I mentioned last week that I was going to post on the entire range of amazing Vietnamese herbs and vegetables available at Tai Nam but have not been able to get to it yet (it has been really hectic). For now, I just want to write a quick post on an amazing variety of Asian greens that deserves to be better known by the Chicago community.
Tai Nam lists it on the label as "Tan O". A Cantonese woman who was also shopping at Tai Nam the last time I was there and whom I started a conversation with called it Tung Ho. I learned later that this variety of greens is also widely enjoyed in Northern China and is called (in Mandarin) Tung Hao.
"Tan O" is Chrysanthemum coronarium, which we also know from our Chicago-Korean groceries and restaurants as ssukgat (also sookgat, ssukat etc). Most of us have eaten this without knowing it, either lightly-pickled and served as a panchan selection or on top of Korean one-dish soups. Because the herb becomes increasingly bitter through long contact with heat, it is usually added at the last moment, just before serving i.e. simply "wilted" almost as a kind of garnish. I was at San Chae Dolsot a few days ago and found a sprig of ssukgat floating on top of my codfish soup (Dae Goo Mae Uhn Tang). A quick visit to Arirang confirmed that beautiful bunches of this vegetable are also available from a Korean source/grocery in this season.
In the English literature on Korean cuisine, ssukgat is usually translated as "crown daisy". In the literature on Chinese cuisine, this edible variety of chrysanthemum is simply called "chrysanthemum greens" or "garland chrysanthemum". I have also seen tantalizing references (in seed company catalogues) to "chop suey greens". Could it be possible that this vegetable was once the chief type of greens used for this dish in the region of the country (wherever that might be) where the words "chop suey" first came into popularity?
The Japanese know this as shungiku (and sometimes also kikuna). I have done a search on this website using all the different possible names and spellings and came up with only two references-both to intriguing ways the Japanese use this herb in their cooking. The first is in a post on Tanto in San Francisco where the poster mentioned that shungiku is used here in combination with kinoko mushroom ([BROKEN LINK REMOVED]). The second reference is on a post about a restaurant in Tokyo (chowhound.com/boards/intl/messages/9244.html):
Shungiku & anpokaki no shiroae- a cold dish of persimmons and chrysanthemum with sesame and hot peppers. A wonderful combination of flavors!
I was told by a friend who is familiar with Japanese cooking, that the Japanese use it (as above) in aemono (cold salad) type dishes or simply "wilted" into "hot pot" (nabemono) type dishes (shabu-shabu etc). The Japanese sometimes use the tiny flowers as well which may also be found floating in sake as garnish.
From what I understand from chatting with various fellow-shoppers at Tai Nam, the greens (if still tender) are usually simply dressed (w/ a soy-sesame dressing for instance) and served raw (at least by the Vietnamese). The Cantonese would blanch the green quickly first or stir-fry with garlic or add to a hot pot. A large bunch of these greens at Tai Nam costed me about $2.
It is a very beautiful vegetable with deeply-lobed pale leaves which turn a dark green upon contact with hot water. It is a pungent, bitter green, with just a hint of astringency. I am munching on a sprig right now (2 days later) and do not find that same slightly tannic quality which has been replaced by a slightly "salty" tang on the finish.
It's a great vegetable to get to know and I suspect that we will hear more about it in the coming years.
Tai Nam Grocery
4925 N. Broadway
4017 W. Lawrence
And here's a list of the herbs available at Tai Nam 2 nights ago. I'll get to each of them one by one when I find the time:
*Dap Ca (spelled Dap Ca on the label but I also hear "Map Ca")
*Tia To (they tranlaste this as mint but Tia To actually refers to perilla)
*Ngo Om (Rice-paddy herb)
*Rau Ram (now much seen in French haute cuisine, Michel Bras grows this in Aubrac, Grant Achatz uses this herb for one of his desserts at Trio)
*Ngo Rai or Ngo Gai (often seen as garnish for pho; the saw-tooth herb)
*Hun Lui (this is still a mystery to me!)
*Rau Que (Southeast Asian Basil)
*Rau Mong Toi
*La Lop (Betel)
*Kaffir lime leaves
*Rau Ma (pennywort) (I adore an infusion of pennywort. Apparently, the Vietnamese also stir-fry this)
*Rau Long (sp?) "yam" leaf
*Dot Dau (peapod tips/shoots)
*Rau Muong (On choy/hong hsin tsai)
*watercress/shen choy/diff varieties of mustard greens
+ lemongrass, banana blossoms, shredded fresh green papaya, fresh water chestnuts, chive flowers, chive shoots, fresh bamboo shoot tips, etc
I also found packs of dok kea flowers (discussed on the board before) which the Vietnamese call "Bong Soi Dua"
(More on other non-produce discoveries at Tai Nam on another post)