Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Terung Asam

These bright cheerful yellow balls are known as "terung asam" (literally means sour brinjal) here in Malaysia. The plant and leaves are all laden with very sharp thorns and one needs to be EXTREMELY careful when harvesting the fruits or the thorns will definitely hurt you. Ample space is needed to grow it as the branches can spread out rather widely. I was curious to know if this fruit is also popular in other countries and what is it called in English. So I Google-imaged "thorny plant with small yellow fruits" and found some photos of plants that look strikingly similar to terung asam. I clicked on one of the images and read the article, and found out that the name of this fruit in the photo as tropical soda apple. Interesting! But reading further and to my utter shock, the article says that the tropical soda apple is highly toxic. The toxicity level apparently increases as the fruit ripens more. The plant bears all the same description of a terung asam plant but it said nothing about a key feature of this fruit that I have eaten on so many occasions, which is it is covered by a layer of very fine 'fury particles' (don't know how else to describe it).  This, I am left wondering now if terung asam and tropical soda apple are indeed the same, or perhaps in the same plant family but different cultivar where one is edible and the other is not? Because terung asam is perfectly edible in this part of the world and although not commercially available in supermarkets or widely popular/known to many people, they have been eaten by those who know about it (like my family) for decades. In Sarawak, a state in East Malaysia and on the Island of Borneo, terung asam is very popular and often used as an ingredient in local dishes. In fact, this fruit is regarded as a prized ingredient whenever we can get a hold of some when they are in season and sold at the morning market by local village farmers. But I have not seen it before in anywhere here in big city Kuala Lumpur. My family uses terung asam mainly in two ways (must peel off the skin first) - hand-pound a few with "sambal belacan" (spicy prawn paste) in a mortar and pestle and serve up as a condiment to perk up one's appetite, or cook them in my family's Nyonya recipe of "gerang asam ikan" (fish in spicy sour gravy). When we know this dish is to be served at dinner, we'll be sure to cook extra amount of rice!

If anyone has eaten this fruit before, please share what you know about it and how do you cook it.

For now, I have ample supply from the plants in my backyard. They grow so easily and the seeds stay viable in the soil for months or years. When they finally get a chance to rise to the surface after some heavy rain and be exposed to sunlight, a plant will just suddenly grow, literally out of nowhere!

The thorny plants in my backyard.

Happy growing!