Dabai is the Malay name for the fruit of Canarium odontophyllum, a tree native to lowland forests on the island of Borneo. It is most commonly found in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. The tree grows to height of 30 meters meters or more and has large pinnately compound leaves with pointed, oblong leaflets. The fruit is an ovoid drup 3-4 centimeters long and 2 cm in diameter. Fruiting occurs between October and January.
Dabai’s glossy, dark purple skin looks similar to that of an olive, but dabai fruits have a distinctive circular yellow scar at the point where they were attached to the stem. The yellow flesh and purple skin are eaten after the fruit is soaked in hot water—some prefer to discard the skin or peel it partially, to give the fruit a yellow-and-purple striped appearance. When eaten raw, dabai is very astringent; when soaked, it tastes of avocado. After (or, sometimes, during) soaking, dabai is seasoned with sugar, salt, or soy sauce and then eaten plain or added to dishes like nasi goreng (fried rice).
Rarely eaten outside of Sarawak, dabai is revered by locals due to its density of amino acids, unsaturated fats, antioxidants, calcium, and iron. The fruit is a specialty of the city of Sibu, giving it the nickname “Sibu olive.” The fruits are highly perishable but can be pickled or made into dabai paste for long-term storage. The best place to find fresh dabai and dabai paste is at Sibu’s central market. Dabai is not endangered, but is underutilized and should be promoted due to its health benefits and its many potential applications in the creation of value-added local products.