Stink Beans


After being unwell for such a long time, I have almost forgotten how it feels like to be in the pink. I am slowly recovering but I feel very worn-out all the time. It must be from the days that I had eaten little, fearing that if I overloaded my digestive system with heavy food, fever would set in again. I think my body is not getting enough nutrition with all the light meals I had taken for it to get well again. The fasting had not done me any good and I am beginning to have an aversion to all the bland food that I have been taking for the past weeks.

Today I decided to cook something tasty and appetising – sambal petai prawns. It was nasty too considering I should not be eating anything spicy so soon. The petai had been sitting in the fridge for a few days and it would be such a waste to throw them away if it was not cooked soon.

The one drawback with petai is that is stinks up the toilet. Its stench is akin to burning rubber and can be overpowering at times. That is why it is called stink beans by the Chinese. It is believed that if one ate petai with brinjal (eggplant, aubergine), it would cancel out the stench. It is also believed to be beneficial to diabetics and those suffering from kidney problems.

The petai tree can grow up to a height of 30 meters. With its height and brittle branches, plucking the petai can be dangerous. I have heard of people falling to their death while harvesting the pods. Considering the dangers it posed, 50 sen per pod is not that expensive a price to pay.

I am sharing the recipe below. I do not have the exact weight for the tamarind and volume of the water used. Some would prefer it more sour and less sweet, in which case, add more tamarind juice and less sugar. Anyway, cooking to me is not an exact science as different people have different perception in taste.

Sambal petai and prawns

Sambal Petai and Prawns

Ingredients for pounding:
12 shallots
4 cloves garlic
2cm section turmeric
6 stalks lemon grass, finely sliced
3 red chillies

5 tablespoons tamarind
1/2 small bowl of water

150g prawns, shelled and deveined
petai beans from 6 pods

4 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 small bowl of water

Pound the lemon grass, turmeric, chillies, shallots and garlic until fine. Heat oil and fry the pounded ingredients until fragrant. Mix the tamarind and water, sieve and add together with the bowl of water and let simmer. Add petai beans, sugar and salt. Add prawns when about ready. Remove when the prawns are cooked. Serve with rice.

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Slave to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. End-stage renal disease since 2017. Principal Facilitator at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. Former columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

17 thoughts on “Stink Beans”

  1. Sweetspirit,
    Thank you for your kind wishes. The dish may look yummy but the beans have a pungence that will turn off the uninitiated, like how you were turned off by durians.

  2. hey, just came across ur blog while browsing thru I really luv this dish…I used to have it all the time when I was back in Msia. But here (in US) it is so hard to find..I think I am going to write an entry dedicated to this dish soon in my blog hehe 😛 You have inspired me with the yummylicious-looking picture 🙂

  3. Wen Yen,
    Smelly it may be, petai has its own appeal. And because it is seasonal, it is even more prized. I cannot wait to see what you have to say about petai. A lot of young people now do not like the smell thus do not eat it. You are the exception.

  4. Wow, sambal petai is one of my favourite dishes! I love my dad’s sambal petai ikan bilis (anchovies). Your pic looks great, Peter. You have inspired me to ask my dad to cook the dish soon.

    Praying that you will get well soon and that your appetite will increase.

  5. Ariel,
    As evident in the next entry, you can see that I have more appetite now. Hopefully it will continue to improve. Thank you for your prayers.

    When your dad cooks the sambal petai ikan bilis, do not forget the aubergines to get rid of the stench afterwards. Bon appetit.

  6. Oliviasy,
    No need to drool. Some of the chap fun or mamak stalls do have this dish since petai is in season. No need to torture youself like that!

  7. wow! my favourite (well, one of it) dish! my mum cooks this now and then. i love to eat sambal prawns no matter cook with what. as the petai is more difficult to get, usually my mum cooks the sambal prawns with cucumber. nice too!

  8. Lucia,
    How wonderful to be able to enjoy nice food without lifting a finger. 😉 Try to get into the action once in a while and see how fulfilling it can be.

  9. sambal petai? hey peter i’m drooling at 12:30am!!! If there was ever one dish that I love but seldom dare to proclaim, this would be it! I love it a lot, but due to the prejudice some people have against it, and also the ‘fragrance’ it leaves in the toilet, sometimes it’s better not to tell ‘not so close’ friends that you like it, just in case when the toilet stinks, everybody looks at you even though you haven’t touched petai for weeks… hehe… just joking, though. Well, it’s thrilling to find people who share the same favourite dish like sambal petai. Don’t you think so?

  10. Madeline,
    It takes a few days after the last petai meal to clear the smell from the system. Eating it is an enjoyment but having the toilet smelling of it for the next few days is a torture. Yes, it is thrilling indeed to find people sharing the same favourite dish that others would not want to have anything to do with. Here’s to petai!

  11. Zaki,
    One man’s treasure is another man’s stench. I like eating petais but not how my toilet smells afterwards.

  12. Peter,
    Just found this on Google’s image search on the word Petai. Been living in Australia 15 years and Hong Kong 10 years and cannot get enough of Petai in those countries.
    So I asked a friend to cook some for me. He cooked 3 kilos! I have it in my freezer, taking a little out each time. I know it might not be as good after freezing but boy, it sures tastes good. Take care,

  13. would someone shed some light here please? I searched the web on “Petai” for found this site. I am looking for 20 to 40 Petai seeds (the eatable one) to grow on my backyard. I found but they won’t sell anything less than 1 ton. Anyway, May I have some phone numbers to stores that sell Petai seeds in small quantity (20 to 40 seeds) for planting? If any of you who are willing to send me some Petai seeds (i’ll take any amount less than 20seeds), please let me know. I’ll pay what you ask which is within my range ^_^. Make suer you clear it with custom before you ship it to U.S. or don’t put your return address and let me take the hit IF ANY.

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