Monday, November 9, 2009

The Dabai Story

The best Dabai (O-lam in hokkien and kra-lan in Foochow) in Sarawak, a kind of local olives, are reputed to come from Sibu. There are usually available towards the end of the year. Prices range from RM12 to even 18/kg. This is one of the few things that my mum would definitely hoard back from every single one of her Sibu trips, without fail.

The preparation for Dabai traditionally includes soaking them in lukewarm water. Normally, these little delicacies will be washed in plain water and placed into a bowl of lukewarm water and soaked with a plate covering for about 20 min to 30 min or so.

But this is where the complexity sets in as the water temperature & the soaking duration has to be just right. The temperature has to be that you can place your hands in it. Any slight miscalculation & the whole thing would become inedible, hard and waxy.

The story goes that once upon a time, because Dabai originated from Sibu, many Kuchingites upon being introduced to them for the very first time, tried cooking them. They fried, stir fried, boiled and obviously ended up puzzled about how Sibu people could actually eat this ridiculously hard thing.

There exists another simpler method of preparing Dabai which we've heard of only very recently. The good thing is that this new method requires none of that temperature control & soaking. All you need to do is to wash and wrap them up in a plastic bag and freeze them. After completely defrosting, they are as soft as they can get. Season them with sweet (optional) dark soya sauce and sugar. And there you go! They transform into highly addictive morsels.

But this is not the end of the story yet, at least for people like Greg. His Dabai journey begins when everyone else finishes. If you're eating Dabai, and you're anywhere near him, you'd need to surrender the seeds to him, otherwise he gets upset.

Dabai seeds can actually be eaten. I know that part is true cos Greg has eaten them many times & he's still alive plus I haven't seen any Dabai plant growing out of his butt.

The seed is really hard as Greg would attest. You can see him pounding them away with the pestle & mortar, & debris will be flying off 10 feet away. When the nut breaks away, it reveals a fresh green nutty like filling inside which Greg would meticulously pick out with a toothpick.

Sometimes I wonder if Greg really likes Dabai, or that he's just trying to gulp down as much as possible just so that he can have the seeds later. But I think whatever it is, as long as he's doing the pounding & the picking himself, he can do whatever he wants.

13 comments:

Carmella said...

Greg - I agree with you, the seeds are the tastiest part! I do enjoy the whole ritual of eating dabai.

Greg Wee said...

Thank God! I am normal after all! I just had another round of those again tonite!

Anonymous said...

Another way to prepare dabai is to wash it,season it and wrap it in a plastic bag and then put it under the hot sun for about 20 mins to 30 mins. Taste good too.

Greg Wee said...

Interesting. This is becoming like a Dabai library of archived knowledge. It's strange that it works either way with either stimulus at different polarities - Cold or Hot.

dt said...

got to try the frozen method. Can't get the whole water temperature right. I still think that the water temperature feels different for different ppl (not sure if that makes sense). Anyhoos, my mum no longer trusts me to 'cook' the dabai...

Greg Wee said...

Hi dt, yes, I can assure you that different people have different body temperatures. That's why some people have warmer hands and may not be able to handle chocolate well.

I feel strange having this conversation here, cos I don't cook AT ALL. But I guess having to watch Nee do her stuff, hear her complain, & her lecture series to me about cooking theories all this while, some of the things actually stayed in my head. And I rely on that to make sense of the strange cooking phenomenon that happens around me on a daily basis.

Greg Wee said...

Note that I mentioned 'cooking phenomenon that happens AROUND me' NOT 'WITHIN me'. That is so never going to happen.

terri@adailyobsession said...

oh, i've seen these in local native markets but don't know how to eat/cook them. i've eaten them a looonngg time ago. thnx for the interesting post. now i can buy some of these dabai (are they olives?)

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dabai is such an annual exciting affair.
Luckily it is seasonal or our bank will break!!

We can get too used to it.

Heard it is very good as a facial mask!! My friend said that face will become smooth as a just born first week dabai (white in colour).

NEE said...

yeah, A Terrri, they are a kind of olives. either you like or you dont kinda thing. Aunty linda did not make this for you before?

Hi Sarawakiana, most foochows like them. we are going sibu this weekend. bet we will bring back some.

Rosalind said...

Eeee YA! Dabaaaai... Such an amazingly delicious thing *.*

I never knew the seeds are edible. Always threw them away leh... Hmm, have to try them out the next time I get my hands on some.

@dt - if it helps, we usually cook our olives by scalding them. Boil water > pour on olives > let sit for around 5 minutes (or is it 10? Well, at least until tender) > drain > season > onomnomnom...

Greg Wee said...

New DABAI tip: The seeds can be roasted in the oven! I heard about this the other night from Carol who heard it from someone else. Looks like more people are sharing the same affinity with Dabai seeds. I'm going to form a Dabai seed fan club soon.

Greg Wee said...

Had another round of Dabai seeds last night. Wondering if this is going to be heaty.

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