8 July 2011

The humble fruit that is the Balonglong

Balonglong, Kedondong, Umbra, Ambarella, Bell Fruit, Hog Plum or even Tahitian Apple. For something so small and seemingly insignificant, there sure are a whole lot of ways to call this little green fruit. After spending more than a week dressed in green for my ICT, I feel a strange and inexplicable affiliation to all things green, hence the sudden urge to write about the humble Balonglong.

2006_09_04 004 by DennisSylvesterHurd, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  DennisSylvesterHurd  
A typical balonglong tree

A omnipresent fixture in many kampongs around Singapore, the Balonglong (which is probably a mangled local mispronunciation of the words Buah, which means fruit in Malay, and Kedondong, the name for the fruit in Bahasa Indonesia), with it's magnificent bright green colour, is hard to miss.

Along with other kampong fruits such as rambutans, mangoes and jambu airs, the balonglong was one of the many targets available for kids armed with lastics (possibly a colloquial way of saying elastic as an elastic band is a key component of the lastic, essentially a homemade slingshot). Here is a brilliant guest post by Chuck on Lam Chun See's blog on how to make a good old lastic)

Uncle Dick Yip, known affectionately as Unk Dicko (http://uncledicko.blogspot.com/) among local bloggers and heritage enthusiasts, shared with me this amusing anecdote from the good old days: "In my old kampong in Geylang.. a close neighbour of ours named Albert Liew had a very big "Buah Long Long" tree in his compound. We seldom called him by his real name..all preferring to call him by his nick-name which was and still is 'buah long-long' ! He's in his early 70's today." Interesting stuff!

ASIA09-10-04 by Edgie168, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  Edgie168 
Preserved balonglong, removed from its pickling brine

The Balonglong is eaten either by itself or dipped in Hae Ko (black savoury shrimp paste). The fruit is crunchy and slightly tart, and can be consumed either unripe (green outer layer with white flesh) or ripe (yellow outer layer with yellow flesh), depending on whichever floats your boat. It is also an ingredient in Rojak and Balonglong juice - often paired with preserved plum, is sold by some enterprising juicers. Many Malaysian fruit juice hawkers also peddle it as "Umbra" juice, probably another corruption of its Dutch name - The Ambarella*. It can also be frequently found in preserved form at preserved fruit stalls along with other classic favourites such as preserved nutmeg, papaya and mango.

*The Dutch had a notable presence in Malacca and Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia - during the period of Dutch colonization, Jakarta was known as Batavia) in the past.

I'm sure many a Singaporean male would have heard the word balonglong being used at least once during their NS, albeit in a totally unrelated manner. To be balonglong in the SAF means to be arrogant, cocky or simply show nonchalance. (e.g Sentences such as "Eh you don't balonglong walk around without headdress like this is your father's camp, you know!" are not uncommon in everyday soldier banter). It is hard for me to find any relation between the small green fruit and the act of being cocky so if anyone could shed some light on this, I would be most grateful.

With the obliteration of kampongs from the face of Singapore with the exception of Kampong Buangkok, many kids growing up in our concrete jungle may not have heard of the Balonglong before. I applaud the many fruit juice stall owners islandwide for keeping our heritage alive by introducing the Balonglong fruit to our younger denizens. 

And now, since you know a little bit more about this fruit, you can afford to be a bit more "balonglong" too.

Click here for more heritage stubs like this!

Article copyright of Aaron "Six Stomachs" Chan

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  1. Nice and informative. My colleague introduced this fruit to me in the form of hawker fruit juice.. I liked it so I googled it to know what other names it is called and landed on this page. :D
    FYI- in the Philippines I think this is called "siniguelas".

  2. Drank the amplar drink in penang and its so addictive! Any idea where to find this fruit in sg?

  3. From balonglong cocky to "Yaya papaya"... Quite the evolution, no? ;-)