18 November, 2009

A Fruitsome Journey

Woke up this morning (19/11) to the sounds of crickets and birds. We left Kuching yesterday at 8.30 am and arrived Bintulu around 8.00 pm after a 12 hours journey by road. My normal duration for the Kuching- Bintulu journey has generally been 10 hours, but on this trip I let the hours drifted by for the main reason that this is the end of the year and I will not want to miss the little details that should be enjoyed along the Pan Borneo Highway. The end of the year is a moment I look forward to because if one were to drive the length of the Pan Borneo Highway, the sights and tastes of the local seasonal fruits are not to be missed. Because I made so many pit stops along the highway to see and sometimes buy many of the fruits available by the roadside the journey was a pleasant, exciting and fruitful one. Below are shots I took for the world to share. (Inset: Our pick up refuelling at Sibu with the rainbows in view, three quarters of journey covered)

The rambutans ( Nephelium lappaceum) has soft hairs and come in two main colours - yellow and red. I recall that in India , rambutans are highly priced as wedding gifts and Singaporeans export these fruits overseas and re-brand them as " Singapore Lychee". And the best part of the story is that small island of Singapore does not have land to plant rambutan trees but obtain them from Malaysian farms which are just across the channel. Does it prove that Malaysians are good producers but Singaporeans better marketers? Anyway, I price most the wild species of rambutans that still grow in my eco-farm here at Bintulu.

Most rambutans ( Note: In Malay 'rambut' means hairs ) that are grown now are hybrid species to make them more marketable and the better clones should provide the following characteristics: thin outer skin, thick flesh, fruits skin is easy to open by an effortless slight twist, glorious red colour or golden colour, sweet tasting, juicy, seed small and the flesh ( or aril) easily peeled off from seed without the seed cover stuck to the flesh and long shelf life. Well, let the scientists sort out the details. One thing is for sure , don't clone one without hairs. It will not be a called a rambutan fruit.

You can buy fresh green peppers by the roadside. Sarawak's climate is ideal for pepper growing but requires very intensive care especially from diseases and as such is appropriately grown on a family basis. At today's price, black pepper fetches RM 8,700 per tonne ( Bintulu price) and white pepper ( processed) fetches RM 15,100 per tonne. However, considering the tiny size of the pepper fruits, the amount you need to collect before you could sell them makes it obvious that you need to be a bundle of patience, have stacks of money to buy inputs especially fertilisers, weedicides and pesticides that don't come cheap, and luck against diseases, weather, world ups and downs in pepper commodity prices to get rich. No short cut! and as one friend of mine commented " What ? You are in to farming? It's just buying fertilisers and letting the rain wash them away !" Oh, yes talking about the rains, this time around the journey was met with slight rains for about one third of the journey and the rest of the way was cloudy skies.
LS of the 'mata kuching' fruit tree. The name " Kuching", the capital of Sarawak comes from this fruit according to one theory. Another theory says that the name of Kuching City derives from the local Malay word for cat i.e. Kuching. Now if the first theory is correct, Kuching is not cat, afterall.

CU of the ' mata kuching' fruit ( Euphoria malaiense)

Lucky, lucky me. A fruiting " Engkabang" tree.
And finally I consider myself extremely lucky to see a fruit- bearing "Enkabang" tree near Sebangkoi, Sarikei town. Locally the fruits are eaten fresh in various ways e.g. salad, vegetable, etc. There is however a novel way the people of Sarawak take this fruit. They boil the fruits for its oil and then prepare it in the form of a cake that will last for years at room temperature. They are then eaten with hot rice to make the rice tastes better, more fragrant and healthy because the 'melted' enkabang cake dispenses the flavour of the fruit just like when you apply butter on roasted bread. After you rub the 'engkabang' cake and melt some away, the rest of the cake can be kept for future use. It's so very practical because you don't need to place it inside a fridge like you do the butter or cheese.
Why did I say I was lucky to come across the " Engkabang" tree fruit? Engkabang trees are of the 'dipeterocarps' species and are considered giants of the rain forests. Dipterocarp comes from the Greek word to mean ' two-winged seeds'. But the tree I saw has more than two wings. Some of these fruits can have 3- 5 wings. These wings make them look like badminton shuttlecocks. And lucky enough I met them at this point in my life!. The reason being these helicopter wings are produced once is sixty (60) years! Well, now I can claim in future that in my lifetime I did see a fruiting Engkabang tree once. Once is good enough. Now if the engkabang fruit drops and gets caught on the branches of trees and other obstacles and does not hit fertile grown soon, the fruits and seed will be spent and no chance to propagate itself. It has been acknowledged that it takes a 60 years cycle for an engkabang tree to flower and because the requirements of germination from new seeds the natural way is very stringent that it takes this species one century to spread over a kilometer radius. Strange but true. And to make the matter worse, this tree species is one of the most marketable species for tropical hardwoods export from Sarawak that they are increasingly hunted for their logs than their fruits. For now you can kiss tropical biodiversity goodbye.


  1. Nice to see you back! I missed you.;) Your pictures are a breath of fresh air, so exotic when we are starting our long winter season.

  2. For the widest range of fruits and nuts what is the best month to visit Sarawak: July or August or November?


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