SIBU: Sibu is heaven for fruit-lovers, especially in the months of November and December. We are talking about the annual exodus of a wide variety of exotic fruits from Sibu and its surrounding areas, particularly from the rural towns of Kanowit, Song and Kapit.
Every day tons of fruits are sent to Sibu only to be quickly snapped up by its fruit-loving populace.
Truckloads of these exotic fruits also find their way to Kuching, Bintulu, Mukah, Miri and across the border to Brunei.
The frenzy continues for as long as three months, until January next year.
During this period, rural farmers could make substantial income from the sales of fruits grown on their farms.
Thunderous cries from fruit vendors shouting “durian, durian…dua ringgit dua ringgit …dabai dabai…empat ringgit, empat ringgit” (durian for RM2 and dabai for RM4) echo through markets and temporary roadside stalls daily.
The second fruit being hollered out may not be as well known as durian, but it equals the king of fruits in popularity. Dabai (canarium odoutophyllum miq) is endemic to the region and commonly referred to as “Sibu olive.”
It was previously limited to only a few areas in Sibu, Sarikei and Kapit divisions of Sarawak but due to booming demand, it is now widely grown.
It has earned itself the reputation as “Sarawak’s speciality fruit.”
“Once you start eating good dabai, you just get carried away and can’t stop,” said Johnny Ngu who loves the fruit.
Although the creamy-fleshed pips are small, they are very filling. A fruit generally contains 10 to 15 pips, each roughly the size of an average male thumb.
Ngu said the fruit made good gifts, especially for visitors from outside dabai-growing areas.
“A kilo of dabai here costs RM10 to RM15 but in Kuching, for example, it will cost double,” Ngu explained.
The dabai is a signature dish at some official functions in the major towns of Sarawak.
The trees are stout, averaging 10 to 15m with a lifespan of 50 years. They are usually grown between other fruit trees in orchards.
It takes at least five years for a dabai tree to flower and bear fruits. A good harvest from a matured tree can be as much as 50 to 80kg once a year.
The most common way of preparing dabais for consumption is to soak them in warm water for about 10 to 15 minutes.
They can be eaten once they soften, and taste best dipped in soy sauce mixed with a little bit of sugar.
In some rural areas, the natives also eat dabais with a dash of salt after leaving them to soften in the scorching sun for 15 to 20 minutes.
Dabai seeds are also edible after cracking the hard shells. They taste like peanuts.
Over the years, the state Agriculture Department has carried out research to improve the fruit quality and prolong its shelf life.
Using a freezing technique, the highly perishable fruit can now retain its freshness for a week and can even last a whole year when kept refrigerated.
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