Friday, July 29, 2011

Dusun Snacks

The snacks my siblings and I had in the days of yore were a far cry from what today’s kids enjoy. Even something like ice-cream—unless it was the orange squash-flavoured- hard-lump-of-ice variety—was beyond our means. Now that doesn’t mean I felt poor or deprived. In fact, I was only aware of my ‘poverty’ when I went to school which was in the big town of Jesselton and two hours away by Land Rover.

From Google Images

In the kampong, everyone seemed to be equal. Same old, rickety, bamboo houses with palm-leaf roofs; same patched-up old clothes; same bare feet with soles thickened through miles of walking bare-foot; similar number of pigs, piglets and chickens and the must-have one or two buffaloes. Maybe part of the reason why we kampong flocks got on exceedingly well together was because there was no envy among us. There was nothing to be envious about—unless you talked about some neighbour who had a bountiful harvest of paddy while your paddy became food for the birds… which was quite possible if you didn’t put up scarecrows or you habitually woke up after the flocks had eaten their breakfast. If laziness had been the cause of your misfortune, you might as well swallow your complaints because you’d get no sympathy from your neighbours!
 Growing up I learned that, unlike the Bajau in the kampongs around Kota Belud, the Dusun in my village didn’t make fancy cakes or snacks. Fruit trees were abundant and we ate the ripe fruits—nangko, timadang, punti, pulutan,—without turning them into fritters like other people did. Edible roots—yam, tapioca, sweet potato—were simply boiled or toasted over some burning embers.

From Google Images

Most of our snacks, however, had rice as the main ingredient. I remember we made ‘lompuka’—steamed cakes wrapped in leaves—using grated tapioca or pounded pulut rice (topilit to us) that had been soaked overnight. There wasn’t anything simpler than making these cakes. A fistful of pounded rice, or grated tapioca, was carefully wrapped in a square of banana leaf before each flattened, palm-size cake was arranged in layers one on top of the other in a big pot. After pouring a little water into the pot, it was put over the fire to boil for several minutes. Many people served lompuka during weddings.
 In the old days, when the rice grains were still young, it was common practice for people to pluck a stalk of paddy while walking through the fields and removing the husk of each grain before popping it into the mouth—much like eating sunflower seeds. When chewed, the young rice grains burst and filled one’s mouth with a sweet, milky juice which to us tasted heavenly! Coming home from wherever our errands had taken us, we’d have a few of these rice stalks with uneaten grains and they had to be fed to the chickens (instead of left lying around or thrown away) so we'd avoid offending the rice spirit.

From Google Images

Another popular snack was natah—or was it matah?  The young, still-green rice grains were gathered, and ‘stir-fried’ in a dry wok which, incidentally, we call poriuk. Many of the grains would pop, just like pop-corn. Then this ‘fried’ paddy would be pounded to get rid of the husks. The chaff was removed by placing the pounded rice in a nurod and by throwing it up into the air repeatedly and catching the grains as they fell, the light husks were blown away and heavier grains remained in the nurod. Heating the grains in the poriuk made the natah smell very fragrant. This was one snack and we enjoyed by the handful.

We could also change the taste and texture of the natah by putting the fragrant rice into a young coconut so it absorbed the sweetness of the coconut juice and turned into moist, fat grains.

Then there was sweet tapai. In the good old days, I made sweet tapai with the same sasad (yeast) we used for the beer tapai. These days I buy my yeast from a vegetable vendor at the Donggongon Tamu. He says he’s from Kota Belud but the yeast is from Tawau. The tapai made with this yeast is very sweet and I’ve wondered what the pellets contain.

The yeast costs RM2,00 at the Donggongon Tamu

Anyway, this is how I make my sweet tapai. No secret recipe. Verone? I hope you’re reading this.
I use left-over rice so it doesn’t go to waste and I don’t have to throw it away and risk offending Bambarayon, the rice spirit.

One pellet of yeast and one big plate of cold rice 

For a plateful of rice I use one pellet of yeast. You can have double this amount of rice and let it ferment longer… like two days.

