Sunday, 22 March 2009

Salak and Jambu - Indonesian Food

If it feels like a snake, and it looks like a snake, then it must be a ... fruit!?

In my last post I put up a couple of cropped pictures of some exotic fruits I'd encountered in Indonesia. Well, picture No.1 is of the salak also known as the snake fruit or snakeskin fruit. These grow in clusters at the base of the imposingly prickly salak palm that is native to Indonesia, with each individual fruit about the size of a large fig. They look pretty "wicked" don't they, with their scaly peel. At the very least, they give the impression that something serpentine might just pop out of them! The unusual snake-like skin is surprisingly thin and somewhat papery, easily peeled away by hand to reveal three waxy lobes or segments of edible off-white flesh. Each of these fleshy lobes hides a hard inedible seed. The fruit has quite a distinctive, slightly sourish (acidic) aroma but the flesh has a pleasant crunchy texture (like a cling peach or unripe nectarine) and quite sweet. Both the appearance and odour of the fruit have proven a little too confronting for some people encountering it for the first time to enjoy. As for me, I don't mind it at all though it wouldn't be at the top of my list of favourite tropical fruits. It really needs to be eaten when very fresh, as bruised or older fruits emanate an overpowering smell and unpleasant taste of fermentation.

As Phyllis and Thanh were both able to reveal, Fruit No.2 is the jambu or wax apple, a very common and popular fruit in south Asia and again native to Indonesia. When I'd been out for a stroll around the suburbs of Jakarta, I'd often come across the bell-shaped fruits strewn over some patch of ground even beside a busy roadway or a carpark; a cue to look up to see a jambu laden tree. The common variety has an attractive greenish-to-white colour tinged with a faint blush of pink and is known as jambu air (or water jambu) due to its light crunchy and juicy texture consisting mostly of water. The ones pictured here are a slightly larger variety or cultivar known as jambu merah (red jambu), or jambu susu (milk jambu) on account of its milky white inner flesh. Tastewise the varieties are similarly subtle, slightly tart and faintly perfumed. It is an easy fruit to eat and can be crunched skin and all, although the heart hiding the seed is a little cobwebby or cottonwoolly in texture. Otherwise it is a refreshing bite! Because of its subtle taste, jambu is usually eaten with a condiment. Thanh says they are enjoyed with sugar syrup in Vietnam. In Indonesia however, locals really only eat them dipped in the ubiquitous kecap manis (a sweet soy sauce) laced with very spicy chilli sambal! It is also a common ingredient in rujak, a raw fruit salad tossed with crushed peanuts and a hotly spicy shrimp-paste and tamarind dressing. Sounds odd but tastes devine!

1 comment:

Bayu Amus said...

There are some varieties of Salak but the most famous are Salak Pondoh from greater Jakarta.

I agree with you saying that we should watch out for bumps or signs of fermentation, as this fruit is easily off and has surprisingly low tolerance to moist, while they're almost steaming. Hence left in a closed container they will very quickly went bad from their own dews.

As the rule of thumb in picking a ripe one, press the meat around its conical ends: if it's hard then it's still raw, if it's watery and crumbly then they're off, if it's firm and a bit elastic, then it's good.

The best Salak would have this grainy flesh texture, just like a ripe Washington apples only more coarse and dryer.