Passersby in a Malaysian marketplace might not give lemang periuk kera a second glance. The dull wrappers that sheath sticky rice aren’t much to look at. But locals know these unassuming pouches are the traps of carnivorous pitcher plants. Chefs prepare this dish by stuffing the ferocious flora with glutinous rice, then packing them in a steamer and covering them in coconut milk. After steaming for an hour, compact, coconut-scented packages of rice emerge.
These tropical pitcher plants, also called “monkey cups” (there’s a rumor that primates use them as water cups), lure in prey using sweet nectar and bright colors. Once inside the pitcher, the insect discovers an inescapable trap—thick bristles, sheer coverings, or unscalable surfaces that keep it inside. Malaysia’s indigenous groups, on the other hand, have a much easier time conquering pitcher plants. Across Malaysian Borneo, they continue to represent a historic element of culinary culture.
Hikers in Borneo can enjoy a taste of the tropical landscape by visiting the markets in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the Sabah state. Some lemang periuk kera vendors even add pandan leaf, roasted peanuts, or fermented shrimp paste for an extra hint of local flavor. Give one a try before trekking into areas where you’ll be vastly outnumbered by carnivorous plants—they grow in wild abundance all over the surrounding forests.