There are funny things you can find at the beach. In my case it was green caviar, a type of algae also known as sea grapes. It happened on a tiny island called Guam right next to the Philippine island of Siargao. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I found a green algae sphere large like a glas marble. It seemed to come right out of Ferran Adriàs molecular cooking cuisine. I was absolutely fascinated by its beauty but didn’t think of it as edible. It’s smaller sister (lower right corner in the pic) definitly is.
A few days later I went on another Island Hopping trip. Usually these trips start out with cold beers on the boat, a fresh fish BBQ by the beach accompanied by rice and the sweetest mangos you can imagine. From what I know the Philippine cuisine is pretty basic. It consists mainly of fish and meat BBQ style, some nice salads made with grilled eggplants and coconut vinegar, a few shells and other seafood or fresh fish served raw in vinegar and spices. Everything is just perfect for a beach holiday.
Having arrived on yet another tiny island fresh food was served. Choice of the day for drinks was a white rum lemonade mix with smashed calamansis, a tiny local variety of lemon fruits. Those are not only delicious in drinks but also a useful disinfectant. That basically saved me from infection after cutting my foot in small motorbike accident that ended in cow shit infused mud – yes, cows live there too.
Seagrapes and Drinks
That drink however was being served in quite large amounts. And while we kept on drinking and making more friends, someone brought a handful algae similar to the one I found before. It looked like tiny grapes and is actually called sea grapes or green caviar (Caulerpa lentillifera). It’s a type of algae that is originally found in the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Japan (Okinawa), where it’s called umibudo. They are full of vitamins, iodine and iron, hence a kind of super food.
I learned that day that these algaes not only look amazing but also taste absolutely awesome. Their texture is very much like caviar and even the taste is similar: less fishy, still salty with a bit more freshness. When you bite them, they plop. This is such a cute sensation that the Japanese found a special name for it: puchi-puchi. This little explosion of salty liquid in the mouth is just what the doctor ordered on hot and sunny day. The combination with white rum, be it pure on the rocks or as long drink was fabulous.
Where to Buy
Back then I immediately started wondering whether the sea grapes had made their way into the cooking culture. Surely, they are to be found in East and Southeast Asia. But it took some time to find their actual name and origin. And then there was a surprise: You can buy them on Amazon and in several gourmet shops. Still they come at quite a price. But the beauty and delicate flavor is worth it. So now you can treat your friends to a snack that looks like right out of food wonderland. Enjoy!