December 07, 2004

Tangerines & pepper salt



One of the things I miss from the islands is unripened, green mango dipped in pepper salt -- a mixture of salt, several fresh chili peppers (like Thai bird chilis) and a squeeze of citrus. Usually the salt mixture varies, depending on what you grew up with, or what island you're from. There's a Chamorro condiment called finadene dinanchi, which is a paste of the hottest, tiny chili peppers ground with salt, garlic and a little vinegar. My grandfather used to make his own, in the outside kitchen (outside being the only practical place to do this), by passing said ingredients plus onions through a grinder. I can feel my cheeks watering just thinking about it. My favorite pepper salt is mixing finadene dinanchi with a little salt and lemon powder.

As with most Southeast Asian dishes, I find many parallels with Chamorro food. I was in a Vietnamese grocery shop, on one of my Tenderloin days, and found a large, beautiful green mango. Now large, green mangoes are not my preference for mangoes & salt (the tiny, crispy island ones are best), but desperate times call for desparate measures, so I bought one of those babies. The store proprietor eyed me and asked how I planned to eat the green mango, to which I mentioned my love affair with the pepper salt. She suddenly jumps up excitedly and tells me how she loves to eat her green mango in a mixture of Three Crab Fish Sauce, chili peppers, salt and a pinch of sugar. We proceed to have a mango/salt geek out and I promise this woman to eat my next green mango as per her recommendation.

Many months pass and I'm at the local market picking up lovely, perfect tangerines. I'm not a big orange fan, but absolutely love tangerines! Upon peeling the first fruit, I remember the fish sauce/pepper combo and quickly whip up a batch with slightly milder green chilis. My god this combination rocks! The sweet, sour and salty flavors are just what I craved. This taste takes me back to my Tata (maternal grandfather's) ranch on Saipan, on a sweltering day sitting under the big mango tree, eating recently picked tangerines grown just a few feet away. I can almost smell the ocean salt hanging in the air....

2 comments:

Santos said...

hola chiquita

the mango crop is pitiful this year--too many near miss typhoons, nen. tangerines sort of eh this year too, but we're getting kick ass gigantor yellow green apples from japan--they're all freckled like asian pears/pear apples, but almost a neon citrine green. and super flavourful, really sweet and sour. i'll bet they'd go good with some chili peppers!

special combo said...

Those green apples sound wonderful! You must try them with some kicky salt and tell me how it goes. Their sourness would match perfectly. Yum!! Too bad about those mango typhoon casualties, though. A season of no green mango is sad indeed. Hopefully the other local fare did not suffer as much. I'm sure the bananas are fighters.