Photo from Sorsogon City Updates

Bicolanos sure know how to throw a good festival. Just look at how fun the Pili Festival in Sorsogon is. It’s an annual event that shines the spotlight on the humble pili tree, the celebration of which coincides with the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, the patron saints of the city.

Often referred to as “The Majestic Tree,” the pili tree has been increasing in popularity over the years, thanks to its many industrial, commercial, and nutritional uses. When it comes to this tree, which is indigenous to Sorsogon (hence the giant pili tree monument that greets visitors to the town), nothing is ever wasted. There are uses for everything—from its roots, trunk, branches, leaves, sap, and fruit. 

Like many festivals in the country, the event is filled with lots of songs and dances. A highlight of the festival is the street dance presentation, where participants showcase the importance of pili (as well as the many different kinds of products that can be made from them).

Usually at least a week-long celebration (June 19 to 29), the street dance attracts thousands of spectators. Beautifully costumed dancers depict the many uses of the tree in exciting choreography, moving to the rhythmic, hypnotic beat of native percussion instruments. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the big attraction has been put on hold for this year for safety reasons.

The great thing about this remarkable tree, which bears fruit several times a year, is that it can be turned or incorporated into a lot of items—from food (pili tarts, candies) to skin products (body oil). An indigenous crop of Bicol region, the pili tree is particularly well-known for its nuts. In fact, it’s sought-after by confectionaries as it’s a popular substitute for different nuts like almonds and macadamia when it comes to baking.

The pulp that coats the hard shell that, in turn, encases the Pili nut, can also be eaten, as is, by either dipping it in patis, the native fish sauce, or in sugar, after softening it in warm water. It is also served as dips for meat or fish, or even as dressing or icing for pastries or fruit preparations and other desserts.

Here’s to hoping everything goes back to “normal” next year so the Pili Festival can wow locals and tourists alike once more. The pili, after all, rightfully deserves the attention. It deserves to be celebrated.

Pili nuts. Photo by Nino Jesus Orbeta.