The Banda Islands were once renowned for being the only source of nutmeg back in the 1600’s and were a commodity worth their weight in gold. Indeed the Dutch, British and Portuguese did their best to monopolise the trade here in the Bandas and many lives were lost as a result.
The spices don’t hold the same importance for the islands now, but there is still a strong trade, and nutmeg, mace, cinnamon and cloves are found everywhere – in the forests, drying on plastic tarpaulins in the street and as products in the market.
We did a day trip over to Pulau Banda Besar (Big Banda island) to visit some of the old original plantations and to see how they were grown and harvested. But the nutmeg trees are readily found on all the islands in the Banda group of islands.
The one thing that I never realised was that mace also came from the nutmeg plant. Mace is the red lacy coating that wraps around the nutmeg; once dried it’s ground into the powder as we know it.
The other interesting thing about nutmeg is that there is a soft fruit that wraps around the nutmeg – maybe with the texture of a hard apricot. This is usually discarded although they do make a dried fruit out of it for the tourists – and it’s quite tasty when coated with powdered sugar.
Kenari trees are also a unique feature of this area. These trees with their elaborate bases grow tall and provide shade for the nutmeg trees. Not only are the trees interesting to look at, but the nuts are a nice treat, too.
Kenari Sauce (recipe)
One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed in the Bandas are Kenari nuts. These come in a hard shell, usually 2-3 nuts in a shell, have the texture of pinenuts and the taste of a mild almond. Indeed, they are also referred to as the ‘tropical almond’.
The raw nut makes a nice snack, but we also like the kenari nut bars (chopped kenari nuts mixed with palm sugar) which are pretty tasty too. But the most enjoyable of all is the Maluku speciality of Kenari sauce. It’s a paste made from the Kenari nut and poured on grilled eggplant, fish and even as a salad dressing.
I’ve tried a few different variations if the sauce and they are all slightly different. And, of course, no one measures! After a search online and combined with what I’ve been told from local cooks, here is a recipe that should do the trick: (this one’s for you, Chris!)
- 5 chopped shallots
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 2 red chilled (de-seeded and chopped)
- 1 knob of fresh ginger (chopped)
- 1 knob of fresh galangal (a milder member of the ginger family)
- A big handful of Kenari nuts (not so easy to get outside of the Maluku islands, but could be substituted with almonds, or in my opinion, pinenuts)
Use a mortar and pestle to mix all the ingredients into a paste. Add a bit of water as necessary to get a nice creamy consistency.
Pour over grilled eggplant or fish and server. Sedaap! (Delicious!)
(Note: I see that some online recipes add turmeric which gives the paste a yellow tinge but I’ve yet to see that here. Sorry, I’ve yet to get any decent photos of food with the sauce on it. Not sure how that happened but will rectify it soon!)