More exotic fruits from our rainforest (part 1) – Engkalak vs Avocado

Engkala (Litsea garciae) and avocado (Persea americana) belong to the same family of lauraceae. Engkala is also known as the butter fruit.


I spent my childhood in my hometown where wild fruits were plenty and engkala/engkalak was one of the many exotic fruits we ate like snack in between meals. As a vegetarian or vegan, eating fruits for dinner or any other meals everyday is an important step towards daily detoxification.

Those were the days when wild fruits were abundant. They were found growing near small streams and hill slope. Engkala is now mostly grown near the longhouses and in villages.


Engkala bintang is smaller in size and is red in color as compared to Engkala bulan which is pinkish in color.

There are two varieties of Engkala, one is Engkala susu or Engkala bulan, bigger and pink colored and the other one is mini engkala called engkala bintang. Hakka people call engkala’ Ta hak ‘. In Chinese it is 菜燶子. The smaller variety is called Engkala bintang which is richer in taste than the bigger variety called Engkala bulan.

Texture wise, Engkala tastes like avocado and dabai mixed but lacking the richer flavor of both of these two fruits. Some people may not agree with me but personally, I will eat engkala when there are no dabai to be found in markets. Most people like Engkala bintang which looks very exotic and its sweet taste and richer flavor than the bigger engkala bulan makes it top on the list of ‘must try fruit’ in Sarawak.


Engkala tree
Engkala tree laden with unripe fruits.

There are three ways of preparing engkala. Remove the cap-like stalks before preparing the fruits. Wash and rinse the fruits carefully.

1) Tap the fruit gently with the back of a spoon and soon the fruit pulp becomes soft and mushy. Squeeze out the seed and eat the pulp with a bit of salt ( as written by Yi Chang of Sarawakiana@2). Honestly, this is the first time I learn of this method. The Iban in my hometown area never taught us this way of preparing buah engkala. They even reminded my late mom not to eat the fruit raw.

2) Sprinkle rock salt over the fruits in a pot. Cover the pot and toss the fruits gently so that fruits are mixed evenly with salt. Wait for 20 minutes. By then the fruits would become soft. The pulp is then creamy and tasty.

3) Soak the fruits in warm water for 5-10 minutes. Throw away the water and sprinkle some rock salt on the fruit. Toss and eat right away. So far this is the most popular way of relishing the fruits. Most Chinese and Bidayuh people would prefer this way of preparing engkala. I was told not to eat this fruit raw for unknown reason.


Engkala bintang bought from the market.

A lot of locals, Chinese and natives alike, love engkala. I prefer avocado to engkala. Avocado has richer flavor and the pulp is fine and smooth.

The picture below shows some local avocados which I believe has an origin from Bandung, Java but are widely cultivated in Kalimantan. It is not as creamy as the imported one but for making cheese and avocado spread for bread is just as good as the Australian avocados.

Avocado is an important food for vegetarians and vegans likewise.


Locally grown avocados bought from the market.
Locally grown avocados bought from the market.

These local avocados from the Bidayuh villages have watery flesh and do not have a rich flavor like the imported ones. Most of them weigh around 300 -400 g.

Recipes of avocados as bread spread are plenty in the net.

You just have to slice it, mash it and blend with cheese or mashed potatoes.

I hope more cafes in Kuching will make full use of our local avocados. Mashed avocados can be used as raw topping on pizza together with capsicum and sweet corn kernels. For nutritional content of Engkala, please click table 1.

Chinese new year is just a few days away. I hope I can find more long lost exotic fruits. One of them is buah engkilili/angkali. Now, where have they gone to? There are four of them on my list of ‘must find’.Just a decade ago, I have no problem finding them at the well-known Satok Market.Where have they gone to ? Sigh……

Oh yes, I have found  Engkilili/Ceri Trengganu not so long ago. There is a town called Engkilili named after this fruit which was abundant along a small river opposite the second row of shops. This small river is thus named Sungai Engkilili. Its ID is Lepisanthes alata.


The attractive cherry red fruits of buah Engkilili.
The attractive bunches of cherry red fruits of buah Engkilili.

The fruit itself has little commercial value due to its small size, thin mucilage and two big seeds. The immature fruits are dark purple  in colour and turn to cherry red colour on ripening. It can be grown as an ornamental tree or fish food tree. It tastes very much like the less sweet version of peanut butter fruit (Bunchosia argentea).


Small tree of Engkilili
Small tree of Engkilili which can grow up to 15 m tall.


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