Physical copies are now available for purchase worldwide! Sign up for our newsletter to get discounts and updates. Learn more about shipping options here.


Food is a big deal in Southeast Asia (lots of fights over identity/ownership of food) and chili features frequently in Southeast Asian cuisine.

But chili is indigenous to the Americas, which means Southeast Asian (or Asian) food would have no chili before 1500/1600s. So I’ve frequently wondered what the food would be like without chili, and then I came across this!

Meet ‘cabya’, chili pepper’s weird great uncle” 

+ Basically, this is cabya, or Javanese long pepper and while it looks similar to chili, it’s actually a type of pepper.

+ It’s green when it’s young and ripens to a red colour, and has been described in several inscriptions and texts from the 10th century onwards. 

+ Cabai is also the malay word for chilli, and given how similar Cabya looks and sounds, I wonder if there were etymological overlaps/confusions/adaptations and if it was similar to how Frangipanis, also from the Americas, came to Southeast Asia.

It too had a bit of etymological jumble with the indigenous Magnolia Champaca and Ylang Ylang, and eventually the frangipani become a major identifier of some parts of SEA. (I posted about it here!)


Text by Mun Kao. This post was originally published August 20, 2019 on the A Thousand Thousand Islands Patreon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


“Sign up for our newsletter, get a 5%-off discount code!
Special discount from Silim!”