Tebaloi: The Delicious Sago Snack of the Melanau People
Tebaloi, also spelled Tabaloi, is a traditional snack closely associated with the Melanau people of Sarawak. The Melanau community predominantly consumes sago, a starch extracted from the sago palm, as their staple food instead of rice, due to the environment they inhabit. The production of Tebaloi is concentrated in the Mukah and Dalat districts, which are abundant in fertile peat soil that supports extensive sago palm plantations. While the exact origin of Tebaloi remains uncertain, it is widely believed to have been created by the Melanau people as a snack to enjoy during the sago palm processing activities. Recipes for Tebaloi are typically passed down through generations within families.
Traditionally, Tebaloi is rectangular in shape, yellowish in colour, and sliced into thin pieces. The process begins by mixing sago flour, desiccated coconut, eggs, and sugar to form the dough. This dough is then placed onto a large banana leaf and flattened using a rolling pin.
The use of a banana leaf is significant as it helps preserve the authentic flavour and aroma of Tebaloi during the cooking process. The banana leaf with the flattened dough is placed on a wood fire stove and cooked for approximately 20 minutes until the dough is fully cooked but still retains a soft and malleable texture. Once cooked, the dough is carefully peeled off from the banana leaf and cut into squares.
To further flatten the squares of dough, a heavy block is placed on top. These flattened dough pieces are then placed on a drying rack above the wood fire stove for the final drying stage. This process gives Tebaloi its characteristic crispiness and brittleness. Additionally, the drying stage significantly extends the snack’s shelf life.
Once cooled, the finished Tebaloi pieces are stored in airtight containers or sealed in plastic film to maintain their freshness and crisp texture.
The traditional method of preparing Tebaloi over a wood fire stove is believed to result in a crispier product. The aroma and flavour imparted by the smoke from the wood fire contribute to its authentic taste.
In modern times, Tebaloi is available in a variety of colours and flavours such as turmeric, chocolate, strawberry, and pandan, among others. This versatile snack is perfect for enjoying during tea time, offering a delightful combination of textures and flavours.
Whether you have the opportunity to savour the traditional wood fire-cooked Tebaloi or explore the vibrant range of flavoured variants, this Melanau delicacy is a unique and delightful treat that showcases the cultural heritage and culinary traditions of Sarawak.