Ambil galah jolok keranji
Pulasan grows at branch’s end
Harvest keranji with a wooden rod
O Man! Do not seek to be praised.
Know that all praise belongs only to God.
Ambil galah jolok keranji
Buah pulasan di hujung dahan
Manusia janganlah suka dipuji
Segala puji kepunyaan Tuhan
As durian season peters out, a couple of marginal fruits make their appearance. The brittle, velvety black shells of the keranji start showing up in February. Keranji season comes and goes so quick I usually don’t manage to pick any up; I rarely see it in the market longer than two or three weeks. Beneath the shell is a very thin layer of tart and sweet flesh around a hard seed. The whole package is reminiscent of tamarind or asam jawa (they are in the same botanical family) but far fussier, yielding much less to eat and requiring much more time and care to pop open the shell. Press to hard and you get fragments stuck in the flesh. Keranji may be appealing compared to whatever else can be gathered wild from the woods at the same time of year, but it doesn’t hold up well to what you can find in the supermarket. Frankly, it was only my devotion to my readers that made me buy some this year.
Upon further investigation, I wish I hadn’t. It turns out keranji is of the genus Dialium, which is a valuable timber tree. As such, it has become rare throughout the country and is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN. It is certainly the logging that is responsible, but eating the fruit can’t help. Next year I’ll pass.
Duku fruit upon the shelf
Who knows where the langsat has gone
Who can measure how worried my heart is
All that I’ve done has come out wrong
Buah duku di atas para
Buah langsat entah di mana
Resah hatiku tidak terkira
Apa dibuat semua tak kena
Langsat is another tropical fruit that is unlikely to ever make it big on the world market. The fruits only stay fresh a few days before the skins discolor and the flavor turns, and there isn’t much you can do with the fruits but eat them fresh. When fresh, they are sweet, tart, juicy and delicious, without tasting very strongly of any particular flavor. Each little fruit barely yields a full swallow, and with the bitter green seeds inside, you have to work them around in your mouth to strip the flesh off. Between the peeling and the mouth work, eating a bag of langsat has the same kind of rhythm and pleasure as shelling and eating pecans, or working a handful of sunflower seeds in the shell. I pass six or seven langsat stands on my way home from work so most days I get a 3-kilo bag to keep me company on the long commute. Perhaps the trail of langsat skins on the roadway will help me find my way back to work again, Hansel & Gretel style.
Langsat, Langsium domesticum var domesticum, is orchard fruit, cultivated in Kalimantan and shipped over the border at the “inland port” of Tebedu. I’m not sure what distinguishes an inland port from any other border crossing, but that’s what they call it. Folks in West Malaysia may be more familiar with duku, which is L. domesticum too, but a different variety. It has a thicker, harder rind and doesn’t weep latex when peeled. For whatever reason, I’ve yet to find duku in Kuching or langsat in west coast Semenanjung, although both varieties should be able to grow well in either place, as the pantun suggests. Buah duku entah di mana…
Pantuns courtesy of Malay Civilization
English Translation by Bin Gregory Productions