Count Your Blessings!

With love and passion, everyone can have a nice garden...Elaine Yim

Count Your Blessings!
Count The Garden By The Flowers, Never By The Leaves That Fall.
Count Your Life With Smiles And Not The Tears That Roll.
..... Author unknown.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

A Panorama of Banana Stories


The banana plant is native to Southeast Asia. In Malaysia, you can find it anywhere. People plant it in their home gardens, along road dividers, road shoulders and they grow wild in the countryside and empty land in the city. When you visit Malaysia, look out for our banana plants. You can easily spot them. I remember a foreign friend once remarked that in her country, bananas are very expensive but she sees banana plants everywhere even along the roadsides and rubbish dumps here. So she asked me if we can just pluck riped bananas from the plants along the road and eat the fruits. My answer is yes, for the domesticated ones but wild bananas have too many seeds that render them almost inedible.

More pictures here - "Going Bananas Today"

Musa "Dwarf Cavendish" grown at the Ditch Garden
Genus: Musa
Common name: Banana
Family: Musaceae
Order: Zingiberale

Banana is a common name we use for the many species, cultivars and varieties of banana. We use the word "banana" for the fruit as well as the plant. We also use the word banana for many other meanings, of which I am too shy to write down in words.

To many of us locals, bananas and plantains are the same thing.

A banana blossom is called "jantung pisang" (banana heart) in Malay language.


Have you seen a banana blossom before?

This is the inflorescence of an ordinary banana plant that we grow for the fruits. It has maroon to dark red large bracts and little cream yellow flowers. The stamens are a darker yellow. The inflorescence hangs down like a pendant while those of the ornamental bananas are upright.

In Asia, the flowers can be cooked and eaten. For example, in Malay dishes, banana flowers are cooked in curry and coconut gravy. It was only a few days ago when I saw Anthony Bourdain of  "No Reservations", Travel Channel on Astro, our satelite TV sampling this dish with our local celebrity Chef Wan at a street stall in Kuala Lumpur.


Some of us grow up hearing folklores and scary stories passed on by family members and friends. One Malay story tells of a female vampire, the 'pontianak' that dwells in the banana plant during the day. The 'pontianak' is one of the most scary and violent ghost in our Malaysian folk tales. As a kid, I was scared of the 'pontianak' which is usually depicted as a female with very long hair and white dress. It can disguise itself as a beautiful lady. The one I saw on TV has only a head and she can fly, appear and disappear!

The second is a Chinese story about the banana spirit, a lady spirit whose beauty is out of this world and who targeted guys. To attract her, a guy can tie a red string on his big toe on one end and use the other end to thread a needle and pierce it into the 'heart' (centre) of a banana blossom. When nightfalls, this lady of extraordinary beauty will appear in his dreams. They can have a rendezvous filled with ecstacy and she will sap all his energy and may even claim his life.

With such stories, it is no surprise that many of us, especially the conservatives ones, do not have a banana plant in our home compounds.


On the positive side, Hindus regard the banana plant as an auspicious symbol of fertility, abundance and prosperity. Live banana plants are used to adorn both sides of the entrance doors during celebrations and ceremonies. For marriage ceremonies, whole banana plants complete with a big bunch of fruits and flowers are used to flank the entrance doorways.

Taoists, Buddhists and Hindus use banana fruits as a prayer offering and place them on the altar.

“A Panorama of Banana Stories”, a copyrighted post, was written for My Nice Garden blog by Autumn Belle @ http://www.mynicegarden.com/ on September 10th, 2010.


In Asia, almost every part of the banana plant has a useful purpose. The banana leaf is large enough to be used as an umbrella to shield against the sun and rain. Now, at least you know what to do if lost in our Malaysian jungle!

Fresh banana leaves are used in banana leaf rice Indian restaurants where food is served on banana leaves instead of plates. Customers can choose to eat with their bare hands or fork and spoon. Food served on banana leaves and eaten with bare hands are believed to taste better. A case of Finger Licking Good, perhaps. I remember my childhood moments whenever dad took us to Indian restaurants, he taught us how to use our bare hands when eating the delicious Indian curries with rice. He learnt this method from his Malay friends. Sometimes, mom and dad would buy the curry takeaways and we had a fun time doing this at home. 


Banana leaves are used as wraps in many Malaysian, Malay, Indian and Peranakan dishes. The banana leaves give the extra aroma that enhances the taste of the food. This dish is called 'otak-otak' (translated to brains) which is actually a hot and spicy fish paste grilled / barbecued to perfection. The banana leaf is on the bottom.

Banana leaves are also used as a packaging container, mold or wrap for many types of 'kuih' (a kind of sweet desserts).

The banana fruit can be eaten fresh, right after plucking from the tree, of course it must be ripe first. The fruits are used to make deep fried banana fritters (pisang goreng), banana cake, banana split ice-cream and shakes, banana chips....etc, etc.

