Whenever my grandparents, Belen and Vergel, visited us all the way from Daet, Camariñes Norte, they would bring a bag of pili candy as pasalubong. My sister and I would dig through their luggage to look for bags of honey-coated pili, pastillas (milk pills) de pili, and other treats coated in sugar or salt.
When you go beyond the sweet coating, you’ll appreciate pili’s oily, macadamia-like texture. I’m glad that most pili products come in small packages because I can easily gobble a whole bag in less than five minutes. My research told me that among all the nuts in the world, pili has the highest fat content. That’s about 216 calories per oz. of pili nuts, according to My Fitness Pal.
The canarium ovatum, commonly known as pili (pronounced pee-lee), comes from a tropical tree that’s native to Southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea, and Northern Australia [source: Wikipedia]. It’s indigenous to the Philippines, but grows primarily in the Bicol region. My late college professor Doreen Fernandez wrote in Fruits of the Philippines that while people often refer to pili as a nut, it is technically a drupe—a stone fruit such as coconuts and peach. When freshly plucked from the tree, it has a thick black covering. Under that is a hairy greenish pulp with a pointed shell that houses the oily nut [source: Marketman].
When my grandparents passed away in 2009 and my relatives didn’t frequent Daet as much as they did in my childhood, our family’s favorite pili nut became elusive. A trip to Camariñes Norte two months ago brought Mama and me back down memory lane. We stopped over Nene’s, Daet’s popular pasalubong shop that sells all sorts of pili, including fresh, shelled pili sold by the kilo. On our flight back to Manila, we checked in two small balikbayan boxes of pili products for our clan.