There were stories, while growing up, about what happens when tambo (bamboo shoots) are sprouting. The old people would warn the younger ones not to go out because it’s “tiempo tig-talambo” - the time when bamboo shoots sprout. Bamboo shoots have an itchy agent to it and the tale goes that in order to avoid the itch, the aswang (Philippine mythical creatures), come out into the open. The children, believing the older folks, would stay home. This tale has been passed on from one generation to the next. And although one doesn’t hear much about it anymore, the tale still finds its way to be shared

Tambo is a flavourful dish in Negros, popular for its unique taste, color and texture; born out of riverine ingredients.

Scientifically, bamboo may cause contact dermatitis for those who are sensitive to it. The allergic reaction happens when the plant is touched. Some say that it is caused by the hairs coming from the bamboo leaves, while others get it from bamboo wood dust, or the fungi decay that has developed on the wood itself through time. The people in Western Visayas and other parts of the country have discovered a way to avoid the effects of the hairs on young bamboo shoots and include them in their dishes whether cooked or pickled.

The main ingredients of the tambo include bamboo shoots, crab, corn, okra and coconut milk.

Tambo doesn’t easily come by due to lack of supply, all because bamboo shoots grow into poles, making this building material valuable. All these could not be served if every bamboo shoot that sprouts is harvested for food. But that makes the tambo all the more missed.

Tambo is also referred to as utan na puti sabaw (white soup with vegetables).

One of the favorite Negrense dishes cooked with tambo has gata (coconut milk), tugabang (jute leaves), okra, corn, and crabs. This dish is also sometimes referred to as, “utan na puti sabaw” (white soup with vegetables).

The sweet taste of the dish comes from the soft buttery flavor of corn.

True to its description, this dish is creamy white because of the coconut milk, in addition to the snowy color of the tambo. Fusing it with the gooey mouth-feel of the tugabang and okra, the rough texture of the tambo becomes a bit smooth. Along with all these special ingredients, is the sweet flavor coming from the corn.

At the center of this dish is the bamboo shoot, young and tender with a slight crunch.

Crab is salty with a subtle mineral sweetness that, when combined with these vegetables, allows this soup to ooze with flavors that are at once sweet, nutty, and briny - a gastronomical experience that is worth every spoonful.

A successful amalgam of flavours and textures, tambo always reminds the Negrense of home.

Negrense /neg-REN-se/ n. the people of Negros Island in the Philippines. The island is divided into two provinces, Negros Oriental to the east and Negros Occidental to the west.

Water for boiling
2 cups young tambo (bamboo shoots)
2 ½ to 3 cups fresh gata (coconut milk) - 2nd squeeze *
½ kg. crabs, cleaned
1 cup yellow corn
½ kg. okra, sliced diagonally
1 bunch tugabang (jute leaves)
1 ½ cups fresh gata (coconut milk) - 1st squeeze *
Salt to taste
Guinamos (shrimp paste), optional

* Note: You can also use canned coconut milk if fresh coconut pulp isn’t available.

Tambo Preparation:

1. Slice the tambo. Put salt and mix it together.

2. Then squeeze out the juice to take out bitterness.

3. Set aside.

Gata Preparation:

1. Prepare ½ cup of warm water to use for your shredded coconut pulp. The warm water will help squeeze out more coconut milk from the pulp.

2. Pour ¼ cup water to moisten the coconut pulp. Now squeeze into it and catch the liquid into a cup. Collect 1 ½ cups. The 1st squeeze will be used for cooking.

3. Put ¼ cup water again and squeeze one more time. Collect 2 ½ to 3 cups. The 2nd squeeze will be used for boiling.

NOTE: You can add more warm water on the 1st or 2nd squeeze depending on how juicy the coconut pulp is.


1. Boil water.

2. Put the tambo. Once water has reached boiling again, throw out the boiled water, keeping the tambo in the pot. Discarding the boiled water will take out the bitterness in the tambo.

3. Pour the 2nd squeeze gata into the pot and boil the tambo until it is soft.

4. Put the crabs and the corn. Let it boil.

5. Add okra and boil for a few minutes.

6. Add the tugabang. While boiling, stir the ingredients gently.

7. Then mix in the 1st squeeze gata slowly and keep stirring.

8. Add salt to taste. Using guinamos is optional.

9. Do not let the gata boil too long so it will not form lumps

Makes 4-6 servings.

Recipe shared by Nanay Lucita Divino Tonato
77 years old
Head cook of the Velez-Gamban and Locsin-Gamboa families

Nanay Luz has been cooking these family recipes that have been passed on for generations. She learned how to cook from her mother at a young age and became proficient with some of the heirloom recipes of the families she worked with.

Text by: Massah Gonzales-Gamboa
Photography by: Project Twenty Six
Food Styling by: David Dadivas

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