All Things Coconut

Often on our childhood road trips back home, we would stop for a snack – but not at your typical rest stops, for there were none back then.

As we traveled further away from the city, fruit stalls would start appearing by the side of the road. Sometimes, there weren’t even stalls – just people with baskets of freshly-picked fruit like mangoes or lanzones.

If we were thirsty, we simply stopped at a roadside stall and watched as the top of a fresh young coconut was neatly chopped off with the multi-purpose itak (Philippine bolo) before enjoying the delicious coconut water – straight up and sans straws. The removed top then doubled as a scoop for the tender melt-in-your-mouth young coconut meat. Everything else coconut absolutely pales in comparison!

Filipino climbing coconut tree using notched footholds, with an itak at his waist (courtesy of

And although “buko” (coconut) itself is so nutritious and delicious, its tree’s myriad other uses earned it the nickname “Tree of Life” back home. We all know its use in construction, oils, even shampoo, but one of my favorites is its utility in packed lunches – with its leaves used to wrap and cook rice in handy packets called “pusô” in Cebu. And the foot-powered bunot – half of a coconut husk – was the only floor polisher I knew, growing up.

But what fascinated me most about the coconut tree was watching men or even little boys scrambling up its dizzying height, using only notches carved into the trunk as footholds, to retrieve coconuts with a quick swipe of the itak. One was careful not to stay long beneath a coconut tree especially during harvesting, lest one of its heavy nuts fall and crush one’s head.

Rice planting (IRRI photo)

Experiences like these helped us intuitively understand and respect the origins of the food we ate – unlike some children these days (including ours at one point) who may think the grocery is the ultimate source of all food.

And yet we still forget – my mom once shed tears after seeing me throw some “old” rice in the trash, for she well knew the back-breaking work of farmers back home who spent all day in the hot sun bent over, planting rice seedlings in muddy rice fields. It was a poignant reminder to take extra care in not wasting a single humble grain of rice from then on.

The Kabayo (courtesy of

Back in our kitchen, we had a small “kabayo” (horse) for grating coconut meat – a very low wooden four-legged stool (the one in the photo only has two) that looked for all the world indeed like a horse, except that its head and short neck were made of a single flat piece of metal, with the rounded head serrated all around. It was fascinating, watching someone sit on this horse and grate a coconut – as fresh a bowl of grated coconut as you could get! (Such memories whet even my appetite for freshly-grated coconut, though I am admittedly not too fond of grated coconut myself.)

As kids, we were exposed to all things buko (coconut) – fresh young coconut meat, fresh coconut juice, snacks and desserts such as yummy buko pie, even yummier sweetened “macapuno” (gelatinous coconut meat obtained from “mutant” coconuts without coconut water inside), coconut macaroons, bibingka, ube halaya, pitsi-pitsiand palitaw – to name a few. There were many savory dishes as well involving coconut milk or cream (gatâ), like curry, kuhol (escargot), laing (taro leaves in coconut milk), and ginataan (anything cooked in gatâ).

Such delicious variety and nutrition from the “lowly” buko! I feel a bit guilty, not exposing my kids more to buko when they were very little. Even our kids now say I should have – to spare them the “suffering” of trying to get used to the taste of buko now. Just this past week, eggs scrambled and fried in coconut oil were barely touched. But there were hopeful moments too.

In the cookbook Everyday Paleo Family Cookbook: Real Food for Real Life there is a recipe for coconut whipped cream – you simply leave a can of coconut milk in the fridge overnight then scoop out the cream on top and whip with some vanilla extract. It wasn’t as fluffy as regular whipped cream, but it had no buko taste, and the kids happily ate it — on top of totally non-Paleo brownies, that is. 🙂 But at least now, they’re not afraid of coconut whipped cream.

I also cooked turkey picadillo the usual way – with olive oil – but added a tablespoon of coconut oil to it as well. I could barely taste it, and the kids enjoyed the meal as usual. We’ll see how 2 tablespoons goes next time! (see Week Two of our Foodie Quest)

Maybe someday, I’ll get my own kabayo – if I ever fly home again and feel like lugging one back. Or I might just get this one and forget about lugging anything – Coconut Grater or Shredder Wood with Stand.

I could always get a tabletop one like this – Coconut Grater/scraper/shredder, but there’s just something comforting about using the kabayo – other than the double arm workout, that is. For it is a tool that was used by our forefathers – a way of sharing in the same food and toil in their kitchen, a very tangible link to our past.

Ah, someday – when the kids are a bit bigger and I actually have time to sit and grate, reminiscing about the good ol’ days…Or better yet – maybe they’ll  sit and grate while I sit and enjoy my kape (coffee). 🙂

Here’s hoping we all enjoy more buko – cooking, eating or even grating it!



2 thoughts on “All Things Coconut

  1. Thank you for the article! I’ll need to start using coconut more myself!

    The point of the Paleo diet is, and I feel some people forget this, to not only diet, but to eat delicious foods at the same time. It’s the only diet I’ve come across that cuts out food groups, yet still focusses on everyone’s need to eat great food.

    I’m a real foodie, and would not survive on any other diet, but Paleo has been very good for me. I’ve written about one of my favourite cookbooks:


    1. I couldn’t agree with you more, Katie! That was one of the appeals of Paleo for me – a lot of our delicious Filipino food was already included! Even our yummy bone marrow soup which I had stayed away from for so long. And while our kids are still getting used to coconut oil, we’re enjoying good ol’ bacon grease in the meantime. 🙂
      Thanks for the link to your review – it looks very thorough and photos make me want to go over and try the recipes soonest!


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