Selangau Market a treasure trove of edible jungle plants

Ansat shows the Daun Bendai on her right hand, and a small container of papaya flowers on her left.

SELANGAU: It may come as a surprise for many visitors, especially the first-timers, to the rural towns and districts in the state to come across many edible plants that they have never seen – let alone, tasted – before.

One of them is what the local Ibans call the ‘Daun Bendai’ – the leaves of an herbaceous plant than can be found in abundance in the nearby jungle. They resemble oversized spinach leaves, down to the dark green hue.

According to Ansat Umpih, who sells a variety of vegetables at the market here, Daun Bendai thrives under shady forest foliage.

“The leaves are quite sweet – not unlike the ‘Cangkuk Manis’ or the Chinese ‘Manichai’.

“The overall flavour is mild, making this vegetable suitable for a variety of dishes in that it complements other ingredients that it mixes with,” she told BAT7 during a stopover here yesterday.

She said the ‘Daun Bendai’ is very versatile, at least to the locals here who prepare it in a myriad of ways.

“You can cook it just like you cook ‘Cangkuk Manis’ – with diced pumpkins and crunchy young corns; stir-fried it with ‘ikan pusu’ (dried anchovies); sauté it with garlic; simmer it with dried smoke fish; or marry it with ‘upa’ (the tender inner pith of the coconut trunk or those of other palm trees), fresh ‘Tekuyung Minyak’ (river snails), bamboo shoots, lemongrass and ginger,” said Ansat.

The demand for Daun Bendai is quite high as well, prompting locals including Ansat herself to cultivate the jungle vegetable as a homegrown crop.

“We notice that this particular plant grows really well under shady fruit trees like durian and rambutan. I have also begun to plant it myself not just because of the high demand, but also for convenience as I don’t have to search for it in the jungle all the time,” said the seller-cum-vegetable planter, who sells Daun Bendai at RM2 for one very sizable bunch.

Another interesting vegetable that Ansat introduced to BAT7 was the papaya flowers.

Just like Daun Bendai, this part of the papaya plant from which its fruits grow can be prepared in various cooking methods.

However, Ansat said unlike Daun Bendai, the taste is quite bitter – rather similar to young, unripe papayas.

“It is believed that the papaya flowers have certain medicinal values.

“The locals began consuming this vegetable after seeing how the Indonesian workers at the surrounding oil palm plantation estates would cook and eat the flowers in addition to their other dishes,” she said.

The papaya flowers go for RM2 per small container at Ansat’s stall.

Looking ahead at the rising demand for these jungle vegetables, Ansat hoped that one day the Daun Bendai and papaya flowers would make their way into mainstream menus and gourmet dining.

“We, the locals, really like them and we hope that the visitors to our town would like them as well,” she said.

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