There are two popular sour fruits which are very similar in appearance and taste found in most part of South East Asia. Though very similar in many aspects, they have different ID, Snake fruit is identified as Salacca edulis Reinw and buah Ridan/Salak hutan is Salacca affinis Griff.
Both are stemless or almost stemless palm growing in lowland except that Salak is cultivated and Salak hutan is wild. Both are grown in large clusters of tall, long and thick-stalked and spiny leaves. Salak hutan has longer spines than the Salak tree. In other words, their trees look almost exactly the same and the obvious difference is in their fruits. Both plants are dioecious and they are non-seasonal like the asam paya tree.
Most people are quite familiar with Buah Salak a.k.a Snake fruit due to its scaly snake like skin and the wild version of it which is Salak hutan is less known. Salak Hutan or Buah Ridan/Salak merah is mostly found growing wild in the jungles. At first look, they look very much alike except in their skin color, salak with brown skin and salak hutan with red skin. On closer look, you might notice that Salak fruit is more round whereas salak hutan has a slender shape with a more pointed and longer tip. Both have scaly, snake-like skin and open to reveal three segments with creamy white pulp and a big brown seed inside.
The best way to relish these two fruits is to eat them raw due to its good taste. It is not as sour as asam paya. Salak or the snake fruit has thicker pulp than the salak hutan but a ripe salak hutan fruit is sweeter and more juicy than the snake fruit. Remember to peel off the thin membrane enclosing the thin pulp of each of the fruit segments before sucking the juicy pulp.
Asam paya a.k.a Buah maram in Iban is widely used in local cooking. The fruit has tough scaly skin enclosing a round and thick pulp with a seed in it. Its fruit is extremely sour, so sour that it cannot be eaten raw and is used as a substitute for asam jawa or asam keping in hot and sour soup like tom yam or laksa soup, also in umai and sambal. Its ID is Eleiodoxa conferta Griff.
It is a stemless palm growing wild along fresh water rivers and peat swamp forests. The tree is dioecious and the fruiting is non-seasonal. Its mature leaves can be used for thatching roof and the dry scaly skin used as fuel.
Basically there are two types of asam paya, the yellow skinned and the maroon skinned. Usually it is pickled and eaten like the pickled sour plum, that is eaten with sugar or make sour drink with it. In cooking, it is used in steaming seafood or added in soup to impart the sour taste to the soup.
The next interesting sour fruit is the Pedada (Iban) or Buah Berembang (Malay). It is also known as mangrove apple or crab apple and its scientific name is Sonneratia caseolaris. It is found in mangrove forests and also along rivers nearer to the seaside. It has a unique appearance, looking like a top or gasing in Malay. Look at the picture below. Does it look like a lantern hanging from the branch? Look at its star-like cap. The unripe fruit can be eaten raw but usually it is cooked in hot and sour soup. Strangely enough, pedada skin, when eaten raw, tastes better than its pulp. It is crispy and sour, less bitter than its seedy pulp. It is also interesting to note that wherever there are pedada trees, there will be a lot of fire flies.
Buah Kundong is another fruit used in cooking sour soup. It is a kind of wild mangosteen with a smaller size and its pulp does not taste as good as mangosteen. Its latin name is Garcinia parvifolia Miq. The fruit itself is sourish sweet but the skin is as sour as the skin of the belimbing hutan (Malay) a.k.a Ucong (Iban). The skin of both of these fruits are used as tamarind or asam jawa in cooking. Land Dayak in Kuching area use Ucong skin for making wine.
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