September 29, 2013

Nang Chong Stories : Terong Iban and Salt

A dear cousin of mine was shocked recently when he went to buy some Terong Iban to prepare for his favourite dish - Asam Fish Head Curry. His wife had told him to buy four for their evening meal. They were 12 ringgit per kg. 4 terong cost him 16 ringgit.

He had the following tale to share.

The Ensurai and Nang Chong Villages were set up by the pioneering  Foochows who arrived in the early1900's. Land was allocated to them by the Brooke Government, which expected these agriculturalists from China to grow rice and form a rice bowl in the Rajang Delta , and grow enough food for the whole kingdom of Sarawak.

 After the Second World War, food was scarce and so was cash.

My cousin grew up in Nang Chong village, tapped rubber part time as a primary school student and caught fish in the evenings.

Staying in Nang Chong, many Foochows could walk to Tulai via the rubber gardens to visit relatives or to look for herbs and "loi ling", a kind of poisonous plant which was fairly valueable and could be exchanged for cash.  There were many longhouses towards the Tulai area.

According to my cousin, very often the Ibans would bring their vegetables in large baskets to the Foochow villages. He remembers that  he saw many Ibans would make trips just for barter trading right until Malaysia was formed..

A photo from Google.

A pot of boiled terong in Ulu Medamit. Terong is a favourite dish and can be eaten wih rice and nothing else.

According to my cousin,he had a special and memorable incident related to Terong Iban. He was still a little boy and most Chinese did not know how to "eat" terong Iban in those early days. Actually there were limited cross cultural exchanges with the Dayaks, Malays and Melanaus due to linguistic and social barriers.

 "We co-existed in the Delta, and actually we had very necessity to inter act. We were like different moons revolving around the earth in our own orbits" my mother used to say.

 In fact my grandmother Lien Tie ,born in the era of the Qing Dynasty in Fujian, China, used to say that "the Rajah was very careful to ensure that the different races were separated, the Malays worked in the town, the Ibans were kept or placed in the rural areas and the Chinese were asked to grow rice. This was similar to the Qing dynasty and the dynasties before. We Chinese were used to being classed socially as traders, scholars and servants, and even soldiers" Marriages were mainly within the classes.

She had never entered a classroom in her life, having learned only to memorize Bible verses, Chinese sayings by "listening and memorising". She was sold to my grand uncle for Five Silver Dollars as a child bride for my grandfather, many years her senior. But then she grew up to be a very wise woman in her own right.

To my cousin and many of his Foochow relatives the Terong ban as a vegetable was just a wild fruit, sourish in taste and even hard because the skin was very thick.

One day an Iban family came to my cousin's house. They wanted to barter trade with his parents who could not speak Iban or Malay. There were rather frightened because just two years previously, they had heard tales of head hunting during the Japanese war.

In order to quickly get the Iban family out of the area, his father used hand signs to wave them away. But the Ibans who also tried to communicate with sign language looked fairly ferocious to the timid farmers.

The Ibans wanted salt (garam) in exchange for the terong Iban. His father,my uncle, nodded his head and went to get a packet of white salt. Salt in those days were rough sea salt. When the Ibans saw the large packet of salt, they were very happy. and they shook hands with my uncle and left.

After the salt was passed over to them, the Ibans left the terong and the basket on the plank walk and went away as peacefully as they came. For days and weeks the whole family was terrified by the basket that was left behind. Perhaps they did not know how much the Iban family had appreciated the salt packet.

My uncle was dumbfunded because there was so much terong in the basket!! He did not know what to do with the terong. My aunt , according to my cousin, did not cook the terong but instead gave the terong to the pigs , ducks and chickens to eat.

Soon many terong plants grew near the pig sties. And more and more terong Iban could be seen. No one harvested the fruits.

But my cousin remembers until today that when a fruit was unknown to a people it was fairly worthless, but worth a packet of rough salt only.

Today,more than 60 years later, with inflation and better knowledge, he has to pay through the nose for a kilo of terong Iban.

The Chinese have learned to eat terong Iban because restaurants and celebrity chefs have promoted the vegetable. Malaysian Food Festivals, cross cultural exchanges and Inter marraiges have also given the vegetable more publicity.

Terong Iban has been sold in Harrods in London, served during Open Days at Universities and embassies for example,all over the world as a special Borneon Delicacy/

But more importantly at home in Sarawak more people from different racial backgrounds are planting Terong Iban in their own backyard alongside kangkong, ensabi, mustard greens and tomoatoes (Terong Orang Putih or Ang Moh Gior)

But I am quite sure that my grandmother would love the soup that I make from Terong Iban. My cousin agrees with me too. 

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