Spread yeast evenly.

Because I’m lazy (don’t tell my mama!) and like to take short-cuts, I use a plastic strainer to rub the yeast and let the ‘dust’ fall onto the rice.
You should stir the rice to spread the yeast evenly.
Any container with a tight lid is fine.

Put in a container, close lid tightly and let it sit for one or two days. After it has fermented you can put it in the fridge so you can enjoy cold, sweet tapai!

 Murid-murid, ada soalan?? 

No questions? Good. I’ve one for you. Assuming that your parents, (or grandparents *ouch!* ) are around my age, what were their favourite snacks when they were children?

Here’s to (holding up a mug of tapai) wriggling butods, toasted crickets and succulent frogs’ legs!


  1. when I was little and stayed in takuli, wandering every nook and corner of the house and it's compound is an adventure! I can't recall all the small wild fruits that papa used to hand it to me...ah yes, still remember when Inai Kinjin chop the old coconut to get the flesh for coconut milk, me and aaron would squat anticipatingly, hoping the 'buah' we called it (dunno what it's called) is available for us to eat; picking buah bahab sana seberang jalan rumah ingkung...eating the belimbing buluh like you would with young mango, climbing rambutan and mangosteen trees...and so many more.

    Kadang2 itu nenek punya breakfast kopi O yg ndak habis kena minum (padahal urang mo simpan sampai petang) pun kena bantai masuk freezer bikin Popsicle...hehehe...those good old days....

    whenever we got the chance to aunty winnie's place in Jempanga it's like going for an adventure, and I always drool at Koko Justin's favorite Mamee snack...LOL...

  2. Thanks for visiting, Angel! You sure have fond memories of your childhood! Those were the days! So much more interesting growing up in the kampong than in a big town like today's KK. In big towns mana bole lari2 and pungut buah from fruit trees!

  3. Hi Tina

    It sounds like you and my mom had a similar childhood. I've never heard of natah and poriuk before, but most of the things you mentioned are familiar to me. When I was little, my grandma used to make sweet tapai all the time and it's a must for her to join the best tapai competition during kaamatan. My mom on the other hand loves pais ubi/ pisang (what you called lompuka).

    I love the fruit season the most cos we get to balik kg and have a feast at grandma's fruit orchard. As you said, nothing is wasted. My mom/ grandma even boiled seeds of pulutan and ate them like steamed peanuts. They're quite yummy :)

  4. hi tina,
    for us, (me and my siblings in the 80's--when we were kids). we fought over Kogut (kerak nasi). its absolutely nice eaten while it's warm. we stayed most of the time in a hut (sulap) at our paddy hill with minimal kitchen utensils and minimal water supply. so, we usually roasted things. tapioca, corn, sweet potato, brinjal, white chili, grasshopper, wutod (butod) etc. sugarcane and batad (honeydew?) were sweet things we usually feasted.

    our mom's linabok (grated tapioca wrapped in banana/kebuh leaf-boiled)is a very much sought after kuih in our open house celebrations.

  5. Lizee, I didn't know that what's lompuka to me is 'pais' to you! We ate the seeds of various fruits, too. The tarap seeds were fried in a dry wok. Other seeds-- nangka, cempedak but not durian seeds-- were boiled.(BTW, 'poriuk' is the wok, bah. Not some kind of food!) The seeds must have given us lots of protein!

  6. Hi kukuanga! Kogut? We only ate the kogut of pulut rice which we boiled with santan... I remember the food tasted so much better in the paddy fields and the dumoh? the hill slope where we planted hill paddy. We call the fruit batad also and we planted so many, they looked like balls scattered on the hillside.

    You call the grated tapioca cake linabok? That's our lompuka and Lizee's pais!

  7. Hello guys :-)

    Your linabok, lompuka and pais is BINTANOK to me. Btw Tina, I am now having a taste for sweet tapai after reading this post.

    Mana saya mau cari yeast for tapai di Penrith aaa? Hmmm.

  8. Hi Gunaqz! Thanks for adding a new word to the list! Too bad no sasad for sweet tapai in your city.