January 31, 2010

Disappearing Miri : Grated Coconut and Copra

Look at all these coconut husks! They have been lying on the five foot way after a morning's business has been done. But don't worry they won't be wasted as they will be used to make brushes.

the mature flesh of the coconut has been scooped out and sold for domestic uses like cooking of curry or making of nasi lemak.

think for a moment. Can we Malaysians actually live without coconuts?

Grated coconut is a dominant ingredient in Malay and Malaysian cuisine.

Nasi Lemak is not nasi lemak without the coconut milk and its fragrance. But with industrial technology being encouraged in the country and in some other countries too the traditional industry of opening an old coconut and taking the flesh out for grating seems to be something of the past.

I have not even seen the traditional coconut grater for a long time. And I must say I have tried to take a photograph of it but in vain.

These photos were taken near Kampong Luak in Miri and the young Indonesian maid was sporting enough to allow me to take her pictures. The shop is one of the very few old shops selling machine grated coconut at the front part of the shop. Old coconuts or copra take up a lot of shop space according to the shop keeper. But for convenience most housewives use packet coconut milk today. I use freshly grated coconut only when I have plenty of time and for certain recipes.

This is the mature coconut flesh taken from the coconuts and is a tedious work done by a patient worker. Two types of grated coconut can be bought in this shop. There is the white one (which means the brown skin is taken off by machine) and the normal one with the brown skin still attached to the grated coconut. Grated coconut must be used on the day it is grated if possible to maintain its sweetness and freshness.

This young girl is from Indonesia and she is very adept in using the special knife to remove the mature flesh from the coconut shell.

"How am I doing?"

This is a very special knife for scouring the mature flesh out of the shell which prevents the flesh from breaking into pieces.

Palmae, the palm family, to which the coconut belongs, is one of the oldest and most diverse of the plant families. The distribution of the coconut palm extends over most of the tropical islands and coasts. In South America however it has been recorded as far south as 27° and in North America, as far north as 25°.

The coconut palm is not simply an attractive addition to tropical islands and coasts, it is one of the most valuable plants to man. In Sanskrit the coconut palm is called “kalpa vriksha”, which roughly translated means “Tree of Life”

The fibrous trunk produces a wood known as porcupine wood, which is prime building material, and the huge frondy leaves are woven together to produce roof thatches, which last up to three or four years. When the fronds are stripped they can be used for lashing logs together, making baskets, mats and many other household items. The fibrous husk of the coconut known as “coir”– which is there to cushion the inner nut when it falls several meters to the ground, produces fibers for a kind of rope called “sennit”. The meat and liquid obtained from the fruit are used for a variety of foods and beverages, and the empty shells are made into household utensils such as spoons and bowls. The empty shells can also be used to make an excellent charcoal, which works as a cooking fuel and is also used in the production of gas masks and air filters.

Perhaps many of us have forgotten the word copra. Copra refers to the meat which is left to dry in the sun and it is from this coconut oil is extracted .

The residue is used for animal feed. And a long time ago chicken farmers and housewives used to buy it at about 10 cents per kati. Chickens fed on it were fat and tasty.

But this is a disappearing business and the neighbourhood shop would no longer have this kind of service once the demand is gone! So in a way I am lucky as I live next to a big kampong.


Ann said...

We had a long block of wood which we sit on, the rounded sharp blade is at one end to scrap the coconut. This wasn't used when the market had those machines. Even then the machine is made redundant with the packaged or frozen bags of suntan.

My Sri Lankan neighbour has a smilar scraping one. I must go and take a photo for you.

These days, sometimes I don't use coconut cream. Too fat, they tell me though curry is never the same.

Ann said...


I remember I did this post and mentioned you.

Daniel Yiek said...

Nearly forgotten what copra means - the last time I saw this word was in my sec school geo classes.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Ann
Yes I remember my Malay neighbours getting their own coconut and grating them . In those days everything was from the garden. So subsistence amd so self sufficient.
I do know a lot of people have stopped using coconut cream.
Personally I am not a fan of curry or even rendang. My soup is always clear ones. But nowadays I love using tumeric and corainder.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann-- that was a nice post...fuzzy and nostalgic...thanks.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Yes I think many people would not even know the word!!
Many have forgotten the word also.
But nowadays many are paying premium prices for pure coconut oil etc!!

Ah Ngao said...

santan or coconut milk is a must for cooking curry ,otherwise the ommph is not there.when i first moved in my house,there's quite a lot of mosquito at my backyard,i burn the coconut husk as a repellent.i minta them FOC from the vendors. .

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao
You are young and of course you must enjoy the best of the coconut cream..I must thank you for your tip...that's a good one!


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