World Food Spot 2 : Buah Keluak (Peranakan, Malaysia)

My mother is a Nyonya, which is to say that she is part of that distinctive, historically significant and culturally rich group called the Peranakan ( The Peranakan culture, is a lively blend of Chinese culture with the polyglot of local cultures found in the Straits of Malacca which from the 12th century onwards was a major crossroads of the spices trade. The cuisine is a similar blending of flavours with adaptations to local delicacies, fruits and vegetables. One specialty is the Buah Keluak and this has been for me, an all time favourite since childhood.

It is usually cooked together with chicken or with pork ribs to form a rich, spicy stew which is flavoured with spices and the buah keluak. Buah Keluak or the Keluak Fruit is a very special, geographically limited, rare and unusual ethnic food. It is not a fruit nor is it a nut, although it resembles a nut and is often mistaken as such. Instead it is a very toxic seed from a very toxic fruit of a very toxic tree but when properly treated and cooked, it is ambrosia. Some call it the “truffle of Asia”. I would best describe it as “savoury chocolate”. To be honest, it is like nothing else so any comparison is quite whimsical.

The Black Buah Keluak with Chicken

Buah keluak seeds come from the “football fruit” of the Kepayang tree or Pangium edule which is probably only found in Borneo, Sumatra and Malaysia. This forest tree can reach 60 m in height and has thick, waxy broad leaves. Almost every part of this tree and fruit are poisonous and in fact extract from the crushed seeds can be used to make poisoned tipped arrows. The reason for this is that the plant material is rich in cyanide or prussic acid. To prepare the seeds, they are often buried underground coated in ashes for as long as 40 days, then boiled and cleaned. This process should remove the poisons. Visit for some good visuals of this unusual plant and its seeds.

For those who would like to try to cook this dish, I suggest you visit Be warned, it is a lot of work. Once the buah keluak is prepared, a small opening needs to be created by using a cleaver. The buah keluak can then be cooked. The fleshy part should turn soft and black with a strong nutty flavour. Some master chefs insist on extracting the flesh, mixing it with a bit of meat and re-stuffing the flesh back into the seeds. This extra work ensures a more even and consistent flavour.

The cooked dish is served with rice. You would place one or two pieces of meat on a plate and liberally douse the rice with the flavourful sauce. Then take a buah keluak and using a chopstick or fork, extract the flesh from the seed. Mix the flesh with the meat, rice and sauce. Enjoy.

If served with this dish, I could easily consume up to five times my normal intake of rice because it just goes so well together. What makes this such a great culinary experience? 1. Its nutty flavour, 2. Its creamy texture, 3. Its heady aroma, 4. its rarity and uniqueness and 5. its contribution to a rich cultural history. The best way to try this is to visit Malaysia and ask around for a Peranakan restaurant or even better, befriend a Peranakan who knows the recipe and get invited home for dinner. Sorry, there isn’t any easy way to do this but it will be so worthwhile. Hurry, this great dish of my childhood is getting increasingly harder to find with each passing year and because of the rarity of the tree, this will truly remain a regional ethnic dish even in today’s global village.

Celebrating a Love Story

I was happy to note that the counter recording the “number of nuts collected for winter”, had reached 100; that is to say, this blog has had 100 visits since it started last month. My thanks to everyone who visited but I wish more of you would leave a comment or note so that this experience could be more interactive. Nevertheless, 100 nuts is a milestone that should appropriately be marked by the telling of a special story from the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel – a Love Story.

That first squirrel autumn, I had many opportunities to observe the comic struggles of our protagonist, Spikey (the everyman squirrel) and the bully, Speedy (the ninja squirrel). Despite, Speedy’s physical advantage, Spikey generally did better than his adversary. Spikey had a good sense of my comings and goings and therefore was more likely to be around when I was inclined to dish out peanuts. Being sympathetic to the under-squirrel, I often sat on my little boardwalk in the garden and while I was there, Spikey was free to eat or hide nuts as he pleased without Ninja interference. However, Spikey was also industrious and innovative. He soon developed a habit of coming by early in the mornings, much earlier than Speedy ever appears, and he will go up to the tiny window which is my eye to the skies for my basement apartment. Then he would rap on the window pane.

