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
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!
and Tapioca Cake (banh bo nuong)
- Finding Asian Herbs for your Garden
If you find pandan near you, let us know your source! Or do you have experience growing it?