Have you seen all these rare nuts from our rainforest (part 1)?

There are some strange and rare  but very delicious nuts from our rainforest here.One such nut is Kacang Kop(Bidayuh) or Merenti (Iban).In Hakka it is called wild groundnut(山地豆) which is a bit misleading because it does not really taste like one but more like kernel of our wild olive,dabai.Its ID is Ostodes pauciflora Merr.
Kop/merenti/buah brati/buah buantik/broti


Strange nuts of Borneo-so wild,so crunchy and so perfectly delicious are those  nuts of Borneo jungles that make us wonder wether they are endemic to Borneo.Of course they are not but are found in abundance in this part of the world.The top one in the collage is buah Brati(Bidayu),Buah buantik(Kalimantan),buah merenti(iban).The shell is so hard that a pestle is needed to crack it open and the kernels inside the nut taste like dabai kernels.The nuts have to be boiled for a few hours with salt.Most vendors in the markets sell boiled nuts.
Fresh fruits of buah merenti collected from  the trees.

The outer light green shell of each seed can be easily open to reveal a round,black seed with another hard shell and a  white kernel inside which has a nutty flavour.After boiling the seeds for about two or more hours with salt,the kernel can be taken out by pounding the black shell with a wooden pestle.It sounds troublesome,isn’t it ? Wait till one has tasted the nutty and tasty kernels inside the seeds,one will never complain of all the hard work done.

Mertenti fruits always appear in pairs.

The fruits have outer skin or shells that look exotic in shape.From far they look like ping pong balls hanging on the trees.Their fruit size is about the size of a ping pong ball.

Bunches of Merenti fruits.

Merenti fruits always appear in pairs and they look like pale yellow ping pong balls hanging on the trees.The shell turns greyish in colour when the fruits mature.Fruits have to be harvested at this stage before they drop  to the ground.


The picture above shows buah empit aka buah pelajau,praju,peladjau or empelanjau.These are medium sized trees growing along river banks.Very often our natives collect the floating nuts from the upper streams.The spongy, fibrous husk are then separated from the edible cotyledons.Natives around Kuching area like to stir-fry tempoyak and add empit to the dish while local chinese cook the nuts in soup with meat.It tastes like almond if eaten fresh.As for vegetarian, just boil the nuts for 30 minutes, add rock sugar and soya bean milk.The soup is fragrant and the nuts are super soft.This nut has   good export value.Empit is quite commonly sold in markets during end of the year.Its ID is Pentaspadon motleyi Hook.f.


The brown one at the bottom left is buah perah(malay),buah kelampai(iban),buah rampeh(bidayuh).Buah kelampai has to be boiled a few times before serving.It tastes more like rubber seeds.Fermented kelampai nuts are popular in indonesia and it is then made into a kind of paste for cooking,something like buah keluak.To cut short the cooking time,it is best to lightly crush the shell and then proceed with the boiling. Its ID is elateriospermum tapos.


Keranji - Velvet tamarind
Keranji madu- Velvet tamarind

The picture above shows keranji with common names as Velvet tamarind or tamarind plum.Actually   keranji  is not a nut.It looks like mini bird eggs with a black egg-like shell and a plum-like fruit with thin flesh and a hard pit inside.It is very similar to tamarind in taste which is sweet and sour .Basically there are three types of keranji -Keranji tanjan,keranji madu and keranji papan.Keranji is the smallest of length 1.5cm and width 1.2cm.It has sweet and black caramel-like flesh which can be eaten by sucking.The other two keranji has orange flesh.The fruit which is a good survival food in the jungle can be soaked in water to make sour,sweet drink.Keranji fruits can be kept in a tin for a few months by drying the fruits with shell on for a week in the sun.Its ID is Dialium indum L.

Bawang Hutan
Bawang Hutan/Buah Kulim/Garlic nuts

Bawang Hutan(Malay) or Sindu(Iban) was use as garlic in the olden days.The whole tree which means its trunk,flowers,leaves and fruits all smell like garlic.Its heavy and hard trunk is a first-class timber with its garlic odor.The leaves and nuts are used for flavoring food.Never eat this nut raw.It has to be cooked to be edible.For Malays,the nuts are used as herbal cure for high blood pressure.There are websites selling this herbal product.Usually natives cook soup with the nuts.Its ID is Scorodocarpus borneensis Becc.

