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"
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.
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.
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: