Tag Archives: tamu

Giant Fig Fruit with Big Uses

Wong couple selling fig fruit in Tamu market of Donggongon

Note: This article contains incorrect information. This fruit is not a fig. It’s a fruit under the genus Crescentia (蒲瓜), which is more related to Calabash or bottle gourd. My apology.)

Medicines are bad, herbs are good. This is how most Sabahans view drugs. It’s always a bitter feeling to bring home a lot of colorful candies (pills) from the clinic. Sabahans describe western medicines as a powerful but “toxic” remedy, and you can often hear us say, “It’s too ‘chemical’ and has side effects!”

small fig fruits on tree

Fig fruit is normally very small

That’s why we prefer herbs as it’s more natural and gentle (true in most cases, but not absolutely). In old days, local people have been using plant to heal various type of diseases. Some scientists even say our rainforest is the biggest pharmacy in the world.

monkey picking fig fruit

Fig fruit is a very important food source for wildlife of Borneo

Two months ago, I was intrigued by a photo taken by my friend in tamu (local weekly alfresco market) of Donggongon town. It is a huge fig fruit as big as a cannon ball!

Known as Buah Maja locally, fig tree is everywhere in Sabah. It is so common that Quentin Phillipps, the author of the book Phillipps’ Guide to the Mammals of Borneo and Their Ecology, says in Borneo, you are rarely more than 100 Meters away from a fig. Fig is the fruit of life in rainforest, and it’s an important food source for Borneo wildlife.

Fig fruit for sale

Fig fruit for sale

Though I’ve seen dozens of fig fruit species, most of them are small, I never saw one that is so big. Therefore, I went to the tamu of Donggongon town, which is open in the mornings of every Thursday and Friday. It didn’t take long for me to locate the stall that sold this fig fruit. The seller, Mr. Wong is very friendly and eager to introduce this amazing fruit to me.

I was surprised to learn that this fig fruit is consumed as herb rather than fruit. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Though Sabah doesn’t have apple, this giant-green-apple-looking fig fruit probably can offer the same health benefits.

fig fruit almost as big as a soccer ball

This fig fruit species is almost as big as a soccer ball

According to Mrs Wong, the wife of seller, she discovered this fruit in Lido and paid RM20 for it. At first her husband scold her for paying too much. Due to high Cholesterol level, she used to wake up with a dizzy head in the morning. After she drank the juice of this fruit, miracle happened. This discomfort vanished.

Therefore, her husband also becomes an advocate of this fig fruit. He plants and sells the fruits and juice. Based on what I found online, figs are high in fiber and a good source of magnesium, manganese, calcium, copper and potassium (which helps lower blood pressure), as well as vitamins, especially K and B6.

Other alleged benefits include detoxification and the ability to cure asthma, hemorrhoid, thyroiditis, minor kidney problem, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, constipation, fever, cough, etc. (I would strongly recommend you to see a doctor if you are sick). Anyway, the nutrition composition may vary among different fig species. Not all figs are edible.

Fig tree with big fruits

Fig tree with low hanging big fruits

The good thing is – herb is relatively safe to experiment for people who are looking for alternative treatment for ailments and hard-to-cure diseases. This fig juice can be taken as a traditional tonic too.

Mr. Wong sells the fig fruit for RM5-10 each. You can boil its pulp with water for 3 hours until the juice turns dark. If you are too busy to do this, you can buy the juice from him for only RM3 per bottle (which is boiled with other herbs too). You can drink the juice like water. However, it’s not an instant fix that can heal everything overnight, so you need to try it for some time.

Mr. Wong sells fig fruit juice for RM3 per bottle (500ml)

Mr. Wong sells fig fruit juice for RM3 per bottle (500ml)

If you want to plant this fig, the seedling is sold for RM20. It takes 3 years to mature, and it fruits throughout the year, so you will have so many fruits that you can even sell or share with others.

Seedling of fig tree

Seedling of fig tree

Everyone wants to be healthy. Selling multivitamin supplement makes nutraceutical firms laugh all the way to the bank. The fact is – these synthetic and unnatural forms of vitamin can’t be used by the body in the same way as natural versions, and it could do more harm than good, according to the Organic Consumers Association.

