‘What is that one?’ I asked, wanting to know the name of a bundle of Asian greens.
‘The… the pointy, er, leafy one,’ I replied, pointing vaguely.
‘Two dollar fifty,’ was the reply.
‘Oh.’ I hovered, wondering whether I should just buy the spring onions and spinach and run away.
‘You want?’ She was pretty eager.
My mind was blank. In the world of fiction I might have thought, oh hell. But instead I replied, ‘Yeah OK sure. I want one.’
‘You know this one?’ Enquiring Vietnamese eyes looked up at me.
I shook my head. ‘No. But that’s OK. I can learn.’ And smiled, while I looked straight at her. It seemed like a better response than asking directly for information.
The old lady bent over the bundle of greens. In her broken English she explained.
‘You cut here, here,’ indicating two segments of the plant. ‘But not this! You don’t want this. Is hard,’ pointing to the woody base of the stalk, and an inch or so above it. ‘You wash, cook in oil. Five minute. Then, take out,’ she mimicked the action with her hands, pushing the air as she imagined shoving it aside. ‘You put with beef, or pork. Pork,’ she seemed decisive. ‘When serve, put something over,’ she waved her hand vaguely, and I saw the imaginary plate she had constructed with this mysterious plant, cooked, with meats. ‘Put something over, to eat. Is very good.’ She beamed at me. ‘Best.’
I’d just gained knowledge not only of how to treat this, but how to cook it and serve it so it’s amazing. Being open to new things and new people never ceases to amaze me in what it can give us. I gave her a huge smile, while I handed over $10. I’d bought other things from her too, no idea what it all came to, but I figured it’d be less than ten bucks.
She smiled kindly, took my money, gave me over three dollars in change even though I’d bought a giant armload of greens, and wished me a lovely day. She meant it, too.
The Gepps Cross Markets are pretty consistent. I know that there are two stalls that are hands-down the best value for the things I usually buy. I could quite easily walk in, go to those two stalls, walk out. I wouldn’t have to deal with the madding crowd trampling through the dust. I wouldn’t have to navigate between marquees, poles, trolleys, tables, kids with a gigantic string bag on one shoulder and multitudes of other bags on each arm.
But even if I’m tired, or it’s busy, or raining, or blistering hot, or stupidly busy – and it is always busy – I make myself walk through the entire food section of the market. Seeing who has what this week, I found gigantic bags of chillies for only $8. I found basil plants that I can pot and keep in my garden for only $3.50, so I won’t have to keep buying it. I found a different range of fruit trees, and I wanted all of them: Apples, figs, stone fruits.
And I found the little Vietnamese lady who took five minutes out of her morning to give me every bit of her attention in order to explain the nuances of cooking with some green vegetable I’d never ventured to buy before.
Can you help me name it?
I make no bones about my ignorance. Can you name this apparent culinary delight for me? I might want to grow it myself. 🙂