“In the morning with eyes still dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,

Whether to wake up bright and cheery or succumb to sleep somemore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.`
‘Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

Back to sleep’s call, my eyes closing, restlessly tossing and turning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,’ said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore
-Behold I saw at the window rapping, a Grey Squirrel that implored;
-‘Peanuts! Are there any more?’
(with apologies and acknowledgement to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven)
Anyway, my point before I digress too far, is that for much of that autumn, I only saw the shenanigans of those two squirrels. However, it was my better half, who at that time was not working and therefore had more time to observe the neighbourhood going-ons, that first alerted me to a third squirrel. She had much more red in her fur so that she did not have Spikey’s salt and pepper grey but was more of a golden colour. We assumed it was a “she” because “she” was too pretty to be a guy. Her tail was also very bushy and her fur looked immaculately preened. She was also very shy and would often be seen only in the branches of the nearby maple tree from which she could retreat to the roof and disappear. We named her Loonie on account of her golden colour which reminded us of the Canadian one dollar coin called the Loonie. The reason the Canadian one dollar coin is called a Loonie has nothing to do with squirrels but with another quintessential Canadian animal, the Loon, but that’s a different story.

The lonesome Loon depicted on the Loonie
She looked perfect to play the part of Meg Ryan to Spikey’s Tom Hanks. But would we see the fairytale, Disney-ish, romance develop. At first our observations were unrewarded. There were times when Spikey was at the feeding station and Loonie was in the tree but there seemed to be no interaction. Then one day, my better half called me excitedly to the window. We saw that Spikey had climbed the tree to meet Loonie. His approach seemed very unsure and hesitant. For a while they were just inches apart but did not seem to know what to do next. Then, magic. They reached over and planted a kiss on each others cheek. Then they coyly ran off in opposite directions like giddy teenagers. However, there was no looking back. We would later see Spikey feeding Loonie with nuts and generally fussing over her. Our hero had found his leading lady.

One wonders why Loonie did not end up with Speedy. Scientists argue that when looking for a mate, an animal would seek the strongest or fastest or one with the best qualities for survival. I like to think that Loonie chose Spikey because “he made her laugh”.

LGS Cultural Tour 2: Malaysia – Truly Asia; Concert in the Rainforest

Lone Grey Squirrel finds himself in Taman Negara in the midst of some of the oldest rainforest in the world. It is now late at night and it is all dark outside the cabin with only the sounds of cicadas breaking the stillness. I now regret researching for my previous Halloween post on the Banshee of the forests because tonight I find myself outside my comfort zone and in the world of the night creatures.To distract myself, I want to share with you the strange experience I just had of enjoying one of the best cultural dance performances I had ever seen here in this 130 million year old forest. I am here to participate in this year’s Asia Pacific Ecotourism Conference or APECO and tonight the State Government of Pahang hosted a dinner for participants and put on a great cultural show with their very own state groomed cultural troupe.

Malaysia is truly a microcosm of so many Asian and even non-Asian cultures; a legacy of being a major player, destination and crossroads in the spice trade routes of the 12-19th century and the rich and diverse indigenous peoples of the land. This is something that I have always been particularly proud of about Malaysia.

However, I have been far from proud or impressed by most of the Malaysian cultural troupes that carry out performances in line with Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism’s tagline of Malaysia – truly Asia. Most of the performances are lackluster and sometimes even embarrassing. When a good friend from the UK visited recently, I took him to one of the more famous regular cultural performance and dinner venues in Kuala Lumpur ( and there are not many), but even there the food outshined the performance and the food really was not that great.

But tonight, I saw a superior performance and it made me wonder what made the difference. For one thing, the dances were all well researched and accompanied with an explanation of its meaning and its origin, including descriptions of the cultural influences that helped to shape the dance. This understanding helped to engage the audience but also was reflected in a sense of pride in the performers.

Representation of the Sewang dance of the Orang Asli (aborigines)

Malaysia’s Indian Heritage

The Tenun Dance showing off the Fine Weaving of Pahang

The Chinese Heritage

The next special ingredient was the attitude of the dancers. They were proud of what they were doing and of their culture and they appeared to be having fun. This is very important as a plastic or fixed smile always puts me off when viewing cultural dances.

