G(r)owing Bananas

I couldn’t wait for the rock wall and grading project to be done to start planting up the yard. I decided to grow some bananas along the jungle edge. Six months later, I’ve already harvested my first banana crop, and I’ve got banana trees towering 15 feet tall, swaying in the breeze.

The varieties of bananas here are amazing: there are about a dozen different types available in the market, and they’re all quite different. We’ve got Pisang Emas (Golden Bananas), Pisang Embon (Dew Bananas), Pisang Berangan (Dream Bananas), Pisang Awak (Your Bananas?), Pisang Tanduk (Horn Bananas), Pisang Keling (Indian Bananas, though careful, keling is a derogatory word for indians), Pisang Serendah (Shorty Bananas), and my personal favorite name, Pisang Pisang (Banana Bananas)! The only banana you can’t find is the chiquita banana they sell back home, the Cavendish variety. In the yard, the giant Pisang Tanduk is ripening. It’s a cooking banana, like a plantain, but sweet when fried. My previous harvest was a pisang serendah. It only grew about four feet tall, not counting the terminal leaf. We couldn’t eat it all fresh, so we gave some to the neighbors, and the rest became banana fritters (cucur) and banana bread. SR makes a mean banana bread.

Bananas are a funny plant. They’re not really trees. The trunk is a green bundle of juicy leaf stalks, with each new leaf emerging all the way from deep inside the plant, kind of like blades of grass. Each plant only produces one clump of bananas before dying. Often the trunk will topple over from the weight. As it is dying, new shoots sucker up from the base. The fruiting body first emerges as this deep purple heart-shaped thing that can be eaten as a vegetable by the way, though noone’s served it to me yet. They sell ’em in the market. The heart slowly opens up and elongates, revealing itty-bitty little bananas.

Beyond the fruit and the heart, the other useful product of the banana is the leaf. The leaves are huge, from 2 to 7 feet long. The leaves are used as wrappers for cooking and sweets. The leaf isn’t just a wrap though: it’s an ingredient. Lots of kuih-muih get a certain flavor from the leaf that is essential to the dish. SR claims the old people in her kampung even discern among different varieties of banana for the flavor the leaf imparts on the dish. There’s an Indian restaurant in town that has weekly banana leaf specials, where for an extra price, you can eat your lunch right off a banana leaf. It’s very popular. A personal favorite banana-wrapped treat is pulut udang, glutinous rice stuffed with spicy dried shrimp and toasted in a banana leaf. One of those units warming up in the picture will do you right for breakfast. Or minum pagi. Or minum petang. Did I mention I’ve put on five pounds since moving here?

[Update] Bananas can be used in the ornamental landscape as well. There are number of ornamental varieties that have been developed, including Pisang Derhaka, the bananas of treachery, or maybe, the bananas of rebellion, or maybe even, Uppity Bananas. The poor banana’s crime to deserve a name like that: the heart that points up to the sky instead of bending toward the ground like a good banana.


36 thoughts on “G(r)owing Bananas

  1. Assalamualaikum,
    I am a muslim whose recently created a new islamic blog. I came across your blog and found it very interesting. I was therefore wondering whether you’d consider swapping links to each other’s blogs i.e. I put link to your blog on my blog, and you do the same?

    My blog address is http://yaallahoo.blogspot.com/

    As you can see, I’ve already added your blog to my link section.

    Any assistance in this regard would be highly appreciated.

    I hope you dont mind me using the comment mechanism like this, as I couldnt locate your email on the blog. Please dont think of this as spam.

    Jazakh Allah Khair

    QA

  2. Tell me more about abiu, Nizar. What does it look like? I like Pulasan. It is almost never for sale in the market in Kuching, but I ran into a wild version of it when I was in Mukah. See this post: http://www.bingregory.com/archives/2005/10/02-mukah/
    or just click here for the picture:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/21227234@N00/48509714/

    Quddus – Nice blog, thanks for the link. I used to have an automatic reciprocal link device on the side but it got gummed up by spammy links.

  3. Bro Greg…

    I asked you about abiu because I saw a documentary about the fruit last week. It is grown in Sabah. I never knew, or saw, or heard, or touched, let alone tasted it here. Salak fruit, I know. Indons call it ‘nangka’. Binjai, I still know it even though it’s a jungle fruit – the twin of kemang but sweet instead of sour. But ‘abiu’? I thought Borneo ppl were more familiar with it… I haven’t got a clue, bro… Cubak tanyak samak binik kitak…

  4. I never heard about Pisang pisang or pisang serendah, pisang rendah-rendah, or chiquita.
    The latest gene they produce is pisang montel about a decade ago. My fav is pisang berangan (for raw-eating) and pisang nipah for fried ones or pengat dessert. Have you heard about kesemak (persimmon), some people call pisang kaki, having a round shape. And some more: pisang raja, pisang udang, pisang kapas, pisang nangka… keling in northern peninsular means muslim Indian (originally from Kelinga or Kelanga in India) and berangan means daydream, btw. πŸ™‚

  5. Ai, don’t call me Greg! That’s my father’s name. I use bingregory on line…

    Pisang montel is the local name for the Cavendish, the standard banana of the Americas. Of course, over here it’s exotic.

    It won’t do any good to ask my wife about the abiu… she’s from semenanjung too!

  6. If you want your Bananas to get full size, chop off the ‘purple heart shaped thing’ hanging below the bunch. If you won’t the bananas will shrink. That’s from experience.
    Also if you notice any really dwarf banana trees, chance are they’re infected with a virus.

