I stopped at the Asian market today to pick up one of the giant bottles of rice vinegar that I like best and a fresh jar of pickled ginger, and discovered that since I was last in there (in August), the market has developed a really remarkable fresh pan-Asian produce section - pretty much anything you might want. I hadn't been in a really great mood before I got to the store, but after loading up my little basket with so many pretty fresh herbs and vegetables - green onion, freshly picked kaffir leaves, fragrant sticks of lemongrass, a large bunch of anise basil, beautiful little purple thai eggplants, carrots, a big red bell pepper, some baby bok choy - I was feeling better. Add in a tiny flat of six wee fresh quail eggs, and I was downright cheerful. Pad ka prow tomorrow for dinner! And quail eggs with my tea! And the remaining leaves and lemongrass will probably end up tucked into the linen drawers to lend a little of their fragrant warmth to the sheets and towels. All happy thoughts.
I recognized most of the leafy herbs and unusual vegetables from many hours mooning over Cambodian and Thai cookbooks, but there was one that I didn't recognize. It looked tentacular! In a pretty, proto-floral kind of way. So when I was at the checkout, I asked the Korean lady who runs the store what it was. She said to show it to her, so I dutifully ran back and grabbed some.
Oh, that! she said. Chinese people use that! And I'm standing there kind of blinking because it struck me as kind of a weird way to describe a vegetable, and it didn't get me much closer to getting what it tasted like. So I asked her if she'd ever tried it. She shook her head at me and laughed. A girl had just come up to the register and the lady said "Hey you! You Chinese? What does this taste like?" and the girl looked totally rocked back on her heels, face all like whoa lady space alien much? and she said "I'm Taiwanese." And we all stared at my packet of whatever herb it was. I said "Well, it looks kind of like chives." Then some kid came in and she's like hey you, Chinese guy! What does this taste like? And he looks at her like DUH and says I'm KOREAN. What would have been awesome would have been for some Sudanese guy to come in and say - oh, yeah, those are flowering chives, they taste a lot like garlic. Because seriously lady: people who are not Chinese may have actually tasted this thing, amirite? [Ed: flowering chive is, in fact, what it was. I found it online later.]
So evidently being totally unable to identify an Asian's nationality by looking at them is clearly not just a problem that my parents have. I'm still trying to get them to stop calling people "Oriental." But here is this middle aged Korean dame offending people left and right by calling them by wrong nationalities, and it was kind of endearingly spazzy.
My impulse purchase for the day was a big ol' bag of roasted sunflower seeds.
First, the label:
The ChaCha sunflower seeds, picking the selected large and plump full sunflower seeds from the natural inner Mongolian environmental-friendly farm, stuffed with traditional herbal flavor, after steaming and roasting, the crispy tasted seeds for sure bring you the happiness of delicious feeling. The ChaCha snacks delightful taste! Ingredients: sunflower seeds, salt, spice, and acesulfame potassium" (an artificial sweetner).
They also came in coconut flavor, but I went with spiced because I thought that might mean spicy. But it doesn't - as near as I can figure they are spiced mostly with the usual suspects: a little anise, a little fennel, a little cinnamon, a little pepper. The predominant flavor was coconut, though - kind of odd as I didn't buy the coconut flavored one, but my guess is that both seeds are perhaps roasted with a little coconut oil to get them very crisp - the shell is incredibly friable. That or acesulfame potassium tastes coconutty. No idea.
Other big differences: the sunflower seeds were very large, and very long compared to domestic varieties. Most of the seeds were well over half an inch long, but the actual meat of the seed wasn't hugely different from what you'd see in a regular bag of sunflower seeds from the Kwik-E-Mart - maybe a little larger. But they were crisp, and very flavorful, and incredibly fresh.
I'll probably stick with my roasted melon seeds (green tea flavor!) when I get the seed-munchies, but these are worth picking up if you come across them.
And to cap it all off, here's the most gothy, depressing, emo poem ever written about a sunflower:
Ah, Sun-flower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller's journey is done:
Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow
Arise from the their graves, and aspire
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.
~By WILLIAM BLAKE~