Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Chinatown's summer produce

After a trip to the East Village yesterday - my last visit to Izumi, who has been cutting my hair for ten years, now, in her little silver-painted back room salon, and who is moving to Hawaii - I walked south through Chinatown to collect my post office box mail, which accumulates every month for me. 

I haven't been to Chinatown in a while, and was thrilled by the summer  produce. It is a forager's paradise. I bought an armful of yard long beans, which hang from my bag like a coiled lasso.. 

Waterlilies! I learned only recently that they are edible - I've known about lotus root for a long time, but one seldom sees the waterlily stems.

I passed on the dragonfruit and the longans (should have bought those, though) and acquired instead 3 lbs of rambutans - the litchi-like fruit whose skin is covered in wiry prickles.

But I forgot that, once you get to the fruit flesh, there is persistent little layer of skin right beside the pit that sticks to the fruit. Annoying. Litchis and longans don't do that. There were mangosteens, too, the even more beautiful version of the previous three, but at $8 a pound they were not for me.

At home I Googled the words written above these green fruit: trai hoc. Hog plum. Spondias mombin.

Giant bamboo shoots. 

I was already lugging a green papaya the size of a football, my beans, the mangosteens and fresh galangal (above), which one does not see, often: it's usually wizened little stumps in the dried spices section of an adventurous shop.

The lady who sold me the leaves above did not speak English. I had no idea what they were but thought they might fragrant, a herb rather than a vegetable. At home, they turned out not to be, and a posting to a Facebook page for plant identification soon identified them as kangkong, Ipomoea aquatica. We had already eaten then raw - and washed very well - in a spicy salad the blanched yardlong beans and green papaya, dressed with fish sauce, lime juice, galangal and ginger (yum), but now I know they are usually cooked quickly with a little soy, garlic and shrimp paste.

I'm going to have to go back.


  1. I usually save the bottom stalks of the kangkong or water spinach and let them root in water then I stick them close together in pots and have these leaves to sauté with oil, soy and garlic all summer long. Love the pictures!

    1. I seem to be the only person who didn't know kangkong! Good tip.

  2. Oh mangosteens... They are my boyfriend's all-time favorite fruit, and his large Malaysian family likes to argue about the most efficient and skillful way of cracking their thick red shells without damaging the soft white core. The kangkong they simply call morning glory, very matter-of-fact about its botanical affiliation, but it is always a favorite in a family that can barely imagine a meal without "greens".

    1. You must have some very good meals. Yes, nothing would have been farther from my mind than morning glory, looking at the leaves and stalks.

  3. Oh yum yum yummy -all those beautiful green things. I tried to grow yard-long beans once and it didn't work.


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