In the lush landscapes of Borneo, lies a hidden gem of culinary delight – Tepong Asam, also known as Terung Dayak. This indigenous vegetable has long been cherished as a secret recipe among the people of Sarawak and others throughout the region, passed down through generations. With its rich history and unique flavours, Tepong Asam has earned its place as a traditional delicacy in the region. Here are a few interesting facts that you may not know about this significant Sarawakian ingredient.
What sets Terung Dayak apart is its association with special occasions and Dayak weddings. It has become one of the favourite dishes among Sarawakians and proudly represents Sarawak’s renowned cuisine. Sarawak is known for having many significant festivities, including Gawai Dayak, where they celebrate the vast range of unique traditional culinary delights available in the country.
Tepong Asam, with its fascinating characteristics, is identified by its medium-sized, round or oval fruit. Initially, when the fruit is young and unripe, it boasts a vibrant green hue. As it reaches maturity, the colours undergo a captivating transformation, turning into shades of yellow or orange. In some instances, the ripe fruit may even exhibit hints of deep purple, adding to its visual allure.
Tepong Asam’s uses extend beyond its culinary applications. Sarawak’s vast forest areas and the Dayak people’s traditional lifestyle have led to various local natural fruits and vegetables, including Tepong Asam, being treasured in their gastronomic culture.
Terung Dayak adds a unique flavour to dishes like Asam Pedas, which is known for its spiciness. Its pleasant sour taste makes it a popular substitute for tamarind in recipes that require a tangy element. Interestingly, only Asam Pedas Sarawak, out of all the Asam Pedas recipes in Malaysia, Thailand, and the Indian subcontinent, generally incorporates Terung Dayak as one of the souring agents for the dish, setting it apart in terms of flavour. Additionally, the young and green Terung Dayak fruit can be enjoyed raw in salads. It is worth noting that the fruit is also consumed as food in other countries, including the Philippines, China, and Bangladesh.
The benefits of Tepong Asam are not limited to its taste. The leaves of Tepong Asam have been used in traditional medicine to treat allergies, body aches, swelling, skin injuries, and headaches. Locals also use Tepong Asam as Chinese herbal medicine, employing it to effectively alleviate cough, bruises, hernias, sore throats, tooth decay, and edema.
The leaf also contains a high amount of total phenolic content and antioxidants, making it a valuable resource. Extracts from the leaf possess potent antioxidant properties and can inhibit intracellular tyrosinase activity, reducing melanin content. These attributes make Tepong Asam leaf extract a potential ingredient in skin whitening products.
The future looks promising for Tepong Asam. Dr. Alvin Chai, the director of the Agriculture Department Sarawak, acknowledges its growth potential due to its versatility in local cuisines and its Geographical Indication (GI) status. A GI tag is granted to products that possess qualities or a reputation specific to their geographical origin.
It’s part of the handful of popular Sarawak products
Sarawak already boasts products such as ‘adan’ rice from Bario and Ba Kelalan and ‘ikan tahai’ (smoked fish) from Limbang/Lawas, both with GI tagging. Tepong Asam, with its distinctive sour taste, is beloved by locals and can be cooked as a vegetable or used as a flavouring in various dishes like local salads (‘kerabu’) and curries.