    Do not use the same garden tools used on the affected plant on other plants, because the virus is contagious.

  7. Haha… sorry Bro Bin Greg…

    Some new info: pisang pisang is actually spelled pisang-pisang and it’s not a type of pisang even though it has the word in its name. it’s a type of plant (not banana plant) and it’s also a type of.. guess what… fish!
    Other types of pisang includes pisang batu, pisang biji, and pisang rastali. How on eart u end up residing in Sarawak? Your wife works there permanently?

    There’s something happening last week which I think was quite interesting to blog about. Two school students in Terengganu were expelled from school for wearing turbans a few years ago. As far as I know wearing it is not banned in malaysian schools. Even the Sikh students are allowed to wear it. But then again, I am also not used to having friends wearing turbans. I think it’s not wrong, perhaps they could have just worn a kufiye like u do. People just have different opinions on turban wearing here… what say you?

  8. You’ve got to pay extra to eat off a banana leaf? And only once per week at the restaurant??? Man, what a rip! πŸ™‚ There’s a whole bunch of restaurants here (S’pore) where eating off banana leaves is the only “dish” they serve on (and it certainly doesn’t cost any extra).

  9. Salaam, Mr. “Administrator.” πŸ™‚ By chance, is there an e-mail address so that I can write to you? My wife would like me to ask you a question.

  10. YouÒ€ℒve got to pay extra to eat off a banana leaf?

    heh. There are very few Indians in Sarawak, less than one percent of the state population. Thus the sad lack of banana-leaf options…

  11. Hah, speaking of very few Indians in Sarawak reminds me of some Sarawkin tomboys working a manufacturing company I used to work in. Yeap, they were wondering what kind of people are the Indians when they first saw them.

  12. So the garden is ready for Jihad?? Inshallah we will be back your way this summer and I’ll bring Mr. Man along for sure this time (he’s tierd of KL)

    Ok a Kuching observations from Hannah “maybe they just don’t like dogs there… they don’t have any dogs there just cats.”

    simplicity of children.. have to love it

  13. Assalamualaikum brother,
    We probably have never met but I used to know SR when we were at EMU in Ypsi. Please say my salam to her. I am still in Indy BTW. Tell SR she won. I stuck at number 4! Great blog, beautiful kids mashaAllah!
    Yong Ida

  14. Did your clock just stop? Why no update? ANy new fruit u r trying to research? Pls write…

  15. Wa alaykum salam Yong Ida! We have met; I remember stopping by your flat in Dearborn long ago, before you moved. Thanks for writing. I have passed your email address to SR. She’ll be contacting you soon I’m sure.

    Nizar – I’m happy to see you are checking my site regularly. Unfortunately, I really don’t post more often than once a month these days, if that. I should have something up in a few days though.

  16. BenGregory,
    There are another two useful ways to use banana leaf.
    During the May 13th, 1968 riot, my younger brother was very sick and delirious.His body was so hot we could feel the heat by sitting next to him. It was past midnight (the curfew began at 10.00 pm)My mother went out to the back yard and came in after 15 minutes with a half dozen of banana leaves. She carefully cleaned the banana leaves and put the whole leaf on my brothers’s bed. Then she put my brother flat on his back. Within minutes the leaf wilted. For the next hour we had a piled of wilted banana leaves in the bedroom and my brother’s temperature slowly dropped down.
    Seond: Use it as an emergency umbrella for a short trip within a couple of hundred yards from the house.

  17. Subhanallah! Never heard of Pisang Derhaka before. What do they do with the heart? Can it be eaten? Any fruits? You’ve mentioned ‘being developed’ – so this variety is not from nature?

  18. The hearts are ornamental – they aren’t intended to be eaten. The fruit is really tiny too. Most ornamental plants are developed for that purpose, either by breeding, hybridizing, or collection of random mutants. Similarly, the plants that we grow for food have been optimized to provide the largest, most flavorful products possible.

  19. Don’t get the sap of the banana trunk on your shirt or clothes. It will never come off. I remember staining my concrete floor after cutting banana leaf and somehow, it the stain does not go away.

  20. assalamualaikum..
    i am student which studying in programme plant technology..
    this is my final year and im doing my project which is my thesis..im interested with pisang berangan but didnt hve enough information bout that… i need a lot of information if anyone can help me..

  21. Hi bingregory,
    interesting piece of info on pisang aka bananas.

    Do u have any idea or any pictures of Pisang Batu?
    I’m actually looking or rather want to buy this pisang batu but have no clue how it looks like. People says that it looks small but how small?

    I’m really gone bananas searching for this one “pisang batu”.
    Really “kepala batu” lah. Up to now still can’t find it.

  22. Hi! I’m interested in finding pisang batu too. It’s supposed to be one of the few bananas with fertile fruit. Rather than little black specks, there are real seeds inside that you can plant. Or so I hear. Have yet to see them myself. Tell me if you run into any!

  23. Assalamualaikum,
    I enjoyed reading your blog on bananas. My husband, Ismail, is so into agriculture. Currently he’s managed to revive his dad’s dusun (in Johor) and is now planting lots of bananas wherever there’s empty spaces. He’s planted nipah, nangka, tanduk, restali, abu (batu), emas, berangan, relong (raja talang), boyan, kapas & etc . He would like to purchase tanduk seedlings. Any info?

  24. Syabas, your blog on bananas have given me a very interesting collections. I suggest you put more details on planting info.

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