Banana trees can be easily grown in the compounds of tropical areas and gives a lot of benefit to the community.
In countries such as Malaysia, India and Indonesia, banana trees are common in the culture of people and can be seen as ubiquitous in the community.
Especially the leaf of the banana tree. The leaves are large, flexible, waterproof, rich in fiber and enzymes.
According to an article titled “Leaves as dining plates, food wraps and food packing material: Importance of renewable resources in Indian culture ”, banana leaves also have the property of antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal.
The article also mentioned, the leaves can be used in treating skin problems and as a dressing material.
In addition, banana leaves have a contribution in food, especially as a food wrapper.
Banana leaves are used to protect the food inside.
This is a natural way to prevent food from deteriorating but at the same time easy to store and carry.
As time goes by, it assimilates and becomes part of people’s daily life according to local culture.
Wrapping is a piece of art as a representation of the identity and culture of the food.
As banana leaves being versatile has caught my attention to learn about it in the Malay and Indian culture.
Is part of Malay culture
Banana leaves have been used in Malay culture for daily and special occasions for many years.
For daily usage, we used banana leaves to wrap food such as kuih, rice and tempeh.
Kuih such as Kuih Koci, Lepat Pisang, Kuih Nagasari and Tepung Bungkus is wrapped using banana leaves before being cooked using steam method.
Other than that, Pulut Panggang made from glutinous rice with spicy coconut filling wrapped in banana leaves is then grilled or cooked on the pan.
There are a few types of kuih that use the banana leaves as containers such as Pulut Inti and Tepung Pelita.
All the kuih that had been mentioned used banana leaves hava a fragrance smell in them.
It is also aesthetically pleasing to look at when we arrange the green leaves in a stall or on top of a counter for a buffet.
In a hotel buffet for example, they used banana leaves to beautify their selection of kuih.
It also gives an element of nature to the food.
The Malaysian all-time favorite rice, nasi lemak, is traditionally wrapped using banana leaves.
However, not many who sell nasi lemak are using it solely nowadays.
They incorporate banana leaves as lining to place nasi lemak wrapped in brown hawker paper.
Besides that, food such as tempeh or also known as fermented soybeans have been wrapped in teak leaves (daun jati) before this, until decades ago, it was wrapped in banana leaves to maintain freshness.
We also baked fish using banana leaves.
The leaf is used as wrappers for fish to protect from a direct flame in order to preserve the juiciness of the fish and enhance the flavor of the food.
For the special occasions
Among the Malays, banana leaves are also used as lining for pulut kuning or glutinous rice cooked using turmeric.
The banana leaves are cut in a zig-zag manner on the edge and placed as the lining of pulut kuning.
Before it is served to the guests, they will add rendang, curry, cucumber and hard-boiled eggs.
The presence of the pulut kuning with banana leaves is synonymous in the Malay culture such as berlenggang perut, cukur jambul and berkhatan.
The tradition of cukur jambul is to celebrate a newborn and berkhatan is a circumcised ceremony for a boy who had reached puberty in Islamic beliefs.
This practice has been in place for many years and nowadays, pulut kuning is also popular as one of the meals for a birthday party.
Pulut kuning to replace birthday cake in the centre of the food table.
For some, they give away packs of pulut kuning to friends and colleagues to celebrate happy occasions such as getting a pay rise, new born baby or recovered from illness.
In Indian Culture
In Indian culture, banana leaves have been used during festivals, family functions, weddings, traditional feasts and religious occasions.
They use banana leaves as a plate to eat rice.
They usually will sit on the floor while the rice is served on the banana leaves.
This is a traditional way of eating during special occasions such as wedding ceremonies.
As the shape of the banana leaves is quite big, it is enough to accommodate rice, side dishes and dessert on top of the leaves.
In addition, disposed banana leaves can be given to cows and buffalos.
The banana leaf meals are eaten by hand and traditionally only the right hand is being used.
In the etiquette of eating a banana leaf meal, there are a few protocols that must be followed.
After the meal, the guests fold the banana leaf towards them as a sign of gratitude to the host.
You cannot crumple the banana leaf as it may show a sign of dissatisfaction with eating the food and the host might be upset about that.
Pothichoru a rice parcel
This is a home-cooked meal that is packed in slightly smoked banana leaves.
It usually consists of rice, vegetables stir-fried with spices, curry, pickles, omelet and fried fish.
Usually, the mother or wife will pack food for their family members before they travel for a long distance.
In the good old days, it was a traditional practice of carrying pothichoru to schools, colleges and offices.
At that time tiffin boxes or lunch boxes were not so popular.
Besides that, they also packed parotta, either chicken or mutton curry in banana leaves as part of practice in restaurants in some parts of India.
With people’s creativity, banana leaves make food more fragrance and taste better.
It also helps the environment from pollution as the disposable banana leaves return to the earth as a compose substance.
As much as banana leaves are good for wrapping, it is also in demand for food display, especially during Ramadan.