Tambo-tambo

To unknowing ears, it sounds like another caribbean dance. The first time I tried this soup was on the eve of the last day of 2006 on Kauai. My cousin’s wife, a girl from the Philippines, had a steaming pot of this tambo-tambo on the table. Fragrant with sweetened coconut milk, glutinous rice flour (mochi) dumplings, cubes of sweet potato, and some other unidentifiable pieces of fruit, it was the most awesome thing I had tasted this side of the islands. Little did I know that tambo-tambo or tambo-tambong would turn out to be a lively topic of discussion between aunts and cousins almost 2 years down the road. What exactly goes into it? Well it seems that anything goes, and I was told verbatim, “…taro, sweet potato, tapioca, banana. You can put anything you like!”

This coconut soup also goes by another name – ginataan (fruits in coconut milk) – and even at that there are variations: ginataan bilo-bilo (glutinous rice balls in coconut milk), ginataan mais (glutinous rice balls and corn in coconut milk), and finally paradosdos. Says Laura from My Journey:

“The other filipino dessert that I love is called paradosdos which is round mochi balls with all sorts of typical fruits (coconut, jack fruit, etc.) also ube and sometimes people put tapioca, it’s usually in a big pot like a thick soupy product.”

Tambo-tambo with green tea mochi rice balls

The green tea powder used in making the glutinous rice balls is for color contrast. Purple sweet potato, slightly underripe mango and toasted coconut flakes make up the rest in hue and texture. I think this warm soup best exemplifies total comfort food when there’s a slight nip to the air. Believe it or not, those days are possible in Hawaii, especially like it was 2 years ago, on that memorable new year’s eve in 2006.

1 cup glutinous (mochi) rice flour
2 teaspoons green tea powder
8-9 tablespoons cold water
2 cups coconut milk
6 tablespoons sugar (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2-3 tablespoons cold water
1 small purple sweet potato, steamed or boiled and cut into bite-size chunks
1 mango, peeled and cubed
toasted coconut flakes for garnish

Put an ample pot of water on the stove and bring it to a simmer. In a bowl, add the glutinous rice flour and sift the green tea powder over it. Mix to combine. Stir in the cold water, a little at a time, until it comes together. Knead lightly to a soft dough. [It’ll have a grainy feel to it.] Pinch off small, cherry-size pieces, roll into balls using both palms, and drop into the simmering water, cooking for a few minutes. When they rise to the top they should be done, but do a test by biting into one – it should be soft like potato gnocchi, with no grainy texture on the tongue. When they’re done, remove and set aside in a single layer, not like in this photo! They’ll stick together if left to cool.

In another pot over medium heat, combine the coconut milk and sugar and cook until the sugar is dissolved, taking care to avoid scorching the bottom. Thicken with the cornstarch slurry then add the sweet potato, mango and mochi balls. Heat until warmed through. Serve immediately with toasted coconut flakes on the side. For extra dazzle, toast the coconut flakes just when you’re ready to serve. The piping hot flakes will sizzle when sprinkled onto the soup. Serves 4-6.

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