A cocktail of fertilizers, pesticides and growth hormones are often used for mass production of food to meet global growing population and demands. This is deemed necessary to ensure disease-free food sources, for sufficient food supplies. But these “lethal cocktail” of chemicals used in the growing of vegetables, fruits and the rearing of animals, including seafood farming, have been linked to various diseases such as cancer, birth defects, and a host of new strands of diseases.
Global awareness on healthy eating and wellbeing sees an increase on the need to produce food organically. Food is labeled “organic” when it is “produced, processed and packaged without using synthetic/artificial chemical”. (www.organicfacts.net). This awareness makes organic food more popular, providing rapid expansion of organic food production worldwide.
Organic food in Sarawak has yet to pick up as a major industry, but we still have our own organic food “store and supplier” – our jungles. If you frequent the local pasar or markets, we are endowed with sellers of these organic jungle produce.
Medan Niaga Satok in Kuching hosts a number of these jungle produce sellers, predominantly women. When interviewed on the produce that they have at their respective stalls, they emphasized on the fact that they do not use any kinds of fertilizers or pesticides on their products, and even their packaging is environmentally friendly, using leaves to package them, or natural fibers to tie the produce together.
Tepus is one of those jungle produce, which is a versatile vegetable that can be eaten as an ulam (eaten raw with sambal belacan) or stir fried with tapioca leaves. It can also be cooked with protein sources (meat, chicken, fish). The local Manok pansoh dish uses tepus as the distinct ingredient (usually with chicken and tapioca leaves). It gives an aroma to the dish as well as providing much needed roughage in one’s diet. But beware; tepus in its raw form gives off a smell that can offend some people. The seller informed that tepus normally grows and flourish well on mountainous soil, sustaining the supply.
Umbut or the hearts of palms, are commonly used in Sarawak’s ethnic cuisines. Coconut, palms (oil palms, sago palms) are a common sight at local markets. Sometimes one is lucky to find also nibong or pantu’ and rattan umbut too. These are normally cooked as lempah manis as the local Malays would termed it. The umbut will be sliced, put in a pot of water, just add in pounded combination of chilli, belacan or shrimp paste, either dried anchovies or dried prawns, shallots and garlic. Let simmer to cook. Viola! A healthy dish without a drop of oil in it! Some ethnic groups will tell you to boil the umbut first, throw away the water to get rid of the bitterness, and then put in water again with the condiments. Young bamboo shoots can also be cooked this way.
There are varieties of jungle vegetables that can be taken in its raw form as ulam too, or as kerabu, the local version of the western salad. Daun jampang can be found at most jungle clearings, has a sourish taste to it, making it an ideal candidate, both as ulam or kerabu. There is no need to blanch it first. Jungle clearings will also tend to produce ferns, and Sarawak is well endowed with different types of edible ferns, the most famous; the midin!
Its less famous sisters, the paku’ and the paku’ uban are more versatile as both can be stir fried, as well as blanched as an ulam or make into kerabu. According to the seller, the paku uban is good for breast-feeding mothers as adding it in one’s diet helps one produce more milk.
In making the sambal belacan, the usual ingredients are chillies, shrimp paste, sometimes with dried anchovies or dried prawns, and most times the juice of limau kasturi or calamansi is added to give it a tangy twang to it. However, one can replace calamansi juice and use the flesh of asam paya’ is also known as asam kelubi or salak hutan with scientific name of Zalacca Conferia, to give it a more tangy kick to the sambal. Asam paya’ usually grows on peat soil, and has high Vitamin C content, and was claimed that it can also help in lowering high cholesterol. The flesh of asam paya’ can also be used in tangy soupy dishes, especially when fish is a protein ingredient in the soup. Imagine the double dose of Vitamin C in the soup when you add lemon grass or serai in the soup! This is good for one who is recovering from flu! One word of caution: be very careful when peeling it, as the scale-like skin is very sharp!
Another peculiar “fruit” that can accompany one’s meal is the engkala’, where one can either eat it fresh when it is ripe enough, or blanch a while in hot (not boiling) water, when it gets soft, drain, then sprinkle with salt. The best rice to be eaten with these kinds of food is the local beras uma, either black or the red variety. High in Vitamin B complex, these varieties of unpolished rice, according to the seller, is good to be taken by those with knee problems.
These are just samples of organic foods that we still can find freely in our jungles, or still at affordable prices at our local markets. Try out your vitamins filled organic meal with Sarawak’s very own jungle produce.
by Rashidah Bolhassan