Fig fruit herb juice for sale

Fig fruit herb juice for sale

Most man-made vitamins are simply a waste of money. I used to take heavy daily dose of Vitamin C for months, but it did nothing more than turning my urine into yellow. After I get real Vitamin C by eating fruits, I see positive changes in less than a week. Some might argue that I should pay higher price to get Vitamin pills of better quality. Well, why not spending that money to buy real and natural food?

The expensive solution is not always the best solution. Pharmaceutical companies and some doctors love clients to buy medicines, so they can make profit. Therefore, they like to label folk prescription with the magic phrase “not scientifically proven”, rather than saying “I don’t know because our institution is too poor to fund a research. But I can’t say that it might work because I won’t make any money. Besides, I’m so afraid that you would sue me if anything doesn’t go well.”

Fig fruit (Buah Maja)

Fig fruit is known as Buah Maja in Malay language

For example, Tongkat Ali could be a great alternative to the expensive blue “V” pill and needs no doctor recommendation. Soursop is an excellent agent to fight cancer better than radiotherapy, which is infamous for its nasty side effects.

Ok, back to the fig fruit. I’m a very curious person, so I can’t stop without looking what is inside this big fruit. I bought one home to dissect it in the kitchen.

This fruit has very hard and smooth skin, so be careful with your knife. For my mom, it’s an easy task to cut it into half. The skin is thin and hard, like an eggshell.

white flesh of fig fruit

The flesh of this fig fruit is sweet and sour, with weird taste like medicine.

I can smell a very fresh and fruity aroma when it is open. The flesh is marshy and soft, with scattered brown seeds. I tasted its pulp. It’s sweet with a bit of sour that smells like herb. Frankly it isn’t yummy, which is logic, because things with medical properties never taste great.

marshy flesh of fig fruit

The flesh of fig fruit is marshy

This fig is just one of the treasures in Borneo. We should read the story below:
The U.S. National Cancer Institute funded a 1987 plant collection expedition on the island of Borneo in the Malaysian State of Sarawak. Among the samples obtained were those from the tree Calophyllum lanigerum var austrocoriaceum, an incredibly rare species. When extracts of this plant were discovered to show good antiviral activity toward the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), researchers returned to the site of the original collection to find that the tree was gone, cut down for firewood or building purposes. (Source: Rainforest Trust News)

fig fruit cut into half

The flesh of fig fruit has very pleasing fresh aroma

You see. A precious plant that might hold the key to cure AIDS was used as firewood or building materials! We really need to carry out more studies to uncover more secret formula in our plant to battle illness.

Photos taken in Donggongon, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

Tamu (Weekly Open-air Native Market) of Sikuati town

Sikuati Tamu (Open-Air Market)

If you live in a developed country, open-air native market may have gone “extinct” and replaced by air-conditioned supermarkets. If you on the way to the Tip of Borneo of Sabah in Sunday morning, you may drop by the tamu (weekly open-air market) in Sikuati, a small town about 21 KM before Kudat town. The tamu market of Sikuati is open from 7am to 12pm on every Sunday.

Tamu as a gathering place

Tamu is also a gathering spot for locals to mingle around

Tamu of Sikuati

Tamu was started as bartering trade area in the past

Sikuati (GPS: 6.891364, 116.712713, see Location Map or Street View) is a very small town in northern district with only a few shoplots. In normal days you won’t see many people around here, but it turns into a busy alfresco market on Sunday.

Local fruits and vegetables for sale in Tamu

Local fruits and vegetables for sale in Tamu

The tamu of Sikuati is similar to other tamu in Sabah, which sells almost EVERYTHING. Anyway, most of the items sold here are local produces from villagers, who are mainly farmers and fishermen, so you will see a myriad of freshly harvested fruits, vegetables and seafood in tamu.

Sikuati tamu

Sikuati is a small town about 18 KM away from Kudat

To locals like me, tamu is just an ordinary thing. For foreigners, they might enjoy exploring a local market which is so different from their hometown. “Hey, why common things like apple and broccoli aren’t being sold here?” they might think. Well, enjoy your Wander and Wonder tour in tamu, Tourist. This is Sabah.