The choreography and choice of dances are also important. The troupe tonight chose dances that very effectively showcased a very wide variety of the different cultural influences. I was pleased that they included dances from the indigenous peoples and the people of the forest. Unfortunately, very often they are forgotten or left out because of bigotry or a strange ill-placed shame some Malaysians feel for what they consider the more “backward” segments of the Society. Tonight’s troupe had none of that nonsense and celebrated the contributions of all these communities to the rich cultural canvas that is Malaysia – truly Asia. Tonight, we celebrated the cultures of the Malays, the Chinese, the Indians, the aboriginal peoples, the Thai, the Arab traders, the Peranakan or Nyonya amongst others including local cultural traditions.

Celebration was another key concept that made a difference. Again the troupe should be commended that they chose songs and dances that were lively, happy and celebrated life and invited the listener to also give thanks for being alive. When one has only got about 30 minutes to do a performance, I believe it is time squandered if many of the song choices were melancholic or too self-important. The participant should feel encouraged to tap his/her feet, clap his/her hands or even get up and dance.

A fantastic overall performance. The Lone Grey Squirrel enthusiastically approves it but wishes to advise Ministry of Tourism to drop the obligatory song finale of “Malaysia – truly Asia” because it just is not a good song. Some songs just do not work. I leave you with a snippet of another Government commissioned song from a recycling campaign;

“Recycle, Recycle
Show that you have taste,Eliminate your waste!”

Malaysia’s Lady in White

On All Hallow’s Eve, I thought I would regale you with a tale of the supernatural from the dark forests of Malaysia. Fear and superstition still reigns in many parts of the world even today but what I find interesting is that some beliefs have a similar theme. Are they the product of converging imaginations or perhaps based on a common truth?

One of the most common and oldest of these un-natural monsters are the vampires – the blood suckers. The Malaysian jungle is full of these blood sucking fiends. This is true. I have seen them and been bitten myself. Over here we call them mosquitoes and leeches. Ha! Ha! Just a bit of nervous humour before we get down and really describe the creature of the night that I have in mind.

Malaysia’s blood sucking fiend is the Langsuir. It is a female creature that may appear in two forms. Firstly, the Langsuir may be in the form of an owl and may often be seen perched at night on certain trees in the forests. Banyan trees are believed to be a favourite roost or perhaps a strangling fig. Do not go near if you value your life. The Langsuir is also believe to be able to appear as a woman. She is alternatively described by those lucky to escape as a hideous creature with long claws and fangs or as a beautiful woman. Some say that she takes on the latter to seduce male victims. In either form, she has long jet black hair reaching to the ankles and she is always wearing a white robe. Her hair hides a hole in the back of her neck which is the means by which she sucks the blood of her victim. In one version of the tale, the Langsuir actually possesses the victim and feeds from the inside.

The Langsuir is believed to form from women who had died within 40 days of childbirth after also losing their child. Elaborate rituals must be made on the body such as placing glass in the mouth, eggs under the armpits and needles in the hand to prevent the transformation. Otherwise the creature will transform and with a shriek, fly into the dark forests.

Garlic has no effect on this creature but if you somehow managed to do it, you can tame a Langsuir if you succeed in cutting its nails and stuffing her hair into the hole in the neck. At which point, she becomes a normal and very beautiful woman. Folk stories even suggested that men have married tamed Langsuirs; suffice to say not all those stories end happily.

The shriek of the Langsuir is also said to be so eerie that once heard, it is never forgotten. Interestingly, there a number of places in Malaysia which are named after the Langsuir including Gua Langsuir in Langkawi Island which is called the Cave of the Banshee in English. It is said, you can hear them there.

I hope this little Malay folklore has been interesting to you. Of course, it’s just a story but still if you have ever seen a banyan tree or a strangling fig at night in the middle of the jungle, you might understand why even seasoned forest travelers might give a cough, start to whistle and generally give these places a wide berth.

Believe it or not. Lone Grey Squirrel reporting from the Malaysian Rainforest.

Spirits of the Season: Fright or Hide

What thrills you? Gets your adrenaline up, gives you a buzz that lights up your smile and your sense of general well being. In fact it makes you feel like superman. The scientists call it the “fight or flight” response; our bodies are being prepared to fight or to run for our lives. Either way, the adrenaline tones our muscles in anticipation, our blood rushes oxygen and we feel powerful. For some, they get this high from riding roller coasters and kamikaze rides. Not for me, I just become catatonic – completely rigid, neither capable of fight or flight, not even sound unless you count moans.