Update:
Recipes - kuali.com which has 34 recipes using the banana, for further details, click HERE.


Any more ideas on the usage?

  • Lotus leaf - Payas, a liquid sweet is served in cups made from banana fibre.
  • Rosey Pollen - Banana Fondue, i.e. banana dipped in chocolate.
  • Eden - Banana blossoms cooked with coconut milk and spices.
  • M.Kate - Flowers are used to make kerabu (salad with sambal belacan)


This is my favourite during the Hari Raya season. It is called Lemang which is made of glutinuous rice and coconut milk cooked in bamboo sticks lined with banana leaves over a slow charcoal or wood fire. It is eaten with Rendang, a meat curry cooked with shredded coconut flesh, cocunut milk, ginger and spices.


This is a very popular Malaysian drink. It is called 'Air Sirap Selasih' or Rose Syrup with Basil Seeds. It is made of rose essence, pandan flavoured sugar syrup and dried basil seeds presoaked in water. Some drinks are served with cream soda. Recently, I suddenly have a craving for this drink. So I made my own. I poured some F&N Strawberry flavoured soft drink and added a teaspoon of basil seeds. With some ice cubes, it was heavenly.



Today is the first day of Hari Raya. I'd like to wish my muslim readers and friends:

SELAMAT HARI RAYA AIDIL FITRI 2010!

and if you are on holiday like me,
Happy Holidays!

if you are travelling outstation,
Have a Smooth and Save Journey !

This is my entry for Fertilizer Friday and the link is here.
I am joining Wendy of Greenish Thumb in her weekly Garden to Table Challenge - Week 4, click here.
For Today's Flowers, please visit the link here.

42 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post, I really enjoyed it! I learned and the pictures are beautiful, as usual. Also, the pictures and descriptions of the different foods are making my mouth water...

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  2. Hello Autumn Belle, Greetings! Your banana post is very interesting. In south India, food is served on banana leaves during weddings and other festivals. Payas, a liquid sweet , is sered in cups made from banana fibre.
    Have a nice holiday!

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  3. Hello Autumn Belle..

    Thank you for stopping by Vetsy's View. I love the story of your childhood, what beautiful life experiences and lessons you have now to pass on to others.

    I agree, Personal hands on experience is what matters most it's the best way to learn.

    Thank you for sharing the stories, photos and history about the Banana
    I enjoyed it.

    I look forward to visiting and chatting with you more in the future.. have a wonderful day..

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  4. Haha the pontianak and the red string story..yes quite scary those days. Wow beautiful pixz..tQ

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  5. Hi Autumn Belle, Selamat Hari Raya! This is a beautiful and very clever post. The photos, the story line that leads to Raya...good one. :)

    Btw, if want to know what K stands for, I've replied at petcreek.blogspot.com.

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  6. Gorgeous flowers on your Banana photos. No i never seen them before, only the fruit itself and leafs. It reminds me a bit of tulips, just more extravagant, like with blond hear on the front head. Now seen them, I will never forget them, amazing flowers that is.
    Happy holidays :)

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  7. Dear Autumn Belle, What a fascinating and intriguing posting which you have illustrated beautifully. So much here which I was unaware of before now. One thing, though, I have no intention of being lost in the jungle during a monsoon and having to use a banana leaf as an umbrella!!

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  8. Love bananas! Thanks for the stories, I only know the pontianak legend, not the second one.

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  9. Oh, I do love your bananas! I so wish for a blue grand nain. I am told the flavor is like vanilla ice cream. I shall be back!

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  10. I really enjoyed your photos and your explanations about the uses of bananas. Very interesting.

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  11. aloha autumn belle,

    you have so many great folklore tales, you tie it all in so well and who wouldn't want to try some of the wonderful dishes you are showing us infused with bananas...yum

    thanks for sharing them with us. today i'm sharing an unusual orchid blooming from a friends yard.

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  12. Favorite banana recipe? Cover it in chocolate. Good to go!

    Have a wonderful holiday!

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  13. What a great posting - very fun to read and educational. Thanks for sharing, Paula in Idaho
    http://bucketideasforgardening.blogspot.com/

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  14. Thank you very much for all the interesting information about bananas! I learned a lot!

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  15. Great post, Autumn Belle! Loved the stories woven around the banana plants :)
    Your pontianak has a sister in our Indian mythology too, except she lives in a palm tree during the day.

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  16. Wow, Autumn Belle, those are stunning photos of the banana blossom! Loved reading those legends around the banana. It is a very useful plant.

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  17. Happy Holidays Autumn Belle! You enrich my life with your sharings. Thank you! These photos are gorgeous of the flowers and the food ... Oh! it looks so delicious and the presentation fabulous. ;>)

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  18. Dear Autumn Belle,

    Indeed I never saw the banana blossom before. It looks very mysterious and I can see where your legends came from! I read recently that the banana crop is decreasing around the world. I hope this is not true!

    Lovely post. Thank you!

    Pam

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  19. Musas are everywhere in the Caribbean. But very rarely, anyone has the thought to present such a complete post on these.

    Only Altocarpus altilis compete with them in gastronomical possibilities, here or there.

    Congratulations again. Always a pleasure to drop by.

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  20. Thank you for sharing such an interesting post! Who knew bananas have such amazing flowers? Absolutely stunning! As I understand it, plantains must be cooked before eating while bananas are eaten raw or cooked. What method do you recommend for cooking plantains?

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  21. Wow..fabulous post! Super cool! I always love seeing the magic you share!
    Kiki~

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  22. These are fantastic detailed photos. I've seen the Japanese version in our botanical gardens. The names escapes me now and they really are interesting to see. Though right now they are not doing very well. Your shots are amazing.

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  23. You made me hungry with your posts, great shots.

    My entry is a Dahlia.

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  24. Nice post.The food looks yummy. We used to cook banana blossoms with coconut milk and spices in the Philippines. Thank you for sharing.

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  25. I remembered my grandma's stories about the pontianak making home in the banana trees, in fact any big tree sure to have some horror stories from her!
    I've used the yellow flowers in my soup but I know the purple heart are consumed by the Malays in Malaysia. Over here it's just too difficult to buy the heart from the market.

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  26. Really interesting post! First of all, I think I would love that lemang. Sounds really nice.

    I just love the banana flower. I love how it droops like the jewel of a chandelier.

    Very interesting stories - especially about the lady spirit. I bet lots of boys have dared each other with that red string!

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  27. We have an occasional banana blossom in these parts... but only in huge glass houses! They really are a stunning bloom! L

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  28. Great post! The story of "pontianak" really brings back memories. When I was young and staying in the kampung, next to my house stands a bunch of banana trees! All the kids dare not pass through the lane next to the banana trees, when sun sets! They rather follow the longer route!

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  29. I rememeer eating those tiny bananas and pisang gorang. Great post, Enjoy the holiday.

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  30. and here I am flaunting my puny little bananna trees!!! hahahahaha
    great post girl...I love the blooms on those bananas...If you ever see any seeds for sale will you send me some? I'd love to try one in my greenhouse!!!
    thanks for flaunting...and for the always inspiring posts..

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  31. A nice story concerning bananas.
    Looking forward for your banana variety post - hoping that you may able to cover all the different types of bananas - pisang emas, pisang awak, pisang tanduk, pisang montel, pisang rastali, pisang merah..hmm.. wonder how many more are they?

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  32. This is really an eye opener to Banana plant! I really enjoy reading your post!

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  33. Thanks for your kind permission to use your photo as my header..have posted it today..cheers.

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  34. That is a lovely post Autumn Belle. Most of us Asians share those experiences, but of course we have Indo-Malay genes in out blood and the culture lives on. But i am interested to taste that drink, which we dont have here. I don't even know that basil seeds have purpose aside from letting them grow to more basil plants.

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  35. This is a very good post. My mother in law will cook it in santan and also make kerabu out of it --- yummy. Though I dont think the Chinese eat it much and its also an acquired taste and eaten mainly from those in the EAst coast. I was there yesterday...your last picture..to take some photos of dancers for the hari Malaysia :)

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  36. With Uganda being the literal and figurative Banana Republic of Africa, I'd never thought to take pictures of it. Your photos are beautiful and some of the folklore is hilarious.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  37. Hi, everyone! Thank you very much for the nice comments and cooking ideas.

    Actually, in writing this post, I have discovered a lot about the humble banana that we have taken so much for granted.

    Shirly, the easiest way to cook plantains is to dip it in batter and deep fry. 'Pisang Goreng' is a favourite snack food here. Goes well with coffee or teh tarik (pulled tea).

    Tootsie, these bananas are sterile. We don't grow them from seeds but from suckers which is their clones.

    James, thanks for the many types of bananas. So sorry, I don't have any photos yet.

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  38. we cook with almost all parts of the banana from leaf to fruit, which reminds me of the filipino dish that i will prepare later for dinner with banana heart and blossoms

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  39. Wow, what an interesting post! I've seen banana plants before, but has completely forgotten about them (I was eleven at the time) until now - thank you for stirring a lovely memory for me!

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  40. Have you come across any banana varieties that are edible and yet have seeds that can grow into plants? I am looking for varieties with viable seeds, but enough flesh to be edible, so that they can serve as food for forest animals and be spread by them.

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    Replies
    1. Beng T, I'm so sorry I can't be of much here as I am only a hobbyist. I guess a horticulturist or forester (?) would be the best person to answer your question. I thought wild bananas would produce viable seeds which could be propagated.

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