Bananas, bananas on the wall, which is the fairest of them all?

Bananas are by far the most important tropical fruits of Malaysia. They are even more so for vegetarians. Bananas are great for dinners.We have Pisang Kapok, Pisang otel, Pisang Keling and Pisang Tanduk growing by the roadside.

Bananas are very popular among the locals, partly because they are not expensive, easily available (not seasonal) and can be eaten raw without fuss, unlike some fruits which need paring, rinsing or even cracking it open like a durian, for example.


Pisang Udang cooked in tapioca soup.
Pisang Raja cooked in tapioca soup

Before we get into the real stuff, I wish to remind our viewers of one important fact – The local names for all the bananas (pisang in Malay and Iban) listed here in this post may not be the same as our counterparts in West Malaysia. This may cause some confusions. I am trying my best to include the West Malaysian equivalents for local names. Please feel free to correct or add other names to my list of bananas.

Pictures shown below are the most common types of bananas found in the markets throughout Sarawak. More pictures of some wild bananas may be included in a different post. As for now, lets concentrate on the cultivated bananas.


Left - Pisang Udang Right - Pisang Badan
Left – Pisang Udang/Raja udang
Right – Pisang Badad

Shown above is a comb of Pisang Udang with maroon skin. It is round and not angular.Taste almost like Pisang Otel. The other one is Pisang Badad which is actually Pisang Udang in Yellow skin.They are green when unripe and turn maroon or yellow when they are ripe. Pisang Udang has soft texture which is good for nyonya kueh. They are not so great as dessert bananas. There is a legend behind the belief that Malays are not supposed to eat Pisang  Raja Udang.


Left - Pisang Emas Right - Pisang Otel
Left – Pisang Emas/Mas
Right – Pisang Otel/Empat puluh hari/Susu

Shown above is two types of look-alike bananas, almost same size but Pisang Emas is sweeter than Pisang Otel and its texture is very soft as compared to Pisang Otel. These soft and sweet features of Pisang Emas make it the best choice for banana cake. Pisang Otel has thicker skin thus not easily bruised. Notice the rounder body of Pisang Otel and also its green tips. Half-ripen Pisang Otel are always boiled or steamed by our natives here.


Left - Pisang Jari Right - Pisang Ambon
Left – Pisang Jari/Madu/Padi
Right – Pisang Embun

Shown above is Pisang Jari which is the smallest bananas found in local markets. It is about 8 cm long and 2 cm wide. It is given the name Pisang Madu which means honey bananas. Its other name is Pisang Jari, meaning finger banana which best describes its shape and size. Pisang Jari looks like a mini version of Pisang Embun. Most people are familiar with Pisang Embun which is the most common dessert banana sold in the market.


Left - Pisang Serendah/Kapal (Dwarf Banana) Right - Fruits of Pisang Serendah
Left – Pisang Serendah/Kapal (Dwarf Banana)
Right – Fruits of Pisang Serendah

There is another type or banana called Pisang Serendah which is the Dwarf Banana. Their fruits look exactly like Pisang Embun except they are smaller and less sweet. They are not as small as Pisang Jari with length of about 12cm and width of 3 cm. Not popular among the locals here because it is not as sweet as other bananas and the fruits drop off easily. It is also known as Pisang Kapal meaning boat banana. As the name implies, boat people used to plant these plants in their boats in the past.


Left - Pisang Keling Right - Pisang Berangan
Left – Pisang Keling
Right – Pisang Berangan

Pisang Keling and Pisang Berangan are like cousins, they look alike but have different texture. Pisang Keling is soft and sweet with a hint of sour taste. Its skin is thin and easily bruised. Usually the skin has dark spots all over. Pisang Keling was my favorite banana until I had tasted Pisang Berangan a few years ago. Pisang Berangan is not native to Sarawak. According to the venders here, they were from the West Malaysia. Pisang Berangan has thicker skin and its body is more angular and bigger than that of Pisang Keling. It has fewer dark spots on its skin but it does look very similar to Pisang Keling. Its firm flesh of high fibre content makes it the best dessert banana. Two bananas are enough to fill empty stomach for one single meal. Isn’t it great for dinners ? It tastes like Pisang Keling,  less sweet but more fragrant and filling. It is my favorite banana.


