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Upo (Tagalog) / Tabungaw (Ilocano) / Hyotan (Japanese) / White Gourd (Squash)

Ironically similar to the Hawaiian term “Ipu” for bottle gourd (also known as “Ipu Heke ‘ole” for Gourd Drum), “Upo” is the Filipino word in the Tagalog dialect for a unique, very long White Gourd (the inside is white), also known as “Tabungaw” in Ilocano. Not to be confused with “Opu”, which is the Hawaiian word for stomach or belly.

Smart ‘eh me, for someone who’s not Filipino? Actually, I got that info’ from one of the many folks working in our office originally from P.I..

And very long would be an understatement, as this particular example measured a nearly baseball bat’s length of 34″ from the tip end of the stem to the tip of the top…

Upo (Tagalog) / Tabungaw (Ilocano) – 34″ length

That’s just 2″ shy of a yardstick. WOW! That, while the Upo’s diameter is relatively slim to its extreme length at just 4″ across…

Upo (Tagalog) / Tabungaw (Ilocano) – 4″ diameter at thickest part (weight unknown)

The profile shape is evenly round (this shot’s angled slightly downward from the side about 42 degrees)…

Here’s an example of how Upo is grown from its vines, hanging from a trellis…

The long and heavy Upo grows hanging from its vines off a trellis. Photo courtesy of tubagbohol.mikeligalig.com

Being a part of the squash family, Upo is botanically considered a fruit, not a vegetable, and said to be a good source of iron, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin B.

As for cooking ingredient applications, according to my Filipina coworkers, one popular dish using Upo is Guinisang Upo with Shrimp

Guinisang Upo with Shrimp. Image courtesy of OverseasPinoyCooking.net

Another popular Ilocano dish is Tabungaw nga Buridibud

Tabungaw nga Buridibud. Image courtesy of OverseasPinoyCooking.net

While these linked recipes call for shrimp and fish, I’m told you can also use pork if seafood ain’t your thing.

And “THING” was was what immediately crossed my mind when I saw it sitting on the lunchroom table yesterday. I was like, “What the heck is that!”….

Upo? Tabungaw? WHOAH!

That gives you an idea to scale what we’re dealing with here, as it practically dwarfs my 5’9″ frame.

I’ve seen some pretty massive pumpkins and watermelons in overall mass (girth and weight), however to the best of my memory, this Upo a.k.a. Tabungaw has got to be the LONGEST fruit I’ve ever seen in person in my life. Crazy! And if the photos still don’t convince you, bust out your tape measure and pull out 34″ and you’ll understand. ;-)

With that, at least now you’ll know what it is if you ever happen to come across these uncannily long squash at an open market. Just remember the Hawaiian term “Opu” for your tummy, then flip that around and you’ll remember the name “Upo” for this rather fascinating Filipino Squash.

Gosh, that Guinisang Upo with Shrimp sure would hit the spot right about now. ;-)


4 thoughts on “Upo

  • March 4, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Ah, so that’s what it’s called! My in-laws grow this at their house in Pukalani. Their largest ones are about as long as the one in the photo but the diameter is longer than that one. We usually cut it into thirds and share it with three families. We make it into something similiar to Chicken Papaya, but we use pork instead of chicken and the upo instead of papaya. Yum!

  • March 4, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    In Japanese, it is called hyotan not hyota. It is very popular in Okinawan stews and soups.

  • March 5, 2014 at 6:45 am

    I like to cook it in a soup with ground pork and shitake mushrooms. Good comfort food on a cold day.

  • March 5, 2014 at 7:58 am

    @ David-San – I’d think Green Papaya would impart a more distinct flavor and silkier texture to Tinola (Filipino Chicken Papaya Soup) compared to any squash due to the rich amount of Papain enzyme in green papaya. No matter what, Tinola MUST have Malunggay leaves!

    @ Dennis-San – Typo on my part. Fixed. Domo. Okinawan PIg’s Feet Soup calls for Togan, a.k.a. Winter Squash, which looks and is sized like a watermelon. Been there, did that.

    @ Dean-San – One of the Pinay gals I work with says her recipe is simply to saute bite-size strips of pork in a very hot wok until browned, drain excess oil, then add minced garlic, sliced tomato, onions, and season it well with Tiparos, which is the Thai version of Filipino Patis (Fish Sauce; which she prefers for its great flavor). Then add just enough water to cover that (not where it’s a soup), then simmer until pork is fully tender. Finish by adding bite-size pieces of Upo and continue cooking until the Upo is tender. Serve with rice. She doesn’t have a specific name for the dish, but says she would categorize it generally as Dinengdeng (Ilocano style Pork with Vegetables).


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