The older I get, the more I’m noticing that foods I always thought of as ordinary are becoming hot fads.
I first noticed this with ginseng. At first it was just a root that my mother used to force me to drink in a tea form when I had a cold. Now it seems like it’s in every health drink on the store shelves!
And then green and white tea. The Chinese have drunken tea for centuries. To be honest I don’t even like the taste of Jasmine – I prefer Pu-Erh or Chrysanthemum tea. But if you go looking for bottled iced tea, you can have your choice of green, white, and every flavour mix that you can think of.
The most recent one trend that I’ve noticed has been the wolfberry (pronounced in Cantonese as “gay-jee”). You might know it better as the goji berry, the miraculous anti-oxidant that will cure all. There is advertising for the juice everywhere, and last week I even noticed someone eating a bag of dried berries like they were raisins.
You can use the berries in teas, but my family has always used the dried berries in herbal soups. Most Chinese herbal soups taste horrible and you should run from them at all cost. But I have always enjoyed soups with wolfberries in them, and in the past have actually requested that more of them were added to the soup during the cooking process.
These berries used to be hard to find here; my mother would always get packages from Hong Kong filled with different cooking herbs and a big bag or two of dried wolfberries were included. Later, it became more available in Vancouver and now you can buy it here. When I was growing up we figured out that my best friend next door had a wolfberry bush that they let run wild (imagine a thorny rose bush that hasn’t been pruned for years). They said I could take as many berries as I wanted, so when my mom was making soup I would run out to their yard with a bowl and pick until I got tired. The fresh berries have a lighter, but juicier taste to them and I loved the way they would burst in my mouth as I chewed.
Just before I left on my trip, I found some in the dried fruits section of Save-On-Foods. Bought some just to try because frankly it is more convenient to pick them up from the grocery store than it is to go to Chinatown or have some sent from Vancouver or overseas. They weren’t as dry I was used to, and I wondered if they would work as well. When the soup was made, the taste was sweeter than normal. Oddly enough, the second time we used this new batch, the soup was closer to what I was used to; I think the berries needed to dry out more.
One of the things I brought back from Hong Kong was a bag of dried wolfberries bought from a herbal shop. We haven’t started on those ones yet, but it will be interesting to see how the taste differs from the ones sold in Western stores. There always seems to be a perception in my family that if it comes from Hong Kong the quality and taste must always be better, but that isn’t necessarily true anymore in this day and age of mass communication and globalization. At very least, I think we will have to rely on berries from Chinatown, as I’m not sure the grocery store ones are up to standard.