This photo shows the uncooked empit in a standard ceramic Chinese spoon to indicate that it is rather small and delicate off white in colour. These kernels are very soft when taken out of their furry seeds or fruits. The Baram and the Limbang rivers are home to the empit.A bank officer friend from Mukah said that when he was young there was a huge empit tree in his family garden. He too loved to collect the seeds from the river and enjoy eating them. His mother cooked empit as part of their vegetable dishes.
It is usually fried as a vegetable with anchovies and eaten with rice. If you only have a bit of empit then you can cook it with some young corn and pumpkin leaves.
Here's a small bowl of empit for my evening meal. Nice and tasty. It tastes like unsalted kua chi or melon seeds.
This is another version - deep fried empit - and it is really tasty. When eaten as a snack with beer or whiskey it is nutty and very tasty. And you really cannot stop putting them into your mouth. Mixed with cashew nuts and peanuts you also get a good mix of texture. Fried with some tumeric and chili and sugar you actually have a good modern Malaysian snack which is out of this world!! When offered in a dish of roasted mixed nuts from Sarawak to entertain your guests during the festive seasons you can really win many hearts.
However I would rather leave the empit to the rural populace so that they would have enough food to simply live.
The empit is very popular amongst the Ibans who have been living by the river edges for centuries in Sarawak. They have learned how best to use this fruit or seed when they find them floating in the river. Women and children will patiently crack the seeds and fill a bucket with these kernels. In no time they have a good lunch.
Today the Iban women traders have learned to pack these delectable kernels in small plastic bags and sell them at l ringgit per packet. Being very perishable these kernels have to be sold within the day hence they are not pricey. Most mornings when these longhouse ladies come down for their weekend trading they can make about 20 ringgit from their jungle produce. But of course if there are a lot of women looking for empit by the river side then there might not be enough for everyone!! The empit ripens at the same time as the ensurai.
The empit has never been propagated nor mass cultivated by the locals. Left in the thick jungle and riverine forest the trees fare possible extinction actually if no one is making an effort to protect its future. Modern logging and other developments have damaged many river bank tree population. I hope there is still a fairly large population of this tree left in Sarawak for our future generations.
I hope my readers in Sibu and Kuching can also find empit in your tamu or native markets.