The Lontar Palm

On the road going south from Parepare to Makassar in South Sulawesi, I saw roadside stalls selling a kind of fruit that's new to me and I stopped to investigate. For sale, beside these apple-sized fruits are bottles of a clear whitish liquid.

It's the fruit of the palm known locally as Tala, or Lontar in Bahasa Indonesia. Botanically it's Borassus flabellifer, in English - the Asian Palmyra Palm, Toddy Palm or simply Sugar Palm. Like the coconut the fruits, florescence, leaves, wood and all parts of this palm are utilized by man.

The inside of the fruit contains an edible jelly-like flesh that taste like young coconut, and like the coconut the sugary sap (nira) obtained from the florescence can be drunk fresh - tastes like soda or Sprite to me - or can be fermented into a potent beverage called arak or toddy. It can also be cooked to make sugar called Gula Jawa widely used in Indonesian cuisine. In the Moslem regions of Indonesia nira is sold fresh in mineral water bottles when it is still sweet and before alcohol has formed.

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