Left - Pisang Kapok Right - Pisang Awak
Left – Pisang Kapok/Abu
Right – Pisang Awak

Shown above are another two look-alikes and taste-alikes, Pisang Kapok and Pisang Awak. These two are great for cooking pisang goreng, the banana fritte rs.Usually I pan-fry them, tastes as good as the deep-fried bananas minus the excess oil. Pisang Awak has long tips at the ends of the fruits. Pisang Kapok is bigger than Pisang Awak and tastes sweeter too. Pisang Awak is less popular than Pisang Kapok due to its sometimes seedy flesh. Despite of its being unpopular as a dessert or cooking banana, its leaves are very much sought after. Its super soft and thin leaves make them the best choice leaves for lining the bamboo rice and also as wraps for nyonya kueh. It is said that the leaves are more fragrant than other banana leaves. Both of these two bananas have thick skin.The picture below shows the difference in cross-section of the two bananas, Pisang Kapok being more angular in shape.


X- Section view of Pisang Kapok and Pisang Awak. Notice the round shape of pisang Awak as compared to the triangular shape of Pisang Kapok.
X- Section view of Pisang Kapok and Pisang Awak.
Notice the round shape of pisang Awak as compared to the triangular shape of Pisang Kapok.

There are many more varieties of bananas out there in other parts of Malaysia and other countries. Shown below is fruits and flower of Pisang Bunga, the ornamental banana. Notice the upward pointing fruits and flowers of Pisang Bunga. The fruits are seedy and not edible.


Left - Pisang Bunga/Musa Ornata Right - Flower of Pisang Bunga
Left -Upward pointing fruits of Pisang Bunga/Musa Ornata
Right – Flower of Pisang Bunga

Among those not posted here are Pisang Seribu/belalai gajah ,Pisang Pisang, PisangNangka, Pisang Kapas, Pisang Siam, Pisang Masak-Hijau, Pisang Gentu, Pisang Putar, Pisang Jari Buaya and the list goes on and on……Please click here on my next post on the legendary Pisang Udang and the ID of the banana plants.

Shown below is Pisang Raja, the King banana. Pisang Raja is the biggest in size among the bananas if plantains are not included. I did write a post on the plantain, Pisang Tanduk.

Please click here to find out about Pisang Tanduk.

Pisang Raja in other parts of Malaysia may mean a diifferent type of banana. Pisang Raja in Sarawak is about 18-20 cm long and 6 cm wide. Its flesh is soft and creamy and like Pisang Emas which is great for making cake and local desserts, the nyonya kueh. Bananas match perfectly well with grated tapioca. We buy tapioca from the markets and get them machine grated at markets that provide service for grating coconuts.

There are two recipes here to be shared with our viewers, so simple and yet delicious.


Left - Pisang Raja Right - Pisang Kueh,my own version
Left – Pisang Raja
Right –  Kueh pisang gulung ubikayu (simplfied version)

Recipe of  kueh pisang gulung ubikayu (simplified version)

– no wrapping required.


  • 2 cups grated ubi kayu
  • 1  1/4 cups coconut milk ( extracted from 300g of grated coconut)
  • 3/4 cup  brown sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2  Pisang Raja – sliced or cut into strips
  1. Line the bread loaf tin with banana leaf.
  2. Mix all the ingredients together except the bananas.
  3. Pour half of the mixture into the loaf tin with all the cut bananas on top.
  4. Steam for 5 – 10 minutes.
  5. Then add the remaining half of the mixture into the tin.
  6. Continue steaming for 30 minutes.
  7. Leave aside for 30 minutes.

              Cut and serve with banana leaf.


Pisang Kueh
Kueh pisang gulung ubikayu(simplfied version)


Bananas in tapioca soup
(picture is shown on top of the post)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 tbs grated tapioca
  • 2 Pisang Raja or Pisang Kapok(cut into thick slices)
  • A bundle of 2-3  pandan leaves
  • 1 tbs brown sugar or gula malacca(optional)
  1. Mix the grated tapioca with the water.
  2. Boil the mixture together with the pandan leaves.
  3. Add in the banana slices.
  4. Boil for another 5 minutes.



                                           What a delicious soup !

                                 S l u r ppp…………..










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