My lovely wife spent some time in Asia on business a few months ago and discovered that her aversion to most Asian cuisines was based not on their inherent qualities, but on the absolute crap that most Asian restaurants in the United States dish out as authentic. There is nothing quite like eating excellent food in its country of origin. Although when I suggest that we go out for Dim Sum, it will now cost the price of two tickets to Hong Kong or Singapore.
One of her colleagues had the foresight to buy some seeds of an interesting but unknown vegetable that they had at one of their dinners in Hong Kong. Amazingly, he also planted, tended and harvested this vegetable and appeared at our doorstep one day, between soccer games (this is the suburbs; it’s what we do), with a large bunch of choi sum. As you may have detected from the ratio of protein to vegetable posts (about 100:1) I am no fan of the green stuff, but this was so obviously fresh, and undeniably nice looking, that I had to give it a try. And there was much rejoicing at the iamnotachef table that night, because it tasted…good! Really good. There is something to be said for vegetables that have been harvested just a few hours before one eats them. We all have eaten fresh corn that explodes with sweet corn flavor, or tomatoes that actually taste like something other than a water balloon filled with soggy paper bags. But this is just one of many varieties of cabbage (Brassica rapa). I expected something pleasant, but nothing special. I was surprised at the crispness of the stalks and the tenderness of the leaves, and most of all by the delicacy of the flavor.
I don’t know how choi sum will taste if it is several days removed from the field, but if you have the opportunity to taste it fresh, don’t miss it, although I have a feeling that commercial choi sum is harvested later in the season when it is more robust and better able to handle transport. We might have gotten a version of it that is simply unavailable without access to a generous colleague with a green thumb.