The tamilok, a wood worm which tastes like your familiar oyster, is a famous delicacy found in Palawan. Although it looks like a worm, it is actually a mollusk found inside rotting mangroves. The word ‘tamilok’ was surprisingly coined by two Americans. They started calling one of their friends - "Tommy, look!", after seeing the locals eating the tree worm. The locals adopted this term to refer to this wood worm delicacy.
How is it harvested?
If you’re a Palawan local and you live near rivers and mangrove areas, most probably, you live off gathering these now elusive tamilok. They are very hard to come by so they sell like hotcakes – in wet markets, restaurants or to tourists who want a special pasalubong or take home.
Finding these wood worms among throngs of mangrove trees is not an easy feat. First, those scouting for tamilok need to locate a dead mangrove. When they find one, they need to be careful when trudging muddy parts of the mangrove – it can get very sticky and slippery in there so their steps have to be calculated. Plus, they have to evade sharp shells and tree branches. When they get to the prized rotting mangrove, they hack it open. They are lucky if they find a tamilok inside. Looking at a live wood worm is not for the faint-hearted – it is slimy, fat and long – it is bigger than a twelve-inch ruler.
Why is tamilok so popular?
Most locals are accustomed to the sight of tamilok served in a bowl. But, if you’re a first-timer, seeing a bunch of intertwined slimy grayish worms won’t really perk up your appetite. Although tamilok doesn’t look appetizing with rice, it is actually a good dish for pulutan (food consumed while drinking). Most tamilok neophytes need about a minute and some jeering from their friends before anyone attempts to eat the dish.
Aside from the inquiring tourists and the usual adventure-seekers, the locals love eating tamilok as well because it tastes better than oyster especially when served fresh. Tamilok is usually consumed with hard liquor like vodka or local alcohol like tuba, but it can still be an experience even if you just down it with your normal draft beer.
Courage to eat this type of dish does not come with a fork. Eating tamilok just requires your picking out a fat strand of this wood worm. Swallowing the tamilok is a challenge – it is really slimy and feathery. It will stick to your esophagus like an extra slippery and long oyster. Make sure you have your alcohol in hand – you might not be that brave enough after all. It is also known as an aphrodisiac – maybe better consumed when you’re with someone you can cuddle with.
Let’s just hope the locals serve it in a different way other than the traditional ‘kinilawing tamilok’ so more people would be encouraged to try this exotic dish. The tamilok is increasingly becoming popular with both foreign and local tourists that would definitely put Palawan on the map making it one of the hottest tourist spots in the country.
(written by Faith Salazar)