Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tamu Lama Miri - Local Market at Miri

One of the spots in Miri that I personally enjoyed visiting was the old local market (Tamu Lama or Tamu Kedayan) located at Jalan Oleander. There are two sides to this market, an open air side and one that is under a roof. The open air stalls are facing the Centre Point Commercial Area block (on Jalan Melayu - this road is crazy as it goes round and round) whilst the roofed stalls are on the other side (on Jalan Oleander). You will see the roofed market area if you walk right to the end of the Tua Pek Kong Temple and looked across the road.
View of the sheltered side of the Tamu Lama at Miri.

Besides the usual stuff that you see like lemongrass, curcubits and chillies (the chillies here are colourful, from the brightly coloured C. fructescens (bird chilli) there are the reddish orange C. chinense (Scotch bonnets), wild mushrooms, wild honey and herbs. I spied a few chillies that looked like fruits from C. chinense - C. fructescens crosses.

From my experience of growing C. chinense, if the flowers gets pollinated by C. fructescens pollen, the next generation will have fruits that are very much more elongated unlike the bonnets or lantern shaped parents. However, these hybrid plants appear to unstable hybrids and produces little to no viable seeds. The fruit of such plants looks identical to that of the Naga Jolokia except that it is smooth skinned (and indeed Naga Jolokia is genetically a stabilised hybrid between C. chinense and C. fructescens, with unequal genomic contribution).
A lady with her produce at the market. Amongst the stuff that she is selling are the usual red chillies, the hot habaneros and scotch bonnets, pumpkins, betel fruit, ginger, unripe jackfruit, lemongrass and cucumbers.

As I could not resist the novelty of the various scotch bonnets sold here, I bought a 'colander' worth of chillies for RM2. Handling those chillies later in the hotel room when I was taking photos made me realise that they were really hot. No wonder the seller kept on reminding me that the chillies are hot. She was a nice lady, and she even prettied herself up and rearranged the stuff on the table before I took a photo of her stall.
Some of the chillies that I had purchased. A mixture of sorts of the Capsicum chinense and possibly hybrids of C. chinense and C. fructescens.

Some stuff sold here are rarely seen in West Malaysia, for example Asam kelubi (Eleiodoxa conferta), Buah dabai (Canarium odontophyllum), Buah Kechalak/Kantan (Etlingera elatior), Buah engkala/engkalak (Litsea graciae) and Pucuk midin (Stenochlaena palustris). You can also find the 'normal' pucuk paku (Diplazium esculentum/Athyrium esculentum) being sold at the market. The pumpkins sold here (and also those in the supermarket) have long, somewhat bent necks, reminiscent of the Cushaw Squash. But the skin is like that of a local pumpkin that is getting more common nowadays; coloured like the usual one-toned, tan yellow pumpkin (probably Cucurbita moschata) but with greenish markings like a kabocha (Cucurbita maxima).
Some of the local produce sold at the open stalls: 1. Asam kelubi  2. Bunga kantan  3. local pumpkins.
More local produce on sale at the open stalls: 1. Buah dabai lemak  2. Pucuk midin  3. Pucuk paku  4. Kacang botol/botor (Four angled bean - Psophocarpus tetragonolobus).
Even more local produce: 1. Catfish  2. Buah kechalak/kantan  3. Bamboo culm (as cooking container)  4. Buah petai (Stink beans - Parkia speciosa)  5. Shelled petai beans.

Curiosity got the better of me and I bought some buah engkala. The sellers told me that the ripe ones (those that are very pink/red) can be eaten after bruising the fruit, and consumed by adding some salt and eating it with rice. Those that are not that pink would have to be soaked in hot water before being eaten. I was reminded that you only eat the 'skin' and that if you eat the uripe fruit without soaking, you will get throat and mouth irritation (locals refer to that as pedar/gatal).
Buah engkala sold at the market by the plate. Each plate cost RM5. There is an empty plate at the back as the stall owner just emptied it into a bag for me.

I also spotted fruits that looked like Terung iban/asam/dayak/bulu (Solanum lasiocarpum syn. S. indicum, S. ferox? ferox meaning hairy - bulu) but didn't ask the seller what it was. Contrary to what many people put on the web, terung asam cannot be S. macrocarpon for the ripe fruits of S. macrocarpon are supposed to be bitter and not sour! (see Burkill, I. H. 1925. Solanum macrocarpon. Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information (Royal Gardens, Kew) 1925(8), 333-341.) Also S. lasiocarpum is native to S.E. Asia, unlike S. macrocarpon. If you think that terung asam looks a bit like naranjilla, well you are not wrong, for they all belong to the Leptostemonum clade.
1. Yellow rambutans (Nephelium lappaceum)  2. Cucumbers  3. Buah pinang (Betel fruit to get betelnut)  4. Tumeric  5. Okra  6. Green chillies  7. Calamansi lime  8. Terung asam (S. lasiocarpum)  9. Sweet potatoes  10. Ginger  11. Lemongrass.

Back at the hotel room, I had a go at trying the taste of the buah engkala. Those that was soaked in hot water was well, creamy in texture but tasteless. It reminded me of eating butter (or avocado but more creamy). There was only a thin layer of creamy flesh beneath the skin, and the centre was a large seed (stone). I also took one that was really pink and bashed it till it was somewhat bruised.
Clockwise from top: Buah engkala opened up showing the thin pulp and large singular seed, three seeds removed from the fruits, and two complete fruit with stem attached.

The flesh (not soaked in hot water) had a discernible lemony twang to it, thus making it more interesting to the palate. However, the fruit was probably not ripe enough or that I did not bruise it enough for there was the hallmark throat irritation after consuming the fruit that I was warned of if the fruit was not soaked in hot water or not ripe enough to be eaten without soaking. If asked if I would eat it again, I would probably say no. If you like avocadoes or stuff that has the texture of a creamy custard but is utterly tasteless, then you will probably like buah engkala.

The market was an eye opener for me with all the strange fruits and  local produce (I have not even touched on the various fruits of the mango family and the different shellfish available). I wanted to also take a look at another market, the Tamu Muhibbah, but since I was exhausted from all the walking earlier (going up Canada Hill under the midday sun), I gave it a pass.

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