BUTONG PAKWAN (BUTO NG PAKWAN) are WATERMELON SEEDS.
Among many Filipinos’ fondest memories is gathering around a bowl of dried watermelon seeds with a piece of old newspaper on hand ready to be piled with discarded shells. Parents and older relatives take on the task of cracking open the buto (“seed”) for young children who have yet to develop the skill of extracting the kernels as whole as possible.
Snacking on butong pakwan happens when family and friends are just hanging out, chatting or watching television. It’s a great “busy food” to give bored hands something to do. The ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia are known to do this type of snacking over the Lunar New Year or during a funeral wake. The seed-eating session usually only ends once you’ve run out of seeds or your lips and tongue have become too painfully sore from the salt.
Butong pakwan does have a distinctive flavor beyond mere saltiness, brought about by the addition of sanque, which is star-shaped anise (Illicium verum), and it is not uncommon to find one or two of the beautifully desiccated anise flowers still mixed in among the black seeds, providing a subtly sweet enhancement. Watermelon seeds come in packets that are sometimes labeled simply as “melon” seeds.