Tamu (Alfresco or Open-air Market)

Tamu means “Temu” (Meeting in Malay language)

I was probably the only “tourist” in this tamu during my visit (everyone was looking at me and smile). As this tamu is purely for local shoppers, it’s unlikely that you find souvenir and the tacky “I Love Sabah” T-shirt there lol. I like that it’s not so commercialized and touristy though.

Variety of fresh seafood

Variety of fresh seafood

Nevertheless, many Rungus people live in Sikuati. They are expert in weaving beaded work and handicraft. You can get some beautiful bead necklace and handicraft at very good price in Sikuati tamu. In fact, many vendors buy from them, then double or triple the prices in souvenir shops in city.

shop for breakfast and food in tamu

Tamu is a great place to shop for breakfast and food

You also can shop for other items such as meats, seafood, salted & dried fishes, snacks, clothing, toys, flowers, household items and even machetes in tamu. However, Sikuati Tamu is relatively smaller so the variety of goods is limited. For example, I was looking for montokou (a local wine) but the seller wasn’t around that day.

Local seafood in tamu

You wouldn’t know some stuffs are edible until you visit a Tamu market

By the way, tamu is also a good place to sample local food. Many local snacks are packed or wrapped nicely in plastic, so you can buy some home to try. Keep an open mind and be a bit more adventurous. Go try eating some fruits unknown to you, like tampoi and liposu. You can find wild durian if you visit in fruiting season.

Lambis lambis (Spider Conch) and seaweed for sale

Lambis lambis (Spider Conch) and seaweed for sale

Edible Seaweed (Sea Grapes)

Edible Seaweed (Sea Grapes)

Sometimes I can learn something new in tamu, for example, what stuffs are edible. I first discover one of my favourite food, a type of seaweed named sea grapes in tamu. Squeeze a bit of lime juice on it and eat it raw, so yummy. It’s only RM1 or RM2 (≈USD0.25-0.50) per bag.

Smelly salted dried fish

Smelly salted dried fish

The weekly tamu turns Sikuati into a bustling town

The weekly tamu turns Sikuati into a bustling town

In the past, I could find “exotic” meats and pets in tamu. Yeah, tamu was used to be the best place to buy wild boar and deer meats. Sometimes they would sell slow loris, pangolin and rare birds (Hell if I know people bought them as food or pet). Now Sabah Wildlife Department is very serious in banning game meats, so the only “wild food” allowed in tamu now is wild bee honey I guess.

Dried shrimps and fishes are commonly sold in tamu

Dried shrimps and fishes are commonly sold in tamu

The products sold in tamu is cheaper than supermarket, because there is no middleman, and the villagers also don’t bear any overhead to run a store or customer service department. They just take their stuffs to tamu, and lay everything on the floor to sell. A booth is not even required. Such market won’t be permitted in modern cities, where everything has to be “proper and licensed” or the city council will fine them.

Telescope Creeper Shells

Telescope Creeper Shells, probably from mangrove mudflat nearby

Not only that, we can buy “duty free” cigarette and wine in tamu. Just kidding. Actually these are homemade tobacco rolls (known as Sigup locally) and rice wine such as Lihing.

Live abalone for sale

Live abalone for sale

OMG the live abalone is only sold for RM20 (≈USD5) per kilo here! Cheap isn’t it? It’s a win-win, the buyers save some money and the sellers earn some side income.

flesh of mussels

Guess what it is. (Answer: flesh of mussels)

However, you must always bargain in tamu. The shopkeeper would give you an eye-roll if you ask for a discount in shopping mall, but you are expected to haggle in tamu. You know the trick. Stick to a reasonable counter offer, pretend to leave then the seller would say, “Ok ok I’ll take that!” to close the deal.

The seafood is from local fishermen

The seafood is from local fishermen

“Everyone lives by selling something.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Tip: always bargain in tamu market

Tip: always bargain in tamu market

During the old days when there was no Internet and newspapers, tamu is also a meeting point for socializing and information exchange among people from different villages. My late grandmother was used to be a hawker in tamu. I don’t think she made a good profit by selling used clothing, but she insisted to go to tamu every week. To old folks, tamu is already part of their lives.

Photos taken in Sikuati, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo