I latched both my arms around her.  I watched my every step as I carried her up the onerous Bernal Heights hill.  Parking spots were far and few that balmy morning in the market and the only spot I could find was at the very top of a steep hill.  She was a little over four feet tall but she was, thankfully, not too heavy.  I, nevertheless, still huffed and puffed my way up the hill — a glaring proof that I was miserably out of shape.  But that fateful morning wasn’t about me. It was all about her.  She was my very first and my very own calamansi tree.  I was leery of knocking off her delicate white blossoms and so I walked as carefully as I could.  As slowly as I could. I was so excited to take her home and to have her get settled in our tiny garden next to our Lisbon lemon.  I couldn’t remember any other time I was that excited about a tree.

“Keep her in this pot for now and wait until she bears fruit in March.  I would transfer her to a bigger pot until then.” The cheerful Vietnamese lady who sold me the tree gave me the quick calamansi basics.  She grows the Filipino citrus among other tropical fruits like champagne mangoes and even rambutans in a farm in Palmdale, northeast of Los Angeles, and drives all the way up to San Francisco on Saturday mornings to sell them at the Alemany Farmers’ Market.

“Water her every few days and let her soak in as much sun as she could possibly get,” she said.

“I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” I assured her. “We live in the sunniest side of the city.  There’ll be plenty of sun.”

And so I thought there would.  Winter came and went.  March came and went.  Spring came and went.  The 260 sunny days a year in the sunniest side of the city proved inadequate for my calamansi.  If only our patio weren’t shadowed by the buildings that surround it, the tree would get more sunlight.  Eight precious hours of direct sunlight are recommended when growing citrus in pots.  We’re lucky to even have a few.

But all’s well that ends well.  After ten long months, which seemed like forever, we finally picked the fruits of our labor, no pun intended, last weekend.  Our patience has been rewarded.  Eight calamansi fruits.  Eight beautiful jewels of citrus.  Or was it seven?  It seems trifling, I know.  It may be a paltry harvest but you have no clue how much picking my own calamansi grown in my own garden meant to me.  Calamansi is ubiquitous year-round back home and being able to grow my own calamansi in my own garden here in the city is incredibly gratifying.

The harvest wasn’t big enough for a calamansi tart but it was ample to make my mom’s fish pinangat [pee-nah-ngat] — whole fish simmered and soured in calamansi and tomatoes.  Like fish sinigang, pinangat has a piquancy that makes you pucker in utmost delight.  Other souring ingredients can be used in place of calamansi and tomatoes like sampalok (tamarind) and kamias, which are not available fresh in North America.  But unlike sinigang, pinangat has no vegetables and its biting liquid is more like a sauce than a broth.

Whole pompano, tilapia, sapsap (slipmouth), and talakitok (cavalla), are excellent choices  for making fish pinangat.  Filets can certainly be substituted for whole fish if you’re too squeamish to eat with heads and bones but, I must tell, you clearly have no clue what you’re missing.


Calamondin Calamansi



Fish Pinangat Recipe

1 lb whole white pompano, about 2 whole fish, cleaned and gutted
3 medium tomatoes, sliced crosswise
1/4 cup calamansi or lime juice
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
pinch of freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

Line the bottom of a medium-sized pan with half of the tomato slices. Lay the whole fish on top of the tomatoes and then cover the top with the remaining tomatoes. Add the calamansi juice and water, bring to a boil then add the olive oil, salt and pepper, and let it simmer over medium to low heat until the fish is cooked through, about 20 minutes.  Adjust the balance between acid and salt by adding calamansi or salt to taste.  Serve with freshly steamed rice and don’t forget the fish sauce for dipping.




For those interested in learning more about how to grow calamansi and other citrus trees at home, check out Four Winds Growers and their invaluable tips and advice. Always remember to never overwater your citrus trees and let them soak in as much sunlight as they could possibly get.

  • Elizabeth @ Saffron Lane

    I know I’ve said this before, but your photos are simply stunning.

