Immigrants often long for the foodstuffs they can’t procure in their new country. Take Filipino pancit for example. A chef might find the right rice noodles, garlic and onions, and other components for this dish. But the scarcity of just one ingredient can throw the whole thing off, like that one missing puzzle piece.
Calamansi is one such ingredient.
The citrus star of the Philippines also lends its shine to other Asian cuisines. Known by other names, such as kalamansi, chinese oranges, golden limes, and, in the US, calamondin, calamansi gives food a different twist than its citrus kin. It can be hard to come across in the US, depending on where you are, so if you find it, snag it. You can thank me with pancit.
Calamansi is a fruit about half the size of a lime and almost perfectly round. Though they ripen to orange, they’re usually picked while they’re still green. The flesh within is a bright and deep yellow-orange.
Calamansi has a citrus flavor that’s all its own and difficult to substitute. When they can’t find it, many Filipino cooks, my mom included, will swap in lemon when needed, but it’s not the perfect stand-in. Where a lemon is uniformly tart, the calamansi is less so, its flavor falling somewhere between the sourness of a lime and the sweetness of an orange.
Calamansi lends a bright note to pancit dishes, particularly pancit bihon. It’s also squeezed onto the Filipino version of congee, called arroz caldo or lugaw—in a similar way to the use of lemon Greek rice soup avgolemono. It can also be mixed with soy sauce and garlic for a dipping sauce, and when it’s warm outside, you can make a lemonade-style drink (calam-ade?) by mixing the juice with water and sugar or honey, and pretend you’re on the sweaty streets of Manila.
Like other citrus fruits, it’s high in vitamin C, which is said to boost immunity. It also has antioxidant effects and can soothe stomach acidity. It’s also rich in potassium, vitamin A, and calcium.
Look for a Filipino restaurant near you, and they’ll likely have some for garnish for your pancit. Otherwise, ask around—you might get lucky and find someone whose tita is growing some in her backyard.