Kaempferia galanga, locally better known by its Malay name, cekur, is a true ginger that is used both in medicine and cooking as a spice, especially in Thai cuisine. It is known less commonly here by the English name “lesser galangale”. The Chinese here call the rhizome “sand ginger” (sha jiang) and the entire plant “shan nai”. The plant with the rhizome attached may sometimes be found on sale at the Malay Market located at Geylang Serai.
In terms of appearance, the rhizomes are brown, roundish and much smaller when compared with most the other culinary ginger rhizomes. I got mine from a vegetable store in the Tekka market located in Little India. I had a hard time looking for it as the rhizomes are not commonly available in most other wet markets.
I bought the rhizomes to grow because I love the plant quite a lot. It is one of the gingers that can be grown successfully in containers. Depending on the stock that is available in the market, the rhizomes on sale may already be showing new growth. Otherwise, the rhizomes can be wrapped loosely inside some crumpled newspapers for sprouting to take place, which should take less than a fortnight. Once new growth is seen, the rhizomes can be planted right away, but do take care not too bury them too deeply. A well drained, open and moisture retentive soil mixture is preferred. Outdoors, plants should be grown under semishade while on the balcony, plants would benefit from being situated in an area with filtered sunshine for at least half a day.
Cekur is an almost stemless plant that that appear to ‘hug’ the ground. It produces a mound of leaves that rests on the soil surface. This ginger bears pretty but very fragile, white butterfly-lookalike flowers with two purple blushes. They do not last for more than day. Try not to get water splashes onto them, as that will shorten their lifespan significantly.
When grown in the outdoors, beware of snails and slugs and if required, sprinkle some anti-snail pellets around the plant. I noticed during wet weather, the problem caused by these mollucs can be quite serious where these creatures come out at night and have a good meal out of the cekur leaves. Watch out if you grown them near the garden pathways! Don’t step on them!
Cekur plants thrive when it is grown in a humid environment – so no windy areas for them, please. Be careful not to injure the leaves as the margins tend to ‘burn’ if they have been bumped onto – the blemish can be quite ugly visually on an otherwise perfect-looking plant. Feed the plants regularly and keep the soil moist at all times. When you have a happy, well-fed cekur plant, it is not difficult to know it – the plant’s response is to produce very big leaves. I have seen a single plant can sitting quite comfortably in a pot that is 15 cm in diameter.