  • http://www.adorasbox.net Ardora’s Box

    Pinangat is something that seems to differ from region to region in the Philippines. Never have encountered this one. Am liking it though. What a nice fresh pinangat dish. Wow, you have a calamansi tree! How I love calamansi! Don’t have that here. Someone gave me calamansi syrup so happy enough.

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Adora.  I know, pinangat (like most other Filipino dishes) has a lot of variations.  I’ve seen some soured with tamarind. Some with kamias, which I miss terribly since we don’t have it here in the United States. Some with just a lot of tomatoes.  I like my mom’s version because of the citrus flavor imparted by the calamansi.

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you so much, Beth.  Hope all is well.

  • http://twitter.com/BarbarianTable Leila

    WOW! This is most impressive! I almost want to run down to Palm Springs to meet this citrus lady, so I can buy my own tree, plant it, nurture it, then harvest these beauties, just to make this dish.
    my mouth is watering.
    Well done Jun!

  • http://twitter.com/thedailypalette The Daily Palette

    Jun, I’ve never seen pinangat this beautiful!  And yes, on Four Winds Growers!  My calamansi and yuzu trees are from them.  I love, love their trees, and will be getting more from them in the future.  I have my heart set on variegated calamansi.

  • http://twitter.com/foodalogue Joan Nova

    Love your storytelling ability…and stunning visuals.

  • footfoot

    we also have a calamansi tree in our front yard! and since I live here sa Pinas, it didn’t take long for it to bear fruit. Pinahinog mo talaga? we pick it when it’s still green. 

  • http://psychosomaticaddictinsane.wordpress.com Iyassantos

    kaloka. slipmouth pala ang english ng sapsap! ang sapsap ang isda na naghi-hiphop! :p

    i love pinangat na sapsap. tapos ang saya pag may puga. yung fish roe. hihihihi. yum!

  • http://www.asianinamericamag.com Betty Ann fr Asianinamericamag

    Jun, this is such a great post ! I can’t wait to try it. “Pinangat” used to be our favorite go-to fish dish back home in the Philippines. But I will have to do mine with lime. Too bad I can’t grown calamansi in this parts. Thanks for sharing!

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  • http://www.athoughtforfood.net Brian @ A Thought For Food

    I’m going to sound like a broken record… but gosh darn it, I can’t help it. I just love how much I learn from your posts. 

    And I can’t forget to say that this looks like the perfect summer dish!

  • http://www.dinneratsixthirty.com/ Elodie Jane Amora

    I’ve never tried Pinangat. I wonder  if it has another name in the Visayas region.

  • http://indonesia-eats.blogspot.com/ Pepy @Indonesia Eats

    I know I would love this dish! fish and calamansi are perfect match

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1246242266 Doris G. Esteban

     Jun, I’ve been cooking Fish Pinangat using Sapsap.  Will try the White Pampano this time… My husband is a fish lover… Thanks! ~.^


    My Aunt who lives in San Diego, store calamansi juice in ice cube trays and freeze to last ’til her next harvesting season.

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    That’s a great tip! Thank you for sharing! We’re waiting for our first crop of calamansi to get bigger in our trees. I guess, the warmer San Diego weather is more conducive to growing them,

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  • Anonymous

    This is the first place i went when I noticed my tiny 2′ kalamansi plant show its first bud. I honestly thought I was going to wait a very long time, but I am oh so very happy to be wrong! Anyways, I know you had a post about the plant somewhere.

    PS, I carried my plant home on public transit lol. Ah Pinoys and our kalamansi huh?

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    So excited about your calamansi tree!! Here are some links that you may find useful,



    They’re pretty hardy trees. Just don’t overwater them. By the way, we fertilize them with EB Stone’s for citrus


    You can find the directions for use on the box. Another trick that we’ve found useful is to add coffee grounds every now and then to the soil to keep the pH down. Citrus likes fairly acidic soil. But don’t put too much.