Sunday, 26 May 2013

Weekend at the betel palm island

The betel palm's correct name is actually the areca palm. In Malay it is called pokok pinang. It is often called the betel tree because the plant produces a fruit, the areca nut, that is often chewed along with the betel leaf. The betel plant is a type of vine whose leaves are thought to have medicinal properties. In Malay it is known as daun sireh.

Not many people that I know of, chew betel leaves nowadays. My late maternal grandmother was one of them. I must've been around five or six-years old when I first watched her go through the ritual of this amazing habit. She had this small brass basket that held four tiny cups with covers plus a small shear-like implement called a kacip. The kacip is used to cut the areca nut (pinang) into small strips and also to shave off some slices of gambier. She would take a clean betel leaf, dip her finger into a can containing lime-chalk (kapur), and smear the chalk onto the surface of the leaf. She then sprinkles some pinang and gambier onto the leaf, fold it up maybe three or four times before popping the thing into her mouth and start chewing happily. Sometimes tobacco is added into the mix but I'm not entirely sure. After a few minutes of blissful chewing, she would work out a glob of grossly-coloured saliva which she spits into this special container with careless ease... a remarkable woman, my late grandmother. May the Almighty bless her soul.

Anyway, this post is about our trip to the island named after the areca palm, Pulau Pinang. Apart from lending its name to an island, the pinang fruit also feature in a well-known Malay proverb, `Bagai pinang dibelah dua', a metaphor used to describe a very nice, if not perfect, match of two persons. The phrase is commonly used as a polite compliment to a newly-wed couple at their wedding ceremony.

Pinang, as a word on its own, also carries the meaning of seeking the hand of someone's daughter for marriage. And I guess this ties in nicely with the objective of our travel to Penang in the first place.

Two weeks ago, we traveled north for the engagement ceremony of our eldest son to a sweet young lass from Balik Pulau. The formal pinangan process had actually been carried out three months ago and was hinted in an earlier post here -> A taste of nasi lemuni in Pulau Pinang.

It was a very small representation from our side because both parties agreed to make it a simple and brief affair. Alhamdulillah, things went smoothly and we hope the wedding, planned for September this year, would be without any hitches as well, insyaAllah.

Tepak sireh, the traditional symbol of gift in Malay engagements and weddings
The engagement ring and tanda hantaran (folded RM notes)
A simple assortment of gifts from our side
The future mother-in-law slipping on the ring on the future daughter-in-law's finger


Al-Manar said...

I enjoy reading your description of makan sirih. My memory oof that ritual is still fresh. Even today one can go to out famous KT market to buy what we call a set of 'tapak sirih' what you call the'brass basket'. You miss 'gobek', a brass cylindrical tube implement, open at one end for a piston like brass rod to be pushed in and out (called bergobek) to crush the sirih and all to a pulp for those having lost their teeth to crunch!

Please also remember 'tapah sirih set', complete with sirih and all, used to be part of the 'hantaran'. So you'd better come to KT to buy a set before being embarrassed. I am not surprised 'bertunang' has something to do with bringing 'buah pinang'. So 'meminang' is not complete without that set!

Oldstock said...

Salam Pakcik,

As I wrote that description about my gradmother's habit of makan sireh, I had a feeling I was missing something but I could not pin down what it was. Thanks for mentioning the gobek part of the process.

I do have plans to make a trip to Trengganu to shop for some items before the wedding but time is a bit constrained. I also read somewhere that Kedai Payang is in process of redevelopment. I'll drop you a line if I do manage to make that trip.

M ws said...

Hi there

Happy to hear you are in my neck of the woods but even happier to read such a well-written post.

Do let me know if I can get a chance to meet you the next time you are up north.

Wishing you and your family nothing but the best.


Oldstock said...

Hi there Paula,

It's twice to Penang already for me this year. Would love to be able to look you up and have coffee together. Hopefully if I can have some free time at my next trip, I'll drop you a line. Wishing the best for you too...

mamasita said...

Congrats, soon you'll be a father-in-law eh?
I am so delighted for you and Mrs Oldstock..Alhamdulillah.

You know the feeling..absolutely thrilled and happy kan?

We are so proud that our children are going to have their own families kan?

And then, before we know it, we'll be like the Raya advert..old folks jumping with joy when our children and grandchildren all come home and hug and kiss us..^_^

Mamaboyz said...

waah mr oldstock, finally getting a daughter :)

Anonymous said...

Tuan Oldstock..
lama tak jengah disini.
tiba2 dapat berita yg u dah nak jadi Bapa Mentua.. Alhamdullillah,

Salam dari selatan semenanjung,

Oldstock said...


I wasn't expecting to be a father-in-law this early. But I guess my eldest son has found his life companion, so why delay a good thing kan?

Oldstock said...


Yes, may the young lady be the daughter we have longed for all this while, insyaAllah. Hope you are recovering well from the latest addition to your family. Congrats to you for having 4 in a row :-)

Oldstock said...

Salam Puan Miezarra,

Lamanya menghilang... nice to see you again. How's things on your side. Dah bercucu agaknya...

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog while I was searching some information on Malay culture and cuisine.Nice blog and good coverage on certain topics. Worth reading.
Salam from seberang tambak, Singapore.Dan Selamat menyambut Hari Ray Eid yang akan datang.

Oldstock said...

Salam to cooknbakejournal,

Nice to see a fellow blogger from Singapore dropping by. Sorry for this delayed response because I've been inactive for quite a while. Resumed only yesterday. Thanks for the wishes.