Dabai is a seasonal fruit that if I’m not mistaken, is native to Central Sarawak and is something that Sibu town is noted for (even though the fruit may come from towns upriver like Song or Kapit). When I was younger, it used to be available around year end only but these days with the global climatic changes, we may get it a few times in a year.
Discerning dabai consumers will be very picky when buying the fruit. There are some very cheap ones going for a song while the good ones may cost up to RM20.00 a kilo. The prices will fluctuate according to the supply, so when there is a deluge in the market, it may be cheaper but the good ones may still linger around RM10 a kilo or more. Good dabai will usually have thick yellow flesh, thin skin and a very rich taste (lemak) owing to the high fat/oil content.
Somebody in his blog said that to cook it, you pour boiling water in it. That is definitely grossly incorrect. You do not boil it in water either for it would only become harder than ever. The fruit is soaked in warm water until it softens. The water must not be too hot or it will cook too fast and become too soft and the taste may be a bit sourish. Once the dabai is ready, you can add salt to it or alternatively, a bit of soy sauce and a sprinkling of sugar. Others may dip it in bottled fish sauce or the salty brine from buduk aur (fermented salted fish).
Some people preserve dabai by soaking them in salt water but I do not fancy that at all. Other than that, the seeds are in fact edible as well…
You keep the seeds and after you have had a fair amount, you boil them in water for a while and then you drain away the water. After that, you have to cut the seeds open and that is the difficult part. My mother (and for that matter, my grandma and aunties) would hold each seed between her thumb and forefinger and chop the seeds open using a meat cleaver on a wooden chopping block. That, of course, is no easy feat as you will need to be pretty good at the skill or you may be in danger of losing either your thumb or finger.
Well, all is not lost. I love eating the kernels and where there is a will, there is a way. What I would do is to take a plastic chopping board and place the seed in the hole for the handle. A bit of the seed will be higher than the level of the board so when you bring down the cleaver, it will split the shell of the seed open without cutting it completely into halves. I usually put a towel or something underneath so that it will not be so slippery and the seeds will not fly all over the place…and the counter will not end up defaced or damaged.
The kernel inside is oval-shaped with a brown-coloured skin, looking something like hazel nuts. You remove the skin and you will find the edible part that is light green in colour and tastes something like pistachios.
They are very nice, no doubt about it…but cutting the seeds open can be be a chore, as well as a challenge. If only somebody will invent something like a nutcracker to split open dabai seeds. It certainly is a hard nut to crack! LOL!!!