Bitter maman leaves so delicious they prevented a war

Chef and restaurateur Nurilkarim Razha (left) and maman farmer Pahim Mahmud plucking maman leaves in Negri Sembilan.
Chef and restaurateur Nurilkarim Razha (left) and maman farmer Pahim Mahmud plucking maman leaves in Negri Sembilan.PHOTOS: R.AGE

NEGERI SEMBILAN (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Who would have thought the horribly bitter maman leaves would turn into a national treasure?

Definitely not the people of Gemencheh in Negeri Sembilan, when they first served the leaves to their bitter (pun intended) rivals, the Johorians.

What was meant to be a nasty prank turned into a eureka moment when, instead of clutching their throats and gagging, the Johorians ended up loving the dish so much a war was averted.

We say a eureka moment because what the people of Gemencheh realised post-prank was that if cooked gently, maman leaves are delicious – especially in a lovely rendang, now a Negeri Sembilan specialty.

“We’re the only ones who cook maman leaves in rendang,” said maman farmer Pahim Mahmud with no small amount of pride. “While maman is grown in other states like Pahang, Perak and Kuala Lumpur, the people there usually pickle it instead.”

Food aside, maman plants reportedly also cure a whole host of ailments, from rheumatism to poor digestion, as attested to by several websites and blogs.

Chef and restaurateur Nurilkarim Razha created rendang maman beef rolls accompanied by a salad drizzled with ponzu dressing in the food documentary The Local Kitchen.

But until recently, the maman plant seemed like it would remain a beloved dish to only a few communities – until Mr Pahim decided to take matters into his own hands.

“I’ve been sharing the history of maman leaves with all my customers,” he said with a smile. “A story like this shouldn’t be forgotten. People find it so interesting, they are passing it on to others. Slowly, interest is increasing.”

To ensure the legend of maman leaves is not forgotten, the Star’s R.AGE team collaborated with chef and restaurateur Nurilkarim Razha in the food documentary The Local Kitchen to explore innovative ways to use maman.

Nurilkarim put his own spin on the traditional rendang, creating rendang maman beef rolls accompanied by a “mysterious salad” (his words) drizzled with ponzu dressing.

“I had never had rendang maman before and I loved it so much, I decided to give it a little twist,” he said with a laugh.

Mr Pahim hopes The Local Kitchen feature will give maman its moment in the sun.

“I’ve been attending exhibitions like the Malaysian Agriculture, Horticulture & Agrotourism Fair, where I had a booth and cooked over 300kg of rendang maman,” he said.

Mr Pahim’s efforts are paying off – during the last Raya season, he sold 3,000kg of leaves and even sold some seeds to people who wanted to grow their own maman.

“It’s great that people are buying the seeds,” he said enthusiastically. “It means that there will be more maman plants out there – and that means maman won’t be forgotten.”