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Count The Garden By The Flowers, Never By The Leaves That Fall.
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..... Author unknown.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Going Bananas Today

Banana plants and coconut palm trees are very much a part of Malaysia's living and culture. This is a typical picture landscape of a suburban town or kampung (village) . I snapped this photograph while walking towards the wet market at SPPK, Ipoh. This is the same place where there is the pasar malam or night market every Thursdays.

Banana is a common fruit here. There are so many types of bananas, I am still learning their names. Some common ones are Cavendish, apple banana, baby banana, emas (gold), awak, berangan and red banana. I remember that when I was a kid, we will never never tell others that we love eating bananas, otherwise there will be jokes, teases and nicknames about monkeys and you. As an adult, I will also say "I love to eat bananas" with extreme care and caution and also depending on who I say it to. Otherwise, there will be much red faces and embarassment!

According to an english dictionary, the idiom "going bananas" means you are wild with excitement, anxiety or worry. So, now lets go bananas over our bananas.

The banana plant is native to South East Asia. This plant is found in abundance here, especially in villages and suburbs. It is grown at homes, gardens and in plantations. It also grows wild. They seem to love our weather.

Besides being an instant umbrella during a rainy day, banana leaves has many uses , e.g. in banana leaf rice, in kuih and deserts, fried noodles (char koay teaw), nasi lemak. Here the leaf is used as a base, not cooked into the dish.

Banana trunks can be chopped into small pieces and fed to ducklings. Banana trunks or the whole banana plant are used in Hindu celebrations like prayers, special occasions, weddings, etc. My indian friends tell me that the banana plant symbolises fertility, abundance and continuity of the future generations. I can see why considering the fact that banana plant bears fruits in bunches, each bunch having combs of bananas, arranged in multiple tiers. Moreover new plants, i.e. the suckers do sprout easily from the ground.

This is a lemang stall. Lemang is a Malay delicacy found especially during Hari Raya season. It is made of glutinuos rice and coconut milk baked in bamboo tubes over a charcoal or wood fire. Young banana leaves are used to line the bamboo before the rice and santan mixture is poured in.

Here's a dish with lemang wrapped in banana leaves. Lemang goes hand-in-hand with rendang, a traditional dish of meat cooked with coconut, coconut milk (santan), ginger, peppers and spices. I really love eating lemang with rendang and no Hari Raya or Aidil Adha passes by without me eating it. When I was pregnant with my first child, I developed a craving for lemang! It was during the off-season, so can you imagine my hubby's utter torture whenever he comes home from work without the lemang?

This is a simple dish of traditional nasi lemak. It is rice cooked in coconut milk and eaten with anchovies and onion sambal. The most tasty nasi lemak is eaten when it is served on a banana leaf. Have you tried nasi lemak or the Indian stlyed 'banana leaf rice' before?

Now the banana fruit. Here it can be used to make deserts, cakes or added to pancakes. Ooh, I love banana split ice-cream. For snacks, there is banana chips and our famous fried banana or pisang goreng where the banana is dipped in batter and deep fried. It goes well with coffee or tea.

Banana flowers are also used in malay and indian cooking.
Now, can you see how we love bananas?

This is a picture of the Thai gold musa sp taken from The Secret Garden of 1-Utama. This is an ornamental banana plant suited for small areas and containers.

The banana fruits are so tiny, you may not want to eat it. It is too precious to be eaten if you have put in a lot of sweat and care to nurture this banana plant in a small garden at home.

This lovely pink banana flower picture is taken at Floria 2009. Usually the common banana plant bears dark red banana flowers. There is also a Malay saying, "Pisang takkan berbuah dua kali," meaning that the same banana plant will never bear fruits twice.
Have you heard this kid-song before? I learnt it at elementary school.

Yellow bird,
Up high in a banana tree,
Yellow bird,
You sit all alone like me
Did your lady friend,
Leave the nest again?
That is very sad,
Make me feel so bad,
You can fly away,
In the sky away,
You're more lucky than me ........

All my life, I've been looking for the yellow bird because I have never seen a yellow bird on a banana plant before. Or, am I going bananas???

P/S: For recipes, please visit Kuali, a reliable publication from our national newspaper The Star. Just do a search of the recipe you want e.g. type the word 'banana' or 'rendang'. I like the author, Amy Beh's recipes very much. For lemang, there are not many that I can find, but you can try here. I hope this helps. Actually, besides referring to cookbooks, I am an internet 'trainee cook'. I learnt to roast a chicken, bake cheese cake, make garlic bread and Japanese sushi from the internet, just by watching their videos.


  1. Wow! great pictures and good plants. Those lemang and nasi lemak pictures are making me hungry. Btw, you were right about the little bird plant... it does has something to do with wealth. That's why they can sell expensively. Now I wonder if planting gold musa/banana has any meaning. Nonetheless, have a great day!

