You might have noted by now that we have a passion for markets and food. When you combine our love for walking between the stalls and peaking in each of them and our impulse to trying new food and plates, you can imagine what were and still are our emotions when we moved to our new house in Melbourne, not far from the central Queen Victoria Market.
Queen Vic is one of the places that we enjoy more in our every-day life. It’s the reflection of Melbournian society, with both its positive and its negative peculiarities: a rich multiculturalism and a deep racism, its desire to include each and everyone and its closure for self-preservation. With each visit to this 130 years old market I learned something new of the city that we are now calling home.
However this is not a post on an anthropological study: it’s a post on some new-to-us or rediscovered vegetables and fruits!
The first time we went to Queen Vic we were really amazed by the amount of food we had never tried and of course we started making questions to the vendors and taking some weird stuff home. Although we have travelled a bit, we are still Italians, thus mostly used to seeing Mediterranean vegetables and fruits and at times some tropical ones. I am sure that many of you are familiar with some or all of the things you’ll see here, but hopefully this post will be useful and interested for the rest of you with a still limited knowledge of these wonderful nature’s products.
So here they come…
Tuscan kale: this is actually what we call in Italy ‘cavolo nero’ which is very common in Tuscan cuisine. Here is Melbourne you can find it in many varieties, like the green or the red kale. You can boil it or steam it and then quickly stir-fry it with some peanuts or almonds and soy-sauce.
Gai lan or Chinese broccoli: this can also be considered a variety of kale. A widespread preparation is stir-fried with ginger and garlic, but we love it simply blanched. It maintains the great texture of the thick leaves and crunchy stem.
Choy sum: it’s probably my favorite vegetable so far. I could eat it with anything, simply steamed or quickly boiled, and when you buy it, many times it has tiny beautiful yellow flowers.
Pak choy: we struggled a lot initially in understanding the differences between this and the next vegetable. Pak choy has really bright green leaves and a mild flavour. It’s perfect when blanched and added to a fresh and rich salad. And it gets really tasty when cooked with some stir-fried onions.
Buk choy: in this picture you see the smaller baby version of this vegetable. It takes a bit longer to cook than its three previous green leafy ‘cousins’, but it’s a great choice for a fantastic Asian-Italian risotto.
Daikon or white radish: this is a peppery root. Matteo used it quite a lot when he was a cook in Madrid, so it wasn’t actually a new discovery for us, but we had never tried it at home. It is used in many ways: I really like it boiled, chopped and added to salad. But it really delicious when it’s fried as thin chips: I could eat tons!
Chi qua or hairy melon: it’s a sort of big zucchini, with a lot of seeds. I have to confess that the taste is nothing exceptional, although this was most probably the result of our inability to cook it in the right way. We boiled it and ate it with a little dressing, but I believe it’s best company should be some fairly fat meat, like pork. Maybe next time we’ll have more success!
Foo qua or bitter melon: this was our biggest failure! It is a highly bitter vegetable. Yes, the same name should have given us the clues to figure it out, but we didn’t expect it to be so hard to eat. We stir-fried it and added some spices but the taste was horrible for us, even with some plain rice. On the internet it is suggested to add some slices to soups or to stir-fried pork. I’m not sure we are going to give it another chance: it is surely better to leave the difficult task of using this vegetable to the pros.
White carrot: there is not much to say on white carrots. The ones we bought at Queen Vic are basically wild carrots. They don’t differ much from the orange ones, but they are surely less sweet, which is nice if one is a bit bothered by the sugary taste of this vegetable. And we found out that they are pretty good for digestion, so an additional point for them!
Okra or bamia: these pods have numerous names and are widespread along the Mediterranean sea, the Arabian peninsula, Asia and North America. We discovered them in Jerusalem, at Azura restaurant in Machane Yehudah Market. We had already tried cooking them, so when we found them here in Melbourne we just had to buy them again. We attempted to replicate Azura’s Turkish version, it didn’t come out the same but it was pretty tasty! Clean well the pods eliminating the hair with a cloth and cook them slowly in a good homemade tomato sauce. This will make them soft and prevent them from become slimy. Serve this fantastic stew with plain rice.
Kohlrabi: this artificially created sort of cabbage is another Jerusalemite discovery. It can be eaten boiled or raw, after the removal of its thick skin. I had tried the common light green version, but here we found this beautiful purple one. The taste is quite soft, but it is rich in water, thus very healthy when living in warm dry countries (a bit weird if one thinks to its Northern European origin).
Pitaya or dragon fruit: this fruit has it all… It’s beautiful, it’s tasty and it’s healthy. It has many varieties, all of them similarly magnificent in colour and shape. It has a really mild taste, that resembles a lot to the kiwifruit one, but it leaves a nice and fresh feeling.
Passionfruit: it is used in many ways and here in Melbourne you can find almost always. It’s small and rounded and has a lot of seeds, so although we have simply eaten with a spoon, the best way of enjoying it is surely in a juice. And if you follow us on instagram you might have seen a picture of a soft drink: it’s Kirks Pasito, made of passionfruit… delicious!
Carambola or starfruit: and finally the starfruit, found and cultivated in all Tropical climates. We had already tried it on our trip to Guadeloupe, but its re-discovery here was quite nice. It is used a lot as a decoration for its stared shape, but it is not a highly tasty fruit. It’s very hard to describe it so you’ll just have to pick one from a tree and eat all of it!