Little Black Sheep, Jamu Air and Buah Susu

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important. – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “A Case of Identity” The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Ladies who lunch.  That’s us three, A, B and me last Friday when we visited Little Black Sheep.

Situated in Little India (35 Mayo Street), opposite a mosque. French food, cooked by Indian chef, with Indian waiter.  We were the only patrons at about 12pm, and I helped do some translation for a Chinese “debt-collector” who cannot speak English, and the Indian waiter who cannot speak Mandarin. But no free dessert for me….

The highlight of this blog entry is the Jambu Air (Water Apple) and the Buah SuSu (Passionfruit).  I’ve a few kampung trees in my terrace, jambu air, starfruit, custard apple, chiku, passionfruit, guava, lime, buah longlong. Its very satisfying to pluck a fruit from your own garden, and of course, eat it.  But my plant seller advises it makes more sense to buy the fruit from the fruit-stall.

So why grow your own fruit trees?

Or why blog?

It provides food for the soul.

Nonetheless, seeing how the chef introduced local fruits like mango and sliced jambu into a traditional dish like duck confit has inspired me to use my home-grown jambu air in salads.  Sliced thinly, I half expected to taste a radish.  While the tangy sweet-sour of the mango combines well with the crispy duck skin so it doesnt taste too dry.  Awesome combination. Humbly, chef explained it was the mango salad, whereas most French chefs in Singapore insist on the traditional way of serving duck confit, whereas Singaporeans are more adventurous in their taste buds, preferring unexpected twists in their food.

I’ve both the green and red jambu air plants in my balcony. They need full sun.  Initially quite deceived by the green of my jambu air, but its delicately sweet. Continuously fruiting, thank God.  In Taipei, the black pearl jambu is huge and unbeatably sweet, a staple in the night markets and my dad enjoyed the Taiwanese versions whenever he visited me.

But the dish that I would return for, is the passionfruit souffle, nice and puffy.  Its not hollow, so when you burst the souffle, (if there’s such a word), it doesnt collapse, and holds up very well.  Having been warned how difficult it is for a souffle to hold up since its essentially the air making it light and fluffy giving it volume, I’m impressed by how each spoonful melted in my mouth.  Its $10 per souffle – quite expensive and we shared it. This is one dessert not included in a set.

When I was young, I thought passionfruit was a Western fruit, like strawberries and cherries, which you pay “an arm and leg”. A few years ago, I learnt that the Malay name for passionfruit was buah susu. About the same time, I saw it at supermarkets, half a dozen sold for $2. Probably like the story of the kiwifruit, native to China, but hijacked by the New Zealanders, and given a fancy name. If I were to brand a fruit, passionfruit certainly ensures it will make it to the billboard than SuSu (buah means fruit in Malay). The plant world has its share of intrigue long before opium, probably around the time of the rubber seeds, but that’s for another place and time.

The passionfruit has a spongy like texture. Once you slice it open, embedded yellow seeds with juice ooze out, which you can swallow into your digestive tract (unlike the custard apple). The more wrinkled the passionfruit, the sweeter is the filling. But the pulpous shell serves as a cup, for you to dig in. Discard shell when finished.

I’ve tried propagating passionfruit from seeds successfully last year.  In this blog entry, is a photo of seedlings about 3 weeks old.  They grow into a vine-like creeper and can be invasive.  L destroyed 6 of my self-propagated passionfruit vines.

Mark Twain, once famously explained why he never read health books. “You might die of a misprint.” L consulted and got conflicting stories from the plant nursery guys, whose plant knowledge I am highly sceptical of, be they locals, Bangladeshi or Filipino.  Dark tanned skin and hours under the hot sun, doesnt mean they know their plants. We have been told stories of why our self-propagated passionfruit plants dont flower.  Mainly I think to get us to buy their plants rather than GYO (grow your own). We were told they must be grown in small pots (roots need to feel constricted to flower), then told they must be grown in big pots.

Lately, L bought a passiflora vine with beautiful flowers (shown here) from World Farm, only to find out from a different expert, that he had bought an ornamental version which doesnt fruit. But the flowers are gorgeous. I’m not complaining.  The ones who do, are those I had propagated from seeds, with 3 pronged leaves.  Thank God, we saved one.

I’ve found an interesting blog with pictures of buah susu (passionfruit) grown here in Singapore. One day I may visit them to find out the real story behind my buah susu. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy the fruit from supermarket.

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