  2. Lovely banana-story! :) Kaija

  3. Thank you for a very fruitful (!) banan-lesson. So much, not to say all, is so very different in your country and in mine, Sweden. Exiting!
    And the answer is: Yes all the roses blooming at this piont smell.

  4. Wonderful post about bananas! I did not know what a banana blossom looked like! And the word banana is really hard to type, by the way!
    Those lemang looked pretty scrumptious, no wonder you craved them when you were pregant!

  5. Haha Autumn Belle I think that song originated in the Caribbean it is a folk song. We all learnt it at school. I would love the recipes to the food you mentioned. In the Caribbean island we use the banana leaf to bake bread in out door ovens and it is delicious. We also use it in Grenada to cover the tops of pots cooking breadfruit with pork /or salt fish with okras, coconut milk and dumplings this dish is called oil down. I have to call my mum in the USA for the recipe. I made some banana nut muffins on saturday for some friends who came for breakfast. They were delicious. In Martinique there is a desert called coco banane and it is delicious.

  6. There is another specialty with banana. Right in the middle of the stem, there is a soft white column which ends up as shoot at the top. Some area, folks take that for masak lemak and of course the plant has to be chopped first... ~ BANGCHIK

  7. Interesting post sounds a fiddly job lining the bamboo first before filling in order to charcoal but guess it must taste good or else people would not do it.

  8. Thanks for this interesting information! The pink banana flower is lovely!

  9. I like your poem. This looks tasty. It also reminds me of a dish many Islanders enjoy over here (pateles)'s made with pork and often hot chilies, olives and of course banana. I think the ornamental banana is lovely. Anyway..have a great day.

  10. Hi Autumn Belle, this was such a wonderful and educational post about bananas. I know very little about the dishes you mention, but it seems coconut milk is a must! The banana leaf rolls are beautiful. I eat a banana every day for breakfast. The peels are very good for rose bushes and are an important ingredient in our compost bin.

  11. wow.. you really went all the way to do a full research on a banana topic!

    Do you know that the banana family is the same with the heliconia - thats why the heliconia flower looks the same with the banana's.
    And both only flower & fruit once in a main plant/tree.

  12. Stephanie, I really must practise some self-control over the lemang, otherwise I will gain a lot of weight! They are cleverly using the word gold for a yellow banana flower.

    Kaija and Lillebeth, I’m glad you enjoyed it and thanks for your nice comments.

    Rosey, I too experience repeated typo errors when typing the word banana quickly, I guess it has something to do with the finger movement, ha ha. I would definitely like to recommend lemang to any tourist or foreigner who visits Malaysia. However, it is usually only available during Hari Raya Aidil Fitri and Hari Raya Aidil Adha seasons.

    Helen, lets sing the song together…., Ha, a Caribbean folk song, how nice. Thank you for your banana recipes. I find it very interesting and I think you are a great cook. I have included the link to the recipes in the main post. You can try other Malaysian dishes too. Lemang is difficult to cook without the bamboo because without it the rice won’t taste as delicious. Bamboo and young banana leaf is a must, no substitute.

    Bangchik, thank you for this ‘special information’. I learnt something new today.

    Joanne, you are right, this job of cooking lemang need some skills. Usually they will pour the ingredients into the bamboo, close-up the opening and then line them up for ‘firing’. This is a lucrative business.

    Tatyana and Kilauea Poetry, do try lemang when you visit Malaysia, Borneo or Indonesia during Hari Raya season.

    Frances, Yes, coconut milk is a must in rendang and lemang, otherwise it won’t taste as good. Thanks for the information about the use of banana peels. I also read that insides of banana skins can be used to polish shoes.

    James, actually banana is so much a part of our lives, talking about it is quite easy. I guess what I have written, you already know. And thanks for the information that banana flower and fruit only once. I don’t know this one.

  13. I'm from banana country too so I understand about you going bananas!:) Rice is also cooked in the way you mentioned. Not in other parts of India though, it's only in my region. Wonderful photos you've shown. The ornamental bananas look gorgeous! I'll check out the recipes...thanks for the links.

  14. Lemang sounds a lot like a dessert/snack from Vietnam. Oh, I love rendang! I know there are many versions of it but maybe you can post a recipe one of these days? :)

  15. Kanak and Thomas, thanks for the visit. Regarding the lemang recipe, do try out the link given at the bottom of my post. But I need to inform you that making lemang and rendang to go with it is quite a big job, maybe the whole day in the kitchen. You need a large charcoal pit. I guess that's the reason why many people prefer to buy it ready-made.

  16. I really liked this post. My father was in the Air Force so I was conceived, born and briefly lived in the Philippines. At least 50% of the photos from our backyard when I was little have my father's banana tree in them. Your photos reminded me of that. Funny though, I don't like bananas, except for plantain bananas.


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