We just got home from a history-laden vacation that included DC, Thomas Jefferson’s mansion/plantation, and the Gettysburg Civil War battlefield. It was sweltering, hot and humid, a bit like Vietnam. We enjoyed many simple and fancy memorable meals, which I’ll relate to you next week, after I sift through all my notes and photos.
Today, I just want to relay a nifty tip that I got via email from a frequent visitors to this site. I sometimes get into mini collaborations with some of you to solve a vexing cooking issue or source an ingredient. When things work out well, I love to share the findings so we all benefit.
I can’t remember when Josh G. and I began communicating about sourcing plants for growing pandan (la dua in Vietnamese), a Southeast Asian aromatic grown for its gladiola-like blade leaves that exude a grassy, vanilla-ish flavor and green color to food. If you’ve seen green cakes at an Asian bakery, chances are they’re made with fake or real pandan extract.
Pandan is also called screwpine, which just sounds terrible so I prefer to call it pandan. If you don’t know about the ingredient, jump to the pandan primer. Its uses are mostly for sweets, though I love Indonesian festival rice perfumed by pandan. It looks like a pineapple plant with the leaves emanating from the center. In Vietnam, you can buy them fresh at many markets.
Josh is a curious fellow and wanted to hunt down actual plants. I referred him to some online sources that seemed a bit questionable. He persisted on his own and this week, emailed this report:
P&E has pandan! They don't have an open nursery, it's just one man and his son. They're at the SF Alemany market on Saturdays and the Marin Civic Center market on Sundays. Tends to leave early if he sells out. They're small plants, 4 inches at $5.00.
So, please spread the word, it makes no sense with how many places need this to be fresh, to have to order it frozen.
He said while they are a wet marsh plant, in our winters they can get too cold, and then get root rot. But he says he has enough to be selling this whole season, so we should buy him out. ;)
I have three, and may turn them over to some Fresno farmer's who are part of the community and have green houses to protect them year round.
Josh, I’m spreading the word about your fabulous finding. If any of you are in the San Francisco area, head to these farmers’ markets. They’re among the best and largest in California. If you don’t live in the Bay Area, look for Asian farmers or herb/plant vendors — especially Hmong or Lao farmers who may be cultivating pandan but don’t know that they can sell it! Let them know of your interest. Or, try a rare plants nursery such as Rare Flora in Florida the San Gabriel Valley that may know about Asian plants.
I’ve never grown pandan and imagine that it would be great in a hot, humid environment. But maybe the plants that Josh bought will acclimate to moderate weather conditions. After all, my Thai kaffir (makroot/makrut) lime and Indian curry leaf tree manage to thrive in coastal northern California. That’s to say, plants are flexible and adaptable. You never know where they’ll grow until you cultivate them yourself!
- Pandan Primer
- Pandan Chiffon Cake
- Pandan and Tapioca Cake (banh bo nuong)
- Viet Coconut Waffles
- Finding Asian Herbs for your Garden
If you find pandan near you, let us know your source! Or do you have experience growing it?