau as a local name in the Philippines. The second relation is scientifically identified as syzygium samaragense, or Java Apple, also Curacao apple, as described by Fernandez, see link to Purdue’s site here. This is also referred to as makopa in the write-up, presumably to be distinguished from makopang kalabau. So where the heck is tambis??? Syzygium aqueum, or Watery Rose Apple, appears to be the right scientific name for the tambis pictured in this post. At Purdue’s site (which i find very comprehensive and helpful for identifying fruits and produce), their post on Water Apple also appears to correctly make the distinction that THIS IS the tambis fruit, different from the makopa and makopang kalabaw. Phew, did you get that?
So do they taste or feel or look different from each other? Apparently they do. I interviewed enough folks in Cebu a few weeks ago to be convinced that there was a difference between tambis and makopa, and even their seasons seem to differ slightly. When tambis was fruiting at a furious pace, there wasn’t a single example of makopa to be found. Now I have scouts on alert in Cebu and Bohol and I would ask any readers in the Visayas to please send me a picture of a makopa when they are in season. I would really appreciate a cross section photo as well. And if you are anal as I am, a whole trail of the fruit from flower to fruit as I have done here, for anyone out there in world who needs to bring closure to the Tambis vs. Makopa vs. makopang Kalabw issue :). My understanding is that while the tambis is lighter and crisp and watery, the makopa can be more dense and sometimes has a seed as well. The color of the fruit also differs a bit, but that is true amongst all the various cousins and hybrids of this fruit, and from region to region… Oh, and another thing… this fruit is a big deal in the Caribbean as well, known as Pommerac or Plumrose, and where it is apparently cooked into preparations like chutney, etc. I have always enjoyed this fresh, chilled and with salt, so it would be nice to see it used in other ways, such as salads, cooked food, etc.
Is being so accurate regarding tambis or makopa really worth the time to read or write this post? I would have to say it does. In this day and age where we are all getting so far removed from the simple fruit we enjoyed as kids, it would be nice to have an accurate record of what is what, before we go another generation and even more information is lost for good. Thanks, Isabel, for indirectly challenging me or egging me on to dig deeper on tambis and makopa. As for readers out there, this just proves you shouldn’t believe everything you read, even from such food luminaries as Fernandez and Tate… And for all you know, I still haven’t nailed this one on the head, yet… There is always room for a Take III! :)