(Pennywise the Clown from Steven King’s “It”.)

However, since it is Halloween, let us consider my other favourite way of getting thrills which is to watch horror movies or read a scary book or listen to a campfire ghost story. I call this the “fright and hide” response. This is where once again the adrenaline courses through the body, getting the heart beat up and blood rushing but the muscles are not primed to run but to crawl under the blankets and hide. A really powerful invocation of the response is manifested by other symptoms like “tingling in the spine”, “goosebumps” and “chattering teeth”. I love it. I much prefer this than actually risking my life on a roller coaster. Horror stories is just safe entertainment with no real risk of being flung to your deaths from a roller coaster ride. After all, there are no such things as ghosts and monsters………… right? Er, right?

What makes a good horror story? I much prefer good story telling than an over reliance on mutilated bodies. Hence, I discount movies like Halloween and Scream and such slasher movies as body count movies. Most times, a couple of dead bodies can be scarier than a bus load.

Camp fire ghost stories are just great because it makes use of our imaginations which is usually far scarier that special effects. Although, I did not think that the Blair Witch Project was exceptional, it made use of simple things to great effect. Think of the sounds outside the tent, the strange arrangement of twigs, the disappearance of friends. You never see the horror but you get hints of it. Right at the end when you see the man at the corner with his feet not touching the ground; well, you knewthen you had it even though you still did not see the horror. But you could almost touch it. Or worse, it could touch you. Brrrrr.

Perversion of innocence is another scary tool. This is where you take something sweet and innocent and turn it into evil personified. This worked well in “It.” A clown is turned into a monster with pointed teeth but he still looks like a clown all the way down to his red nose and balloon animals. If you can’t trust a clown,……. Just imagine cuddlying up to Barney and then seeing him transformed into a velociraptor. Now that’s scary. It did not work with “Chucky” because that doll looked like bad news even before he showed his demonic side. Children are also meant to be innocent and that’s why they can be very scary. In “The Ring”, we are actually led to sympathize with the girl, Samara. Oh poor little girl, how she was mistreated by her parents. Later, when we realize that the parents were actually scared of her that we feel the full impact of her evilness. Yikes.

Removing our comfort zones. Some of us have no problems watching movies about old haunted mansions or about werewolves lose in the Everglades. Why? Because we know that nothing will ever drag us to go to a haunted mansion or camp in the Everglades. It is far away from our comfort zone. Movies on Vampires in Transylvania? No problem since the last I checked, there were no direct flights from the Kingdom of Darkness to our international airport. However, what if the horror came into our house? What if it visits in our dreams even though we are tucked in our own beds? That is the premise that made Nightmare on Elm Street so horrifying (the sequels degenerated to a body count movie). What if hell itself wanted to draw you in through the static of the TV screen as it did in Poltergeist? Yaaaaah!

I think Hollywood horror movies have lost their way of late and have acknowledged that by copying or reproducing some of the scarier movies from Asia. The Ring, Dark Water and The Grudge are some examples. Even in the case of The Grudge, I would still recommend the Japanese version despite the fact that I am a Sarah Michelle Geller fan.

A few more that I would recommend from Asia include;
a) Shutter (2004; Thailand; The moment the hero finally understands what was happening was truly chilling.)
b) A Tale of Two Sisters (2003, Korean; Is it real or is it imagined the evil that seems to appear?)
c) One Missed Call (2003, Japanese; Okay, not one of the top ones but I like how they use an everyday item like the handphone to rock us out of our comfort zone).

Happy halloween. Sleep well. Have pleasant dreams and watch out for your teddy bear.

Squirrels; More or Less?

Well, this is my landmark 10th blog entry and I thought I would allow you, my faithful of handful of readers to help steer the direction of this blog. A poll! That’s what we need as it is currently trendy to make decisions in this populist and democratic way. The Squirrel Content in this Blog which I should remind my precious few readers is after all called the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel, is about 30-35% of the first 10 blog entries.

Give your opinion. Exercise your whatever. Make your views known and contribute to a better Blog. So; the Question is “Should there be more squirrel or less squirrel?”

The answers are;
a) More, more, Much MORE!!!!
b) Less, Less, the Least
c) Just Right
d) Aren’t squirrels really just tree rats? So what’s the fuss. or
e) This is the best blog ever. Don’t change a thing and accept all my life savings as a donation to carry on with your good work.

