The daun kaduk is endemic to the tropical regions. It grows, uncultivated, usually by the fence beside drains and small plots of open land in urban areas. In the suburbs and rural area it grows everywhere. It thrives well under a little shade and plenty of moisture. Its scientific name is piper sarmentosum, and is of the pepper family which includes pepper used for cooking and the Indian betel leaf. Among others, it is known as betel leaf in English and sua lau hiok (wild betel leaf) in Chinese.
Daun kaduk soup
This versatile vine grows plentiful, is neglected and overlooked most of the time. However, those who know treasure it as a vital ingredient in their kitchen recipes. The daun kaduk has a unique pungent flavour which makes it irreplaceable. Mum used to pluck the younger leaves to make soup. She would stir fry dried prawns with garlic, then add water, daun kaduk and beat an egg into the soup. It was a simple recipe but one which I would long for every now and then. Other more elaborate recipes where the daun kaduk is an important component are the perut ikan, nasi ulam and otak otak. These are all Nyonya recipes.
The perut ikan is a curry of shredded leaves of kaduk, cekur, kafir lime, tumeric and kesum being its main ingredients and cooked with salted fish stomach. Literally translated, perut ikan means fish stomach, hence its name. I used to like this spicy and sourish fare. It is appetising and I could eat two servings of rice in one meal with just the perut ikan. Lately, my stomach does not agree too much with sour food and I have to cut down eating on them. At the same time, since Mum passed away and this recipe entails a lot of work in shopping for the ingredients, some of which are difficult to obtain, and the shredding of the leaves, I have not had a decent taste of good perut ikan for a long time.
When Wuan came last week, she brought two bagfuls of daun kaduk that she plucked from her garden. We decided to make nasi ulam with it. We asked our neighbour Mr. Tan who is adept at Nyonya cooking to be the chef for the day. Nasi ulam is a rice salad. The same type of leaves used for perut ikan are shredded and stirred in and mixed with the cooked rice and eaten raw. Salted fish, dried prawns, sambal, tumeric and kerisik are added to complete the recipe. It was simply delicious.
I am lucky that I have Wuan and neighbours who enjoy the same type of food as I. Whenever I miss Mum’s food, I would just tell them and voila! Although it will never taste quite as scrumptious as when Mum’s cooked it, it does appease my craving somewhat.