The Delicious Dabai Or Black Olive

For those who didn’t already know, dabai is one of the most sought after fruits when its season come every year. Like durian, dabai is available abundantly towards the end of the year. Dabai is one of the exotic fruits in Sarawak. Famously known as black olive or Sarawak olive, probably because of its resemblance to olive but technically it is not olive. It’s not even related to olive in any aspects. Its scientific name is Canarium odontophyllum and the plant is native to Sarawak, means that it can only be found in Sarawak.

Originally, dabai tree grows in the wild. When it became one of the traditional delicacies of the people in Sarawak, they started to plant it in their backyards. The dabai tree is very tall with some can reach the height of more than 20 meters. To harvest the dabai fruit, it require some skills and experience because the harvester have to climb the tree. The bark of dabai tree is smooth and can be slippery, it is a bad idea for any inexperience person to climb it.

Dabai mostly found in the central region of Sarawak with Sibu is the main city where you can find a lot of this seasonal fruit being sold in the wet market. Some people said that Sibu is the origin of Sarawak’s dabai so the best one can be bought from there. Dabai fruiting season used to be twice a year, mid year and end of the year depending on the weather. But lately it is mostly abundant during the end of the year.

The dabai fruit really does looks like olive. The shape is oblong with silky black color skin and some are a bit purple-ish when it’s ripe. The flesh inside normally yellowish in color and the seed is quite big and very pointy at both ends, shaped much like a rugby ball. The seeds is very hard. When I was a kid I used to crush the seed and eat the inner part of the seed that looks like nuts. That taste delicious too.

Typically before you can eat it, you have to soak it in hot water. Normally it will take 15 to 30 minutes for the fruit to be soft and edible. It cannot be eaten raw. Once the fruit it soft, typical way of having is to mix it with salt or soy sauce. It can also be eaten just like that especially for those who prefer its unflavored taste. It can be eaten as part of the meals or as snack.

Dabai taste almost like avocado. It is creamy, a bit buttery and the texture of the flesh is very soft and mushy. It is eaten with the skin, it doesn’t have to be peeled off. The skin add another different taste and texture to it. Some people peel off the whole flesh and skin to add it to other delicacies such as the fried rice.

Dabai can fetch quite a high price in the market especially those from the inner part of the Sarawak’s central region such as the Upper Rajang areas. Some said that the best dabai come from these areas. High quality dabai normally determined by the size (bigger the better), thickness of its flesh, its strong aroma and the texture of its flesh.

It has some nutritional benefits, the most important one is promoting the cardiovascular disease prevention. Through some facts from the studies on this fruit, it is also contain antioxidants.

People always asked why is this dabai is not being imported to other country. The biggest limitation (or flaw) this fruit has is its very short shelf life. The fruit is very delicate and easily perishable. From my experience, it can only be kept raw for a few days. It will be easily spoiled especially if it is put inside a container or exposed to high temperature. Putting and keeping it inside the refrigerator does not help as well. The only way to keep for a long time is to soak it in hot water, peel of the flesh with its skin and keep it frozen. But the downside is it will not taste the same like it was prepared and eaten fresh. Normally what I did was I pan fried it with some anchovies for a few minutes or mix it in fried rice.

It is very delicious and if you’re curious about this fruit and willing to visit Sarawak to try it, make sure you come during the end of the year, typically end of November until January. It is the season when this dabai is highly available but it is still depending on the weather condition. But by now, the season is almost over although some late harvest of the fruits is still available, it’s not much left.

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