Friday, April 18, 2008

Kang Kong or Ung Chai

No one can believe that kang kong was the main free staple besides rice for my family when we were young in Sibu. Our mother would make us go out to the huge drain quite near our house to pick the free, fresh and very clean kang kong ( or Chinese Water Spinach) for our meals. Sometimes we would go every day. It was not that my late father had left us destitute. It was just because my mother did not want to be beholden to any one of our relatives for a single cent.

My late father had taught us to feed rabbits with the freely growing kang kong and we had reared lots of them. But because we could not kill and eat the beautiful rabbits my late father had to give up the home industry. We did eat a few. But after he died suddenly, we stopped rearing the rabbits. And my mother also found the rearing of rabbits too painful. This was before Sarabif was founded.

If it had been different, we could have had the first rabbit farm in Sibu!!

Also known as Water Convolvulus,or Swamp Cabbage, the Kang Kong is indeed a very versatile vegetables. We grew them from seeds in our back yard. We also just planted them from cuttings. Whatever type we grew, we had a lot of harvest. Besides, we were harvesting the free ones from the drains too.

According to the information taken from Wikipedea, "the plant's smooth-surfaced leaves are either arrowhead-shaped, 5-6 inches long, or relatively narrow and pointed. Two major cultivar forms are grown. These being: Ching quat, the narrow leaved form most often grown in moist soils and Pak Quat, the arrowhead shaped form usually grown in aquatic conditions.

The plant is an herbaceous perennial aquatic, semi-aquatic plant of the tropics and sub-tropics. Alternate branches and leaves arise at the leaf axils of the trailing vine-like stems. The stems being hollow are adapted for floating in aquatic environments. Adventitious roots readily develop at nodes when in contact with moist soil and water. The succulent foliage and stem tips are light green in color. Flowering is favored by short days with the development of white and light pink flowers. Purple flowers develop in wild forms of Ipomoea aquatic. To obtain seed harvesting of the plants is stopped to allow developing flowers to mature, from which seed bearing pods form.

Other names. Kankon (Japanese); ung choi (Cantonese Chinese); toongsin tsai (Mandarin Chinese); ong choy, ungtsai, tung choy (China); kang kong (Filipino, Malaysian); kang kung, rau muong (Vietnamese); pak bung (Thai)."

I would like to echo Professor Agongcilo's comment on kang kong during one of his lectures in 1971, when he was visiting History Professor at University of Malaya, "I always cry when I see Kang Kong because this simple vegetable has kept all the Filipinos alive during the Second World War."

I feel the same too. This simple vegetable has kept my siblings alive during the harsh times after our father passed away prematurely.

One old widow used to walk up and down Brooke Drive in the old days. She would be selling mainly kangkong, long beans and mustard greens. She had them in two baskets and she used a pian dan ( carrying pole) to ply her vegetables. The old lady was very independent and what ever she carried, people would buy because the vegetables were very neatly bundled and very well washed.

In my memory,she was the last lady to use a pian dan in Sibu. An old lady like her was free to sell her vegetables without having a pay any dues to the Sibu Municipal Council. After her passing, the tricycle men came into the Sibu scene to sell vegetables to the housewives and other dwellers along all the roads branching out of Sibu. And much later, the Van Penjaja which are licensed to sell goods. when every one was able to afford a car, the Main Market of Sibu expanded to become one of the largest in Sarawak. An old lady enterprising enough to sell simple vegetables ,proudly bearing a pian dan, become an antiquated memory.

Recently I discovered a whole pool of kang kong near a housing development area in Miri. I also found out that the water in which the kang kong was growing was very clean, with fish swimming in it. Definitely an unpolluted area. I was so tempted to go and pluck some for my dinner!! Old habits die hard. But I am sure, some simple folks would come and collect them to supplement their diet.

In our very motorised world, the "plit plat" noise of a sandal and samfoo wearing old Foochow lady plying her kang kong,calling out "Ung Chai eh", is gone forever.

2 memories:

Unknown said...


I like kangkong very much. I also used to know an Austria professor friend who likes kang kong and would order it when he is in Sarawak. There are two varieties of kang kong. the one adapted to dry conditinon and the other grows on swamp, which is the one your mother used, I believe.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Gaharuman, That is interesting. Not many foreigners(whites) like it. They usually prefer bakchoy, beans,etc. They like butter on their vegetables. That's just my observation.

Many people look down upon the humble kang kong. But it is indeed a vegetable which saved many lives during the wars. And now in Chong Ching, Chengdu and Weichuan during this earthquake disaster.


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