Archive for the 'Vegetation Profile' Category

Vegetation Profile: Vú Sữa II


Thanks to some helpful hints on how to tackle vú sữa from gas•tron•o•my reader Duy, I gave the fruit another go this week. I bought two vú sữa for 5,000 VND from a lady in District 3, and chilled them in the fridge overnight. Right before I was ready to eat the vú sữa, I followed Duy’s advice and molested the shit out of them. I hope that didn’t come out too vulgar. What I meant to say was, I massaged them really well. Maybe even too well, because both times I cracked the skin and made a small hole. Oops.

The hole actually turned out to be a good thing. I just made it a little bigger, and tilted the fruit into my mouth to drink the milky goodness. By the way, I would’ve asked The Astronomer to take a picture, but the scene was a little too porn-y. Unlike my first mediocre experience with vú sữa, the fruit tasted awesomely refreshing and sweet this time around. The flavor reminded me of a thicker version of the juice from a fresh young coconut. After I drank all of the juice, I ate the flesh with a spoon. Mmm, boy!

And on a sort of related note, Noodlepie rules. If you haven’t checked out his Saigon archives yet, you’re a rotten egg.


Vegetation Profile: Vú Sữa

Milk fruit is known to be a popular tropical fruit indigenous to Cambodia (phlai teuk-doh koh) and Vietnam (vú sữa). The underbelly of the leaf is a greenish purple hue, while the top is a deep green. The smooth, round plant contains sticky white latex and can grow to about 200 grams in weight.

There are two types of milk fruit: purple and white. The exterior of the compound fruit is either white or deep purple when ripe and light green when unripe. A creamy white flesh lies beneath the skin and tastes juicy and sweet.

Their fragrantly sweet white flesh to taste and milky white juice (a little like congealed milk) are probably what gives them their name, although the skins of the young fruit oozes a milky sap when cut.

The most popular way to enjoy the fruit is to squeeze the tough fruit until it becomes tender, so that the juice mixes with the meat of the fruit. A small hole is then cut at the top so the juice can be sucked out. While enjoying the fresh food, be careful not to eat the few seeds embedded in its flesh.

On our taxi ride back to District 4 from the airport, I asked The Astronomer if there were any fruits at the apartment. He replied no. So, instead being dropped off at our apartment, I asked the cabbie to stop at the fruit stand where I procured a papaya and The Astronomer picked up tangerines and a pomelo. I always aim for five-a-day.

As the fruit lady packed up our selections, I asked her what the greenish/pinkish orbs were. She replied vú sữa, which translates kinkily to milky boob. Hubba hubba. Before we could object, she sliced one in half and handed The Astronomer and I each a spoon so we could dig in. The customer service in this country is unbeatable.

It was juicy, but tasted pretty plain and not particularly sweet or tart. Since it was my first taste of vú sữa, I wasn’t sure if I had a great one or an average one. I’ll have to try another while they’re still in season.

Vegetation Profile: Custard Apple

The cherimoya (Annona cherimola) is a species of Annona native to the Andean-highland valleys of Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.

It is cultivated in many places throughout the Americas, including California, where it was introduced in 1871, and Hawaii.

The fruit is oval, often slightly oblique, 10-20 cm long and 7-10 cm diameter, with a smooth or slightly tuberculated skin. The fruit flesh is white, and has numerous seeds embedded in it.

The fruit is fleshy and soft, sweet, white in color, with a custard-like texture, which gives it its secondary name, custard apple. Some characterize the flavor as a blend of pineapple, mango and strawberry. Others describe it as tasting like commercial bubblegum. Similar in size to a grapefruit, it has large, glossy, dark seeds that are easily removed. The seeds are poisonous if crushed open; one should also avoid eating the skin.

A close relative of sugar apples, the custard apple above was grown by my grandpa in his backyard in Lemon Grove, California. Admittedly not as tasty as the mang cau in Vietnam are, these are the next best thing, and much more conducive to the desert conditions in SoCal. My grandpa has been harvesting custard apples for years now, but I had no idea what they were until I lived in Saigon.

The fruit’s outer skin is fuzzy and soft like a peach, while its insides are very similar to sugar apples’, but with fewer seeds. It’s good to know that when I move back to the States I won’t have to look far for a mang cau fix.

Vegetation Profile: Cà Phê


Coffea (coffee) is a genus of ten species of flowering plants in the family Rubiaceae. They are shrubs or small trees, native to subtropical Africa and southern Asia. Seeds of this plant are the source of a stimulating beverage called coffee. The seeds are called “beans” in the trade. Coffee beans are widely cultivated in tropical countries in plantations for both local consumption and export to temperate countries. Coffee ranks as one of the world’s major commodity crops and is the major export product of some countries.

This past weekend in Saigon, there was a large coffee festival at Tao Dan Park in District 1. The event was organized by a few central highland provinces to showcase their exquisite coffee. The festival also provided an opportunity for local coffee brands to introduce their products (i.e. instant coffee) to the public.

I’m not much of a cà phê drinker, but Vietnamese people in general love the stuff. The preparation of choice is cà phê sữa đá, which consists of Vietnamese coffee, sweetened condensed milk and ice.

One of the highlights of the event was a giant archway made of ground coffee and coffee beans (see below).

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Vegetation Profile: Khoai Mỡ


Dioscorea alata, called water yam, winged yam, and purple yam, was first cultivated somewhere in Southeast Asia. Although it is not grown in the same quantities as the African yams it has the largest distribution world-wide of any cultivated yam, being grown in Asia, the Pacific islands, Africa, and the West Indies (Mignouna 2003). In the United States it has become an invasive species in some Southern states.

In the Philippines it is known as ube (or ubi) and is used as an ingredient in many sweet desserts. In India, it is known as ratalu or violet yam or the Moraga Surprise. In Hawaii it is known as uhi. Uhi was brought to Hawaii by the early Polynesian settlers and became a major crop in the 1800s when the tubers were sold to visiting ships as an easily stored food supply for their voyages (White 2003).

Known as khoai mỡ in Vietnam, this yam is used in both sweet and savory dishes. My encounters with khoai mỡ have been pretty limited thus far. I once ordered a cup of che tap cam at Che 278 in District 4 that featured a layer of sweetened khoai mỡ puree. However, now that I know what this purple vegetable is, I’ll be on the lookout for it on menus around town.

According to my mom, the most common preparation of khoai mỡ is in a shrimpy soup called canh khoai mỡ. Coincidentally, The Astronomer recently noticed the owners of one of his favorite bun cha joints slurping down a strange purple broth for their dinner. When he asked what it was, they ladled out an extra bowl for him and invited him to sit down. The soup turned out to be canh khoai mỡ, which he described as “plain.” My mom, on the other hand, couldn’t stop raving about the soup’s deliciousness when I spoke to her. So, I can’t wait to try the yam soup for myself!