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Market Monday: This Bud’s for You

16 Sep

Daylily Buds

On nice weekend mornings, Mr. SOK likes to ride his motorcycle on the windy mountain roads surrounding KL. My reward for staying at home with the baby is a load of fresh vegetables, as there are a bunch of farms that take advantage of the (relatively) cool air. This is where Malaysians grow things like lettuce and strawberries and mushrooms, which would wilt in the tropical heat of the lowlands. This week he brought back fresh wood ear mushrooms and daylily buds (also called golden needles in Chinese).

Though you’re not likely to find daylily buds at the supermarket any time soon, they’re widely eaten in both East and West, and since they’re such a common garden plant, they’re also an entry in Foraging 101. Just Google “daylily bud recipes” and you’ll get tons of hits. Most call for a simple approach, like a stir-fry or saute, to preserve the delicate flavor of the buds. I decided to riff on mu shu pork, which traditionally calls for daylily buds and wood ear mushrooms, and make a stir-fry with the buds, some fresh wood ear mushrooms also procured from the highlands, and chicken.

The buds are very tasty, with a texture similar to very fresh, tender green beans, and a flavor that’s a combination of vegetal and sweet. Unfortunately, both Mr. SOK and I appear to be in the small minority of people (about 2%) with a sensitivity to daylilies. We had eaten them before, during the unfortunate episode with the chili peppers of doom, but it appears that some of the ill effects might have been due to the buds, as we both got sick that evening. (I had both the mushrooms and the chicken the next day without incident, so by process of elimination, it had to be the buds.) I hope this doesn’t discourage anyone from raiding their own flower garden, but maybe try a few out (cooked) before going whole hog and throwing a daylily bud party.

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Chee Cheong Fun and Egg Tarts at Imbi Market

5 May

Imbi Market is one of the famous wet markets of KL, located in an impossible-to-drive-to corner of town. The market itself is on the small side, though it’s a good place to experience a traditional Asian wet market (and to convert to vegetarianism — if you buy chicken, it’s slaughtered on the spot), but what makes Imbi a hot spot is the cluster of stalls in the back, serving up breakfast and brunch to discerning KLites and bus drivers.

One of the best-known stalls is a chee cheong fun spot. Chee cheong fun is a sort of rice crepe that you may have encountered at dim sum, stuffed with char siu or shrimp; in Malaysia, it’s served unstuffed with a sweet and spicy sauce.

Left to right: Sisters Popiah; chee cheong fun from the “other” stall; chee cheong fun from the famous stall

Unfortunately, because I’d been driving around lost for so long, I was too faint with hunger to check if the first place I got my chee cheong fun was the famous stall. After I’d ordered, I turned around and saw the right place. So…I got another plate of chee cheong fun. Between this and the popiah (which really deserves its own post, but suffice to say it’s the Malaysian version of a fresh spring roll), I didn’t have room for much else, unfortunately. I couldn’t taste much of a difference between the two chee cheong funs — the sauce from #2 Chee Cheong Fun was maybe a bit sweeter? — but #2’s yong tau foo (vegetables stuffed with seasoned fish paste — really delicious, I swear) was definitely a couple notches above in quality. (Yong tau foo is another Malaysian speciality deserving of its own post. Clearly I’ve been slacking.)

Fresh from the oven

Being stuffed with rice noodles didn’t prevent me from picking up some dessert to take home. These egg tarts from Boon Choon were just going into the oven when I got to the stall; I had to wait 20 minutes, but it was worth it. Perfect, flaky (= loaded with lard) pastry, filled with more than the usual quantity of wobbly custard. I particularly liked that the custard wasn’t as dense as a lot of Chinese egg tarts tend to be. Definitely a contender for best egg tarts in KL, in my opinion.

Imbi Market (listed on Google Maps as Pasar Besar Bukit Bintang) is located between Jalan Melati and Jalan Kampung. Go early (before 10 a.m.) for the best selection; if you’re planning on doing any marketing, go even earlier.

Market Monday: The most expensive strawberries in the world?

23 Apr

NPR listeners (I’m guessing there’s more than a few of you in the SOK readership) may have caught a recent story about how most (if not all) of the beef advertised as “Kobe” in the US is not actual Kobe beef, which is far too expensive (and fatty) to ever be caught dead in the guise of a hamburger. I’ve never eaten real Kobe beef, but I did see it for sale at a department store food hall on my last visit. I tried to take a photo, but the salesperson wouldn’t let me; perhaps she was afraid the lens would sully the meat. (How expensive is it? For a top-quality chateaubriand filet, one place is selling it at ¥16,800 for 200 g, or about $400 USD per pound.)

However, there was no one to prevent me from taking photos of other heinously expensive food items, including what I believed to be the world’s most expensive strawberries…

Strawberries in a jewelry-worthy display

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Market Wednesday: Sea Asparagus

6 Sep

20110905-061005.jpgHope everyone had a great Labor Day/Hari Raya/Merdeka Day weekend! This was supposed to be a Market Monday post, but SOK took the day off, too. I’ve been in Hawaii for the past week, so I visited one of my favorite farmers’ markets at the Kapiolani Community College. It’s become something of a tourist draw since I first started visiting — the number of buses disgorging Japanese sightseers is a bit disconcerting — but it’s still a great place to find unusual local products, like…sea asparagus.

Not to be confused with the shellfish of the same name, sea asparagus is a kind of saltwater vegetable that’s now being cultivated in Hawaii. It doesn’t look or taste much like asparagus; it’s crunchy and naturally salty from the seawater it grows in, and has a distinct vegetal bitterness. I didn’t blanch the sea asparagus, but I did soak them in water for about an hour to leach out some of the salt. Then I mixed it with tomatoes, sweet onion, and thinly sliced cucumber, plus some lemon juice. It was still quite salty, even after the soaking, but the crunch from the sea asparagus made it refreshing, like eating a salad by the ocean. And, since it’s Eat Local month in Hawaii, it was nice to make a dish where every ingredient can be sourced locally.

Sea asparagus isn’t widely available outside of coastal areas, but if you’re passing through an ocean-front city, look for it in the farmers’ market.

Market Mondays, Cameron Highlands Edition: Corn, Flat Bean, and Shrimp Stew

22 Aug

Tom and I went for a short getaway this past weekend in the Cameron Highlands, a former hill station about 2 1/2 hours from KL. Back when Malaysia (then Malaya) was a colony, Cameron Highlands was one of those mountain retreats where the British would go to escape the tropical heat and pretend that they were still in cold, damp England. Today, it’s where tourists (both Malaysian and non) do the same thing. Almost all of the hotels are built in a faux-Tudor style, and there are umpteen places you can stop for tea and scones, operating side by side with Indian restaurants and Chinese hot pot outlets.

Because the climate is temperate, Cameron Highlands is also an agricultural hotspot. The mountains are covered with tea plantations, and the farms are famous for strawberries and other things you can’t grow elsewhere in Malaysia, because it’s too hot.

The panoramic tea plantations of Cameron Highlands

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