Sunday, March 5, 2017
Eating sugarcane and buckleberries
Sitting down to a multi-course meal recently, this dish appeared in front of me. At first glance, I assumed the main ingredient was bamboo, but it turned out to be sugarcane. Harvested when still very short and soft, it was first boiled then added to a stir fry with slices of turnip, a few slivers of carrot, some chili and a generous amount of Chinese buckleberries (Cordia dichotoma). The buckleberries are the brown spheres about the size of peanuts. After cooking they're very soft, but contain a large pit (and thus little in the way of flesh). They're not at all sweet and tend to take on the flavours of the foods they're served with.
Chinese buckleberries are hard to farm but often gathered from the wild. I've eaten them dozens of times over the past two decades, sometimes added to fried eggs or piled over a steamed fish. Most Taiwanese refer to them by their Taiwanese name, phoa-po-chi (破布子). Archaeological evidence indicates the Siraya indigenous people in what's now Greater Tainan were eating them regularly at least 600 years ago.