The original wild petai tree is a rather tall tree in the jungles of Sarawak. It bears flowers in a light bulb-shaped mass at the end of long stalks. Long, twisted, translucent pods emerge in a cluster of seven or eight pods, which when mature will contain petai beans.
|Photo credit : Tanny Lee, flower buds of the petai|
The flowers secrete a nectar that attracts bats and other pollinators so petai trees should be conserved in order to increase the bat population in Sarawak. In recent years the bat population has seen a very sharp decrease because too many flowering trees who provide part of the food chain for bats have been logged in a large scale.
The petai beans (Parkia javanica and Parkia singalaris) are popular beans in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and other Asean nations, including India. They are often collected by the indigenous who take great risks to climb the tall trees in order to harvest the petai beans.
Newer varieties of petai trees are cultivated today by enterprising farmers but they are not grown in large scale. The beans can be canned or sold in the frozen form. These cultivated trees are smaller and shorter.
One favourite way of serving petai is to fry them in sambal belacan. Another popular was is to add petai beans to curried prawns. The bitter taste of the beans go well with any sweet and spicy food actually.
When in season, the longhouse people will enjoy eating petai in many different ways and serve the beans to visitors very cheerfully,warning them, "tomorrow when you ease yourself, you will discover some new stinky smells."
Petai is also called smelly beans by many people.