Jackfruit Is the King!

Have you seen this in the supermarket and wonder what it is?  The name is jackfruit, not durian.  It is not a huge monster but rather a delicious fruit. In fact, it is the largest tree-borne fruit on Earth.  Once you try it,  I promise you will come back for a second!

IMG_6064

One fruit can go up to 100 pounds! This “small” one I got at my local Meijer weighs more than 20 pounds. (FYI: $1.49/Ib for whole, $2.29/Ib for cut.)

IMG_6213

Cut open the fruit longitudinally to expose the yellow fresh (the avrils), the first thing that hits your nose is the fragrance!  The aroma! You will totally ignore the scary look of the cut surface.

First, I use a sharp knife to remove the white center core, this helps to expose the yellow fresh that in-bedded in the fibrous chambers (the rags). It is much easier that it looks, just dig in and get messy.  There are lots of fruits! So it’s time for jackfruit party!

IMG_6220

The avril is meaty and DELICIOUSLY sweet, with a taste all its own.  Some says it tastes like mango, some says peach or banana; while others say juicy fruit gum. It is not.  The literal Chinese translation of jackfruit is “pineapple honey 菠萝蜜”, it doesn’t taste like pineapple, not even close.  You have to try it yourself.

IMG_6215

Don’t throw away the leftover once the flesh is removed.  The rags are edible!

IMG_6066

Recently my mother visited us, she made this rag stirfry for us.  She removed the rags from the rinds, and soaked them overnight in water, and stir-fried with carrots. They are refreshing, but a bit bland to my taste.  Next time, I will try to stir-fry with some hot chili pepper or cumin to boost the flavor.

IMG_6222

IMG_6225

There is a smooth stone inside each fruit, don’t throw it away since that is the third edible part of the jackfruit.  Collect the stones, cook them like you boil potatoes!  I boil them with little salt for about half an hour. They even taste like potato!  However the skin outside the stone is much harder than potato skin.

Lot of people confuse jackfruit with another tropical fruit, durian (a nasty fruit in my opinion).  They look similar, both are big with bumpy green skin.  But they taste different like day and night. It is also personal. My cousin in Shanghai thinks the flesh of durian resemble high-end quality soft cheese, such an delicacy to her; however, it smells and tastes like something rotten to me. Yikes!

IMG_7014

If a whole fruit is too much for you, especially for someone who never had this before. Meijer also sells cut jackfruit, a quarter or a piece of the whole fruit.  A good option to test the water.  Also if you can’t finish the whole fruit, the flesh and the stones freeze well, you can store away the fruits for later enjoyment.  Just make sure to remove the flesh from the rags and take out the stone, and freeze them separately.

My whole family love this fruit, even my picky teenage daughter! So give it a try and let me know what you think!

 

 

 

The Quest for the Exotic Stirfry

Whenever traveling to the Far East, I am always on the lookout for new vegetables to stir fry. Stir frying is my weekday go-to cooking since it is fast and healthy. If you can grow it, I can stir fry it. I recently added four more new vegetables on my list, hooray!

  1. Shansu 山蘇 (Hualien, Taiwan)
  2. Red Phoenix 红鳯菜 (New Taipei, Taiwan)
  3. Dragon Bean 龙豆 (Shanghai, China)
  4. Water Celery 水芹 (Suzhou, China)

Shansu (Asplenium) belongs to the fern families, one of oldest plants on earth. I first encountered shansu’s tender shoots when strolling along the night market of Hualien. I remembered thinking it would make a delicious stirfry!  The next day on the return route of hiking Shakadang Trail in Taroko Gorge, I spotted a field full of wild shansu, completely covered the hill on my left. This time I wondered about which condiments to pair with shansu, maybe roasted peanut? The following stir-fried dish showed the plate from a small restaurant in Tianxiang, there shansu was stir fried with a handful of tiny dried anchovies. Totally unexpected, but surprisingly delicious!