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Giant pandan leaf and vegetarian zhang in Sarawak

Most people use bamboo leaves for wrapping Ba zhang/zong zi,the savory glutinous rice dumpling for Ba zhang festival.In Sarawak and Kalimantan,we use Giant pandan leaf for wrapping Ba zhang and the bamboo leaf for Kee zhang,the zhang cooked with a bit of alkaline solution.This Giant pandan tree grows up a height of 2-3 meter.It belongs to the same family of the regular pandan plant/screw pine we use in cooking Malaysian dishes i.e the family of pandanus.However,exact ID of this Giant pandan plant is still unclear.
Giant pandan leaves
Giant pandan leaves

 Its leaves are fragrant.Small spikes grow along both sides of young leaves but they disappear after the leaves mature.Just leave a leaf in the car to enjoy its fragrance.Giant pandan leaf can be soaked in warm water before use.Dip it dry before wrapping the zhang.Some of our zhang makers prefer to roll it straight with a wooden roller.

Steamed vegetarian zhang from my kitchen.

 The picture above shows the steamed vegetarian Ba zhang from my kitchen.I am following the Taiwanese way of cooking Ba zhang.I prefer to steam it because it is less time consuming and less oily too.Usual way of cooking Ba zhang is boiling them for 5-7 hours.Of course,time can be cut short by using pressure cooker but for zhang makers,there is no way to install a big pressure cooker in their kitchens.In the past,most people used biscuit tins because they were big enough to contain all the zhangs.

In my recipe to be shared later,I mix the ingredients together with the rice but in most ba zhangs in the markets one can find the filling is placed at the middle of the rice.Mixing the filling together with the rice is to cut short the preparation time.So whatever way will do,just be flexible.


Left – Vegetarian nyonya zhangs are sold at the vegetarian cafe almost everyday.Right – Kee zhangs/碱水粽 with red bean paste and the other one is plain.The plain zhang is dipped in gula apong or brown sugar syrup.

 The picture below shows the regular pandan plant/screw pine we use in Malaysian dessert like kueh and for cooking fragrant rice like nasi lemak,nasi brayani and numerous dishes.Its leaf is fragrant and is an important ingredient in Malaysian Malay and Nyonya dishes.Pandan leaf tea is a popular health drink in the country.

The other pandan leaf shown on the left is pandan serani which is of different family from the regular pandan plant .Its leaf is not fragrant.It is mostly used for green food dye.In Malaysia and Indonesia,pandan serani is used for cooking Kueh Hijau,green cakes and green rice.


Left – Regular pandan plant.  Right – Pandan serani

The picture below shows menkuang plant found in swampy land.It is of same family with the pandan plant but the leaf is not fragrant and is spiky on both sides.Its leaves are for weaving mats and baskets.Giant pandan plants can be found on Pulau Ubin near Singapore  but less common in the Peninsula Malaysia whereas mengkuang trees are quite commonly found in some states of West Malaysia.

Menkuang plant



Vegetarian Ba zhang

  • 3 cups glutinous rice (soaked overnight)
  • 200 g chai poh(optional) – shredded
  • 50 g mushroom – soaked overnight and chopped finely
  •  2 dry chilies -minced
  • 300 g groundnuts- sorted and washed,soaked overnight,then boiled  for 30 minutes.
  • 1/2 tsp 5 spices powder(optional)
  • 2 tbs thick soya sauce
  • 1 tsp light soya sauce
  • 12 giant pandan leaves – cut into 40 cm length and soaked in warm water.Dip dry for later use.
  • 1/2 tsp pepper powder
  • 1/2 cup coriander leaves(optional) – chopped
  1. Fry the chilies,chai poh and mushroom together.
  2. Add rice and groundnuts followed by all the seasoning.
  3. Scoop all the mixture into a tray.Add 1 1/2 cups of water,some small pandan leaves and steam for 30 minutes.
  4. Wrap with 1 – 2 pieces of pandan leaves as shown in the picture below.Tie with a piece of thread or string.
  5. Steam for another 1 hour.
Left- Bundles of Giant pandan leaves for sale in the market. Right – Wrap the zhang with 1-2 pandan leaves by filling  the rice in the cone formed by overlapping the leaves and covering the top by folding the leaves.Tie with a piece of thread.

Picture below shows how it looks before steaming for another 1 hour.Picture on the left shows giant pandan leaves used for wrapping panggang.Glutinous rice,after soaking for one night, is steamed for 1/2- 1 hour with coconut milk and a bit of salt.Place the steamed rice on a pandan leaf,fold over,secure the open end with a tooth- pick and pan-fry on a iron skillet on low fire.Most panggang sold in markets are wrapped in banana leaves.This pandan panggang is full of pandan fragrance.Try this at home and you will thank me for that.

Left – Uncooked zhang. Right – Panggang folded in giant pandan leaf

Some local people like to cook Ba zhang in ketupat case.Never seen one does not mean it does not exist.It is happening in Sarawak – people cooking Ba zhang in ketupat case,mostly not for sale.

Yes,Giant Pandan in Sarawak.For it to grow well,swampy or wet land is the key.That is why mine is not growing well.




So gardeners,

let’s plant giant pandan leaves.

Bundles of pandan leaves are selling well in our city.













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