From the Garden: Eating well with the jungle herbs of Pulau Ubin

Madam Samsiah collects over 30 jungle herbs and leaves around her grandparents’ house in Pulau Ubin to make Nasi Ulam, a traditional Malay herb rice salad.

SINGAPORE - As a child, Madam Samsiah Abdullah did not enjoy eating vegetables.

"I found the taste odd," the 61-year-old retired policewoman admitted.

Yet Madam Samsiah's grandmother found a way to get vegetables into her granddaughter's diet. She would gather around 30 jungle herbs found near their family home on Pulau Ubin and mix them with steamed rice to make nasi ulam.

The family would usually enjoy the dish with sambal, salted egg, belinjau crackers, and fried kembung (mackerel).

"My grandfather used to blast granite during the day. At night, he was a fisherman. When I come back from school, there will be nasi ulam and kembung fish on the table."

Madam Samsiah was raised by her grandparents in Pulau Ubin after her parents were posted to Malaysia for work. After Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965, Madam Samsiah and her siblings returned to mainland Singapore for their education.

Now Madam Samsiah and her sister, Madam Kamariah Abdullah, head back to their grandparents' house at least once a month. Their century-old traditional Malay wooden house is located at Kampung Durian, one of the last Malay villages on the island.

 
 
 

The sisters occasionally open their grandparents' house to visitors for walking tours organised by the National Parks Board and private cooking classes.

Madam Samsiah likes to share about the jungle botanicals used in Malay cooking to enhance the dish's flavours and to promote good health.

"In the kampung, we don't have medicine or supplements, so these herbs act as our supplements."

Madam Samsiah unveils the secrets of using jungle herbs in the third episode of From the Garden, a video series that gathers stories from people who grew up learning how to grow their own food.