红鳯菜 literally means Red Phoenix (Gynura). I was attracted by the deep purple color in a three-table family-owned restaurant.  I asked the mom what the fresh vegetable looked like.  She run back to the kitchen, a few minutes later emerged with the colander filled with purple leaves. How sweet the people!

My cousins in Shanghai know about my quest.  Each time we go to visit her, they bring something new to the table to satisfy my curiosity. This time was no exception, I love them so much!

 

Here Dragon Beans were sliced and stir fried with lily bulbs (the white pieces). An unusual combination.  We had this dish in 全聚德, which was famous for its trademark Roasted Peking Duck.

This Water Celery was stir fried with garlic.  Garlic was the most common condiment for stirfry, the unexpected was Water Celery didn’t taste like celery at all!

The Natural Beauty of Taroko Gorge, Hualien, Taiwan

My First impression of Taiwan was her stunning beauty.  Although an island just about 14 thousand square miles, Taiwan has nine National Parks!

I visited Taroko National Park (太鲁阁国家公园) last November, it was a perfect time to avoid the island’s hot and humid summer. Taroko, a word for the Truku aboriginal tribe, Gorge is the main attraction of the national park, however there are other attractions in the park and surrounding Hualien City. So plan for at least two days, and be prepared to be blown away for there is nothing like it!

The park is free.  Most of the hiking trails are flat and paved, suitable to all physical conditions. Here is a short list of my must-sees and tips.

I recommend making Qingshui Cliff your first stop.  The morning is usually less crowded, and the lighting before 10 am is at its best.

Shakadang Trail has the most amazing blue stream running alongside the trail, with marbles, big and small, popping and scattered in the creek.  The best view is at the end of the trail.

The next one is Swallow Grotto Trail. It is mandatory to wear a helmet to walk the trail because there is an issue of landslide and falling rocks. Haha, I had the same thought–a plastic helmet vs falling boulders?! But a rule is a rule.

Lushui Trail is a bit more strenuous than the previous two. There is some climbing, here and there, and part of the trail is dirt road.  The words ‘Lushui’ mean ‘green water’. When we were on the trail, a gloomy cloud covered the sky, started drizzle.  As you could see from the photo, the water was not green at all.

The most iconic view in the Taroko Gorge is probably the Eternal Spring Shrine.  It was built to commemorate the lives lost during the construction of road through the Gorge. No one is allowed to enter the Shrine any more.

Looking for a quick stop for lunch inside the park? Look no farther than Tianxiang, a cute and colorful town inside the park. There are a couple of restaurants there with a reasonable price tag.  Since Hualien area is famous for rice, so I ordered purple rice steamed in a bamboo tube. To keep the bamboo theme going, I also had a broth made from the tender part of bamboo shoots.

Temples, marble gazebos, bridges and suspension bridges, the park has all, and many more.

A few words of cautions: we took Taiwan Railroad from Taipei to Hualien City.  The speed train tickets are usually hard to get for the individual travelers since travel agents often stock most tickets.  So remember to buy tickets ahead of time; an alternative route is to take the bus which takes 4-5 hours, double the time of the train. If you fancy Taiwan’s local food like me, make sure to have dinner at Hualien’s night market, 自强夜市. There are variety of local food, fruits and vegetables to choose from, I had the grilled squid (it was delicious!) and oyster as the island was famous for fresh seafood.

Also I highly recommend to hire a taxi for the day.  For $100 (New Taiwan $3,000) or less, you can hire a private driver for 8 hours.  Don’t pick up any from the train station, wait until you check in your hotel, the hotel staff can arrange one for you.  We were very satisfied with the service of our driver. He was not only our driver, but also our tour guide plus photographer, and he went the extra mile to please us. Simply decent down-to-earth people.

So with the spectacular natural beauty, stunning gorges, hiking trails, shrine, temples, waterfalls and bridges,  Taroko is not to be missed if you are in the area!