Brunei's Delicious Butter Minyak Engkabang

Minyak Engkabang mixed with hot steaming rice and some salt makes a delicious meal. Picture: BT/Nurhamiza

The finished Minyak Engkabang pushed out of its casing. Although “minyak” means oil, here it is seen that the Minyak Engkabang looks more like solidified fat. Picture: BT/Nurhamiza

An illustration of the Engkabang fruit which looks like a nut with petals. Infographic: BT/Ayi Hermala

Jefri Dulah and his wife, Norsiah Tuah selling Minyak Engkabang at the exhibition of products made by the Economic Bureau of different Village Consultative Council (MPK) in Times Square. Picture: BT/Nurhamiza

Nurhamiza Hj Roslan

Friday, November 21, 2014

I WAS walking past vendors’ stalls at a trade fair when I saw this exotic food item I had last seen a few years back. It was minyak engkabang. It looks like a large yellowish glue stick encased in bamboo. It was on display recently at an exhibition of products made by various villages.

Seeing that food item at Times Square where the exhibition was held brought me back to our home kitchen many years back when I first saw my parents eating rice mixed with minyak engkabang. My mother and father were having lunch. On the table I saw what looked like a large glue stick in a bamboo tube. The contents of the tube were a pale yellow that my mother mixed with the rice she was eating. I asked her what it was and she said: “Minyak engkabang. It’s good with steaming rice.”

I had long forgotten about it until recently when I saw the “large glue stick”, similar to the one that my parents had for lunch one afternoon in our kitchen years ago.

A Muslim Iban couple, Jefri Dulah and wife Norsiah Tuah, manned the stall selling minyak engkabang. They came all the way from Kampung Lepong Baru, Temburong. Jefri said it is a special food item. It looks more like butter or solidified fat that has a rich flavour.

The most common way to consume minyak engkabang is to mix it with hot steaming rice and some salt. It can also be used for frying, said Jefri.

I bought a tube of minyak engkabang from Jefri. The tube costs $4. I tasted it for dinner several nights after. I push out the tube’s contents, about an inch of solidified minyak engkabang. I pressed the tube into the plate of hot steaming rice. As soon as it touched the rice it melted. It melts just like margarine. It gave the rice a light yellow tinge.

In my opinion, it tasted like vegetable cooking oil when mixed with rice. It has an oily texture but lighter than cooking oil. It does enhance the flavour of the rice, giving it a subtle richness. I decided to experiment further and added a pinch of salt. It made my meal of rice with minyak engkabang more enjoyable.

You can harvest the engkabang fruit only every few years, said Jefri. “The fastest time the tree will bear fruit is, maybe, three years, but it could take five to seven years.”

The scientific name for the engkabang is shorea macrophylla. According to the Forest Research Institute Malaysia, the shorea macrophylla is of the North Bornean dipterocarp species and is usually found along river banks and flooded alluvial plains.

Jefri said that to make minyak engkabang, the fruit of the engkabang tree must first be collected. The fruit looks like a large nut that has wooden petals. People do not climb the tree to get the fruit, they get the ones that have fallen. An engkabang fruit falls from the tree in a spinning motion that mimics the movement of a helicopter propeller, he said.

To extract the flesh of the fruit, the exterior petals have to be removed first. After removing the petals, the fruit is then dried under the sun until it turns black. This process can take up to three or four days, Jefri said.

When the fruit is already dry, the outer skin is peeled and the flesh is taken and pounded with a rice mortar until the powder is smooth. The next step is to steam the pounded flesh. After steaming, the engkabang flesh is put in a container and squeezed to remove any moisture. It is then transferred and firmly packed into pieces of cut bamboo.

Jefri said that in the old days, there were rules that must be followed in certain processes of making minyak engkabang.

“If these rules were broken, your minyak engkabang would not turn out right.” One of the rules was to not talk so much and not complain about how long any of the processes took. Jefri explained that engkabang was to be treated as if it had feelings and that is why when one complains during the making of minyak engkabang, the finished product would not turn out right.

Jefri said he is unsure of the food’s origins and who started making minyak engkabang but he learned how to make the delicacy from his elders. Even though the engkabang tree takes a long time to bear fruit and the process of producing minyak engkabang lengthy, the food item has a long shelf life.

“You can keep minyak engkabang for 10 years and it would still be good,” said Jefri.

As an effort to ensure minyak engkabang lives on as a delicacy on Brunei dining tables, Jefri said he has taught his own children how to produce it. Jefri said not many of Brunei’s younger generations know of minyak engkabang and how special it is. He expressed hopes that his children will continue in his footsteps and pass on the knowledge of how to make minyak engkabang.

The Brunei Times


KANOWIT: The ‘engkabang’ may not be priced as high as most commodities, but longhouse folk enjoy collecting the fruit for the fun of it.

An engkabang tree bears fruit every four to five years.

Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) regards the engkabang fruit (shorea macrophylla) as ‘butter from the rainforest’ for its buttery texture when cooked in bamboo.

Punga Manja, in her 70s, from Rumah Jarau, Nanga Sibau in Ulu Sungai Ngemah here was among those who collected the fruit.

“Collecting the fruit is like a tradition for us longhouse folk in the rural area.

“I have been collecting the fruit since I was a child. Most of the collection is for sale, with some for making engkabang oil,” she told The Borneo Post when met at her longhouse recently.

Engkabang tree, with a known record of 50 metres tall and four metres in girth, is one of the lightest wood in the red ‘meranti’ group.

The trees are mostly found along the rivers.

Punga sells the dried fruit to a shopkeeper in Nanga Ngemah for 80 sen per kg.

“In my younger days, the price could fetch up to RM2 per kg.

“Not many people want to sell the fruit now. They use it to make oil which is high in demand.

“The oil cooked in the bamboo and then cut into small sections with each section measuring about five inches is usually sold for RM5.

“Many like its rich buttery taste especially when applied on hot rice,” she said, adding that her granddaughter working in Sibu had frequently asked her for the oil.

Thirty-six-year-old Luli Renggan from Rumah Andrew Balun in Nanga Ngungun resettlement scheme here collects the fruit with her children on weekends.

She sells the fruit as she does not know how to make oil out of it.

“I sell the fruit for RM1 per kg in Nanga Ngemah while in Kanowit, the price is RM1.50 per kg.

“The fruit is plentiful in Sungai Ngungun, but not many youngsters want to collect it because of the low price,” she said.

Meanwhile, Punga has unselfishly shared the method to get engkabang oil.

She said the skin must be peeled off before the fruit was left to dry in the sun or smoked.

Dried fruit is then pounded and squeezed to extract the oil for cooking in the bamboo.

“When it is cooked, it will be left to cool in the bamboo. The texture is like butter when it hardens.

“Besides cooking, the oil is also used for massage,” she said.

It is believed that the oil, rich in an anti-aging property, has found its way into some cosmetic products.

The Borneo Post Online


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