Petai

Interesting texture on the woody knobs
Interesting texture on the woody knobs

Some pictures of petai, a green bean used in Malay home cooking. It grows in long pods on a very large tree of the Legume family, Parkia speciosa. The beans are very pungent. I’ve most often seen it cooked in sambal tumis ikan bilis, a fried chili paste with dried anchovies. It is also eaten raw dipped in some kind of spicy sambal. A lot of vegetables in the diet are eaten raw with chili sauces instead of salad dressing, a practice known as ulam. I can eat petai on occassion, but mostly I just like the cool texture on the woody knobs that bear the pods (picture 2). Petai is believed to have a beneficial effect on the kidneys and urinary tract. I imagine this is due to the dark brown foul-smelling urine you will pass the day after a petai meal.

The green beans are inside the leathery pod.  Some cook the bean together with the pod and eat both.
The green beans are inside the leathery pod. Some cook the bean together with the pod and eat both.

Petai is semi-wild; it is often encouraged to grow on the outskirts of kampungs. It is also gathered directly from the forest. In The Economic Valuation of Parkia speciosa in Peninsular Malaysia, Woo Weng Chuen estimates the domestic market at between RM8-24 million per year. Due to the whole smelly brown urine thing, though, I don’t think Petai has much future as an export crop, aside from supply to southeast asian communities in diaspora.


20 thoughts on “Petai

  1. Ulam is analogous to the Western practice of eating raw vegetables and fruits – whatever is in hand – in salads. The condiments differ, instead of salad dressings, various types of sambal, typically sambal belacan is consumed.

    Legumes eaten in ulam not only include the petai but also include the more pongy and more delicious gering and kerdas. Other, less exotic, fruits include pineapple, green unripe mangos and banana hearts.

    Vegetables are not limited to the run-of-the-mill variety, herbs such as daun selasih (basil), pegaga (Centella asiatica) and even various ferns are also consumed with much gusto and delight.

  2. The other herbal ulam which escaped my mind yesterday and I had for lunch today together with the others already mentioned is ulam raja which is the shoots and leaves of the common garden flower Cosmos caudatus Kunth. Don’t laugh until you’ve tried it–yummy!

    The Ministry of Agriculture describes it in some detail in Bahasa Melayu but fails to give its scientific name:

    http://agrolink.moa.my/jph/kelantan/ulamraja.htm

    See also:

    http://agrolink.moa.my/jph/kelantan/INDEX01.HTML

    A UKM page gives descriptions in Bahasa Melayu of a number of ulam, including petai and a whole bunch I had missed out:

    http://pkukmweb.ukm.my/~ahmad/tugasan/s2_99/a56496.htm

  3. Petai may also be blanched and salted to make petai jerok. Preserved in the resulting brine, it may then be used in sambal as you would use fresh.

  4. I lurrrrve Petai. True it gives out this unpleasant smell, but hey, so does durian! But still, it would be a ‘sin’ not to indulge in those smelly but heavenly food. Oh yeah… just had sambal tumis udang petai yesterday. An out-of-this-world combi. My favorite!

  5. wow!!! u do eat petai! amazing. but do u eat durian too? saw this prog on food channel abt this american chef who went across asia & consumed many2 outrageous things like a pickled newt hanging off his sake, fresh frog sashimi arranged nicely with its huge head on the top of the plate & the most prized sashimi – the beating heart at the end of the chopsticks. so given all that surely he can eat drurian by the time he reached malaysia right? not at all. he actually vomitted. he has eaten all the vile things but can’t stomach the durian. so i was also thinking he hasn’t eaten petai too. btw, the remedy for the petai’s foul aroma is to boil some eggplant & eat it right after u consume all your mouth watering sambals. tips fr my mother in-law. btw, i’m a malaysian living in dreadry detroit & many congratulations on your newborn.

  6. The name petai is in malay. Parkia speciosa is in botany. What does it called in english? Can anyone help me on this!

    I’ve been consuming petai since I was a kid. Taste good, smells good. Well, for those who do not like it will continously commented on it. The same with durians, cigarettes etc.

    Only those who like and enjoy it, will enjoy it on its individual tastes. Walla……….

  7. There is nothing better in this world than a sambal udang petai — with a beer.

    why isnt petai treated as a unique Malay culinary asset?

    as a Brit I am amazed to find that Malaysians think it weird that I adore petai.

  8. Just came across this wonderful website. I work for a TV Prod. Hse, and am researching on petai, esp salted petai or petai jeruk., for our coming documentary for RTM. anyone has any interesting anecdotes or info of petai jeruk linked to the culture and food habits of the Malays plse can u email to me, wld truly appreciate it. Also the methods of making it, and why it is done.
    Tks very much. wld appreciate it. Rgds – Premala

  9. i love petai.. and actually proud of it!

    if u wish to read more about this bean in english, visit this link:

    Petai

    smelly, but beneficial 😀

  10. I never liked petai and I’d be the only one not indulging in sambal tumis petai or petai dipped in tempoyak (a paste made from fermented durian) and chilli while abah, mak and the others would dig in. Gives out bad breath and takes forever to disappear. Unfriendly when you wish to go the masjid.

  11. The name botanical name for petai is

    Parkia speciosa

    Those who like to correct me, email me please. The company is setting up a petai business for export those who can contribute in terms of ideas are welcomed to do so.

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