The first time I had belimbing buluh was in a Malay coffee shop in Jasin, Melaka. It was a sambal dish with bits of belimbing buluh, and I must have had two or three helpings of rice just so I can have more of the sambal.
The next time I had it was also in Malacca, in a Chitty household. We were doing a feature on Chitty cuisine, and we got to try a shrimp and fish roe pindang with whole belimbing buluh. Again, it was the belimbing buluh that I couldn’t have enough of. There was tamarind in the pindang gravy, but it was the belimbing buluh that gives the dish a nice lift. Cooked in the gravy, the fruits have absorbed all the flavours of the dish (the sweetness of the shrimps and the richness of the coconut milk and spices). By then, its sourness has been somewhat tempered, but the belimbing buluh whets the appetite.
Belimbing buluh is also known as belimbi. It looks more like a miniature cucumber than a starfruit as there are no discernible ridges. It’s green and ripens to yellow. The fruit is sour, and when cooked it becomes soft and soaks up flavours really well.
It is also salted and pickled. Pickled belimbing buluh are used as a substitute to tamarind.
The Chitty lady gave me a bag of belimbing buluh, plucked from her garden, but they all turned bad before I got around to experimenting with them.
For awhile, I had fantasies of planting my own belimbing buluh tree… never mind that I have only started now to plant some mint and daun kesum in my smallest patch of a garden.
So, I was delighted to find a belimbing buluh tree in my neighbour’s backyard. I am never home, and they never opened their back door. So, I have not gotten around to asking for their belimbing buluh. I did pick up some fruits that fell on the back lane, but they go bad real quickly.
Last week, on a trip to the Raub market, I found jeruk belimbing buluh (which won’t go bad). The cook at a makan shop taught what to do with the jeruk belimbing buluh, and I tried it on Friday. It doesn’t look pretty, but it tastes good – salty-sourish.
The instruction was to fry ikan bilis and set aside. Then, cut up some shallots and chili padi, and blend. Then, tumis the shallots and cili padi until fragrant, and add belimbing buluh and some gula melaka. Then, add the fried ikan bilis. The jeruk belimbing buluh gives a nice tang to the dish, and I found myself adding more of it after two bites.
Does anyone know where to find belimbing jeruk in Kuala Lumpur?
The recipe is below.
Ikan Bilis With Jeruk Belimbing Buluh
12 cili padi
2 tablespoons of cooking oil
3 tablespoons of jeruk belimbing buluh
2 tablespoons of gula melaka, or to taste
100g ikan bilis, deep fried
Blend the shallots and cili padi.
Heat the cooking oil, and fry the blended ingredients until fragrant.
Then, add the jeruk belimbing buluh and gula melaka
Fry over medium heat, and then add the ikan bilis.
Mix everything evenly.
Serve with rice