My parents have green fingers, and thanks to them, I know a little bit more about the exotic edibles that you can find in odd nooks around Singapore. That is, if you look hard enough.
Mum grew up in rural Taiping, a sleepy town famed for its lake gardens in the north of Malaysia. She spent her childhood out and about, eating wild berries and fruit from the tropical rainforests while looking for firewood. She used to tell me that one of the highlights of her youth was to climb up her neighbour’s Mangosteen trees. There she would sit on their branches and devour dozens of luscious, juicy white sections of that queen of fruits, straight from the trees.
Her father managed a durian plantation too, and to this day, nothing brings mum more pleasure than to tuck into a durian or two.
Through mum, I know a bit more about the fruit that grows wild in little corners of rabidly urban Singapore. I have passed these on to le kids too, so that a bit of rural rubs off on my city slickers.
Buah Susu (Milk Fruit translated directly from Malay, don’t ask me why)
While out on after-dinner walks with the family around our estate in Singapore, I watched and learned as mum paused by a weedy fence to gather Buah Susu, a tinier cousin of the passion fruit. The bright yellow balls that are slightly larger than marbles are shrouded by delicate green mists of netting. I remember them to be sticky and death to insects, but mum would brush them off for me, breaking open the yellow shell to reveal a burst of piquant, sweet seeds. Sucking them straight from the shell, the juice and seeds would melt in the mouth in a tiny, but delectable riot of sweet and sour.
If you ask me, I’d say that these little Buah Susu balls put the passion fruit, its bigger, more sour, cousin to shame.
Dwarf or Miniature Holly (Singapore Holly)
Another plant mum pointed out to me was the Dwarf Holly. These used to grow wild around my estate and were a great favourite with the birds. Like its temperate cousins, the leaves are thick and slightly prickly, but the tiny red fruit was a source of fun for me and my sisters. They were tiny berries and not so easily visible, so it was always a minor triumph to find one. The berry is tiny and mostly seed, encased by a sliver of flesh. It’s not the greatest in terms of taste but hunting for the berries is a game in itself.
Even now, my kids hunt through the Dwarf Holly in grandma’s garden whenever they drop by, just for the pleasure of popping those elusive red beads in their mouths.
Rose Apple, the Fragrant Fruit
When I moved to my current place in Bedok, I wondered about the tree that grew by my gate. It had white flowers that looked like foamy tutus and were hell to sweep up when they wilted, leaving behind yellowish-green fruit that grew in clusters and looked a bit like the Guava. An elderly neighbour passing by told me that it was a Rose Apple tree and encouraged me to try one.
My goodness, I was eating roses!
The flesh is not particularly juicy but the fragrance is astounding. Subtle, aromatic, I would challenge perfumers to create a blend as complex and delightful.
The hot weather has been awful, but it has also forced the plants in my garden to flower and fruit in abundance. The Belimbing Wuluh, Banana, and Starfruit are all going gangbusters. So while I pray for the rains to come, I also count my blessings that perhaps I may have somewhat green fingers after all.