After your votes have been tabulated by the Lone Grey Squirrel, he will decide what to do next. If he likes what you say, he may use it or he may totally ignore it or just announce that you all agreed with what he had decided on all along. Isn’t on-line democracy just dandy?

Anyway, on-line polls, surveys can often deliver some strange conclusions but the people of today increasingly follow the herd. It is along the lines of “Peanuts……. ten thousand monkeys can’t be wrong”. You know what I mean. If 2 out of 3 Hollywood leading men choose to carry guns then that’s the right thing to do. If 6 out of every 10 top models suffer from bulimea, than thats normal for all girls to follow. Here are some real surveys that came from Do you agree with their findings? Lone Grey Squirrel has made a few well chosen comments.

1. If you were left on earth with just one person to reproduce all of mankind with, who would that be? Answer: Bill Clinton LGS says ” I am speechless”
2. Which animal is most intellegent? Answer: Cats LGS says “Squirrrels, man. Can a cat raid a bird feeder? I rest my case.”
3. Which is the best country to live in? Answer: USA LGS says”Hmmm. Bad Nut suspected.” 4. Which country is the worst off? Answer: USA
5. Which country has the prettiest women? Answer: USA
6. Which country has contributed the most to mankind? Answer: USA LGS says” I see a pattern developing”
7. Most beautiful animal? Answer: Giraffe LGS says ” The world must stop promoting the thin, long legged and long necked vision of beauty. Women should be told that chubby is acceptable”
8. What is the worst place in the world that you have visited? Answer: Public toilet LGS says, “at last, some sense. But where in the world is the worst public toilet?”

So enjoy this poll and look forward to the results.

You let me down, Indonesia

If you checked in on me at my last posting, you would have found me in an officially declared funk and that was at the beginnning of what had promised to be a glorious 5 day long weekend in Malaysia on account of the Hindu festival of Diwali and the muslim festival of Eid. Well, far from being the long anticipated break with which to spend top quality time with friends and family and to hone one’s blog writing skills, I instead achieved a rare state of being – that of being in a funk, in the middle of a haze and under the weather. That’s my long way of telling you that I have been ill and that I make a grumpy, irritable and irritating patient.

I have been coughing for weeks because of the haze from those peat fires in Indonesia which is just blanketing parts of South East Asia. Although it was only a dry cough, it weakened my immunity and probably made me susceptible to a flu bug that was conveniently hiding amongst one of the sweet, innocent, smiling children in my friends’ big broods. Sweet, innocent, smiling children are really the world’s best bio-terrorists as they are able to catch with ease the newest germ out in the market and pass it on as quickly. Tag. You’re it.

So with a sniffling nose and weepy eyes and a loud hacking cough, and while still delirious because of fever, I read in the local newspaper with great disdain that Indonesia’s parliament was not going to agree to Indonesia signing an ASEAN Regional Transboundary Haze Agreement. They decided to try to use their haze creating fires as some sort of bargaining chips for concessions on trade and fisheries with the neighbouring countries. Imagine having a neighbour who wants the rest of the neighbourhood to pay him to get rid of his health threatening bad habits. What are these politicians thinking? How can any one seem to find any benefit from keeping this choking haze around?

When the world faced the possibility of nuclear annihiliation because of the struttings of the USA and Russia, I was deeply comforted by the song by Sting which said “the Russians love their chidren too” and which implied no one was mad enough to condemn their future generations to the horrors of nuclear fallout. Sadly, I do not see such similar stirrings of the heart amongst the Indonesian Parliamentarians who are holding in their hands the fate of millions of Indonesians and other Asians condemning them to further exposure to toxic smoke so that they can bargain their gasps for fresh air for business and trade concessions. Shame on you.

“You let me down, Indonesia.
Your peatland and forest’s on fire
High toll on wildlife and on your people
but still your leaders, they want to quibble”

“You let me down, Indonesia.
You do not care for your neighbours
That much is clear, but yet we had hoped
that for the children, you’d stop the smoke.”

(to be sung to the tune of “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.”)

Specially trained Squirrel checking on Veruca to see if she is a BAD nut. ( a scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Similar medical exam. recommended for Indonesian Parliamentarians.

Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels