Wild olives from our rainforest?

Wild olives from Sarawak ? Do you know that we actually have wild olives known as ‘Dabai’ in Iban from our rainforest in Malaysia ? Not only dabai,we have its look-alike,kembayau with an entirely different taste and texture.(野生橄榄)


Cooked dabai
Cooked dabai


  Unlike the olives in Italy and Greece which grow on short and bushy trees,our olives grow on tall trees,as tall as 30-60m.The price is RM18-30 per kg.This year we have a lot of wild fruits in the markets so price goes down a bit.How does it taste? Well,the texture is like firm avocado flesh but more creamy,more fragrant and once in the mouth,an experience of unforgetable rich flavour,distinctively that of the dabai will haunt you forever.

Fresh dabai from the 7th mile market
Fresh dabai from the 7th mile market

Dabai is a GI (geographical indicating)plant of Sarawak and local people have started to plant them in small scales.What we buy from the market is a mix of jungle produce and fruits from small holders.Wild dabai are more expensive,may sell at RM28 per kg in Kuching.Cheaper dabai at RM10-12 per kg are cultivated by the small holders locally.Wild dabai has a stronger flavour due to the maturity of the trees and the natural environment surrounding their fruit trees.

Different ways of preparing the dabai
  1. By steeping the fruits in lukewarm water,just enough to cover them.Leave the pot open and the olives will get cooked after 30 min.
  2. By storing the fresh and cleaned dabai in the freezer.This can last for few months and just thaw the fruits before serving.
  3. By soaking the fruits in thick soya source for a few days.

Eat right away with rice,dipping them in thick soya source or sprinkle with salt.Dabai paste can be made by discarding the seeds and then mix with rock salt.Keep in airtight containers and can last for weeks.Dabai paste are sold in the markets and high-end products like dabai beauty soaps are also available.

Cooked dabai in brine
Cooked dabai in brine

Soak the dabai in brine solution for 3 days or longer and yummy yum yum yum dabai ready for dabai fried rice with chillies and corainder leaves.

Fried rice with dabai
Fried rice with dabai
Fried Rice with Dabai – Recipe
  • 1 cup of cold rice (left over rice kept in the fridge overnight)
  • 5 cooked dabai  (salted or unsalted) – discard the seeds,cut into bite size.
  • 1 chili – chopped
  • 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro or sawtooth coriander leaves
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp light soya source
  1. Heat up 1 tbs of corn oil.
  2. Fry the dabai and chili together till it becomes fragrant.
  3. Add in the cold rice and keep on stir-frying.
  4. Finally add in the cilantro.

Just try your hands on this simple recipe and post your picture to share with us.Yeah,lets go cooking!
But before cooking dabai,make sure you learn something about its look-alike,kembayau as shown in the picture below.



Dabai and kembayau are two different jungle produce of Sarawak rainforest.Kembayau,lacking popularity,is still very much kept as a wild and edible fruit of Sarawak rainforest.

Dabai is canarium odontophyllum while kembayau is dacryodes rostrata forma cuspidata in latin.
  1. Kembayau is darker,almost black in color while dabai is purplish in color.
  2. Kembayau is oblong in shape while dabai is round and short.
  3. Kembayau seeds are soft and slimy while dabai seeds are hard.
  4. Kembayau has dry,thick and dull skin whereas dabai has smooth and shiny skin.
  5. Kembayau has seeds that are soft and slimy whereas dabai has seeds with hard shells.
  6. Kembayau has seeds that are round in cross-section whereas dabai has seeds that are triangular in cross-section.
  7. Kembayau seeds are not edible whereas dabai seeds contain kernels that are clunchy and nutty as almond seeds.Chop or hammer the seeds and eat the kernels inside,though troublesome but worth the efforts once you have an unforgettable taste of the nuts inside.


Dabai seeds with edible kernels inside
Dabai seeds with edible kernels inside
The main difference is in the taste and texture.

Kembayau flesh is thin and slightly sour whereas dabai flesh is  thicker,more fragrant,creamy and richer in flavour.

Dabai is just so unique,in every sense and every aspect.It is one of the gems from the vast rainforest of Sarawak.

For the nutritional value of dabai,please click table 1. 

Notice its remarkable high potassium content.

Getting ready for the next dabai season? Well,from November to January is the fruit season in the land of Borneo.All the edible wild fruits and nuts will be there in the markets awaiting your patronage.






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Bunga Kantan,the edible wild flower

Bunga Kantan aka torch ginger flower or torch lily is the most beautiful, wild and edible flower in the rainforest of Malaysia.The scientific name is Etlingera Elatior.

Bunga Kantan in full bloom
Bunga Kantan in full bloom


Well,according to wikipedia,its leaves have higher AOP than its flowers and roots.Hmmm…..,may be we should start munching the leaves.
‘Antioxidant properties(AOP) of its leaves are significantly stronger than flowers and rhizomes’ – wikipedia

Despite of the statement above,the flower of E.elatior,i.e. bunga kantan will continue enjoy its popularity as the most beautiful,edible flower by the Malaysian and Indonesian.Local dishes like assam laksa  and nasi kerabu will be incomplete without bunga kantan.

Bunches of Bunga kantan are sold in the market as wild flowers by our natives here in Sarawak.Though as wild as it can be,it can be easily grown in the garden.Some of us in the urban area grow this plant at the backyard of the house.


Left-Bunga kantan plants growing in my old neighbour's garden Right - Pink bunga kantan for sale at the market
Left-Bunga kantan plants growing in my old neighbour’s garden
Right – Pink bunga kantan for sale at the market

Most of the pictures are taken from my good neighbour Mung Ping’s garden.The flowers exhibit basically red colour of three shades,namely the pink,the red and the dark red variety.There is also a white variety of bunga kantan.


Red bunga kantan and dark red bunga kantan
Bunga kantan in different shades of red

 Bunga Kantan is widely used in cooking laksa and seafood dishes.Outer harder petals are discarded and only the reddish buds and the tender petals are used for cooking.

Left - picture showing younger buds inside the torch ginger flower Right - Cross secting cutting along the stem of the torch ginger flower
Left – picture showing younger buds inside the torch ginger flower
Right – Cross section cutting along the stem of the torch ginger flower

 Its slightly pungent but pleasant taste is very unique and there is no equivalent of it in any part of the world.Lemon grass and daun kesum may overshadow its taste and flavor if they are put in a pot together.

Stir-fried tempe with bunga kantan
Stir-fried tempe with bunga kantan

In one of the pictures shown is tempe cubes stir-fried with four-winged beans or any other beans,chilies and bunga kantan.The unique taste of bunga kantan adds extra flavor to this dish full of crunchy beans,and slightly browned nutty tempe cubes.

Tempe fried with bunga kantan – Recipe
  •   130 gm tempe(1 packet) – cut into small cubes.
  •   bunga kantan – one stem,sliced thinly
  •   2 four-winged beans or french beans – thinly sliced
  •     1 lime – cut into halves
  •     1 chili – sliced thinly
  •    seasoning – add light soya source to taste
  1. Stir-fry tempe until slightly brown.
  2. Add in chopped chilly,the sliced beans and  bunga kantan.
  3. Season with light soya source.
  4. Garnish with bunga kantan buds.
  5. Squeeze lime juice on the dish and enjoy!

    Bunga kantan cooked in Terung Dayak soup
    Bunga kantan cooked in Terung Dayak soup
Bunga kantan can be added to terung dayak soup cooked with kelp seaweed and chillies.Add miso and brown sugar to taste.
Terung dayak soup recipe
  • 350 gm of terung dayak (solanum ferox linn-sour eggplant)  – Cut into 6 or 8 equal parts
  • 1000 cc of water
  • 3 dry chilies
  • 1 bunga kantan
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbs light soya source
  • 10 gm of  vegetarian belacan or miso
  • 30 gm of  kelp seaweed  – Steam for 30 min.Then cut into rectangles and soak in water.Rinse thoroughly before cooking.Kelp prepared this way cook faster and becomes tender within minutes.
  1. Boil the terung dayak for 20-30 min or till soft.Discard the skin.
  2. Add in the belacan and dry chilies.
  3. Finally add in the kelp seaweed and bunga kantan.Boil for another 5 min.
  4. Season with light soya source.Can be served as mee hoon soup.

In the Bario highland of Sarawak,the kelabit people cook porridge with bunga kantan and meat.As for vegetarian,mushrooms and bunga kantan can be added to the porridge.Season it with light soya source and mushroom powder.