Chinese New Year, Choi Sum & Forced Rhubarb

Firstly, I’d like to remind you all that the Chinese New Year of the Rat begins on January 26th, heralding the start of a seven-day period of Spring Festival celebrations. Despite the Rat being almost universally reviled, it nevertheless ranks first among the 12 signs of the Chinese Zodiac and is considered to be endowed with spirit, wit, alertness, delicacy, flexibility and vitality. Needless to say, I was born in the year of the Rat – but I’m not letting-on as to precisely which year it was. Of course, Chinese New Year also offers traders and merchants the opportunity to start peddling anything that may have the vaguest connection with the orient – and why should we be any different?. So, what are the available options to help your festivities go with a bang?

Well, there are of course Pak Choi, Bok Choi and Choi Sum (pictured), which is similar to the other two, but with longer, thinner leaves and longer, slenderer stalks which taste rather like Tenderstem Broccoli). Then there’s Mouli (Daikon Radish) and Galangal (looks a bit like ginger, but with smoother, paler, harder flesh which has to be thinly sliced, rather that grated, and possesses a sharp, citrusy, almost ‘’piney’’ flavour). And let’s not forget Bean Shoots (available in both 250g packs as well as 4kg bags) and the remarkably versatile Chinese Leaf Cabbage, which can be used as a salad, a soup or a stir-fry ingredient. Consider also bang-in-season English Curly Kale and Cavallo Nero (Black Cabbage), both of which can not only be used in oriental-style soups and stir-fries, but can be finely sliced and deep-fried to provide pretty good substitutes for crispy seaweed. And if all that wasn’t enough, there’s our 500g selection of Mixed Oriental Mushrooms, which will normally include Enoki, Shimeji, Shitake and Oyster (both Pink and Grey - and often Yellow as well). So, here’s wishing you all “Great Happiness and Prosperity” for the New Year, or, as they say in Cantonese, “Gong hei fat choy".

Last week I ended the Report with the brief announcement that Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb had just arrived in the market, and this week, as promised, I’d like to speak more of it. It is grown in a region of West Yorkshire renowned for producing Forced Rhubarb of exceptional quality - specifically in an area whose boundaries connect the towns of Wakefield, Leeds and Morley to form the shape of a triangle on the map, known as the Rhubarb Triangle. There was a period of time when Forced Rhubarb was widely shunned in favour of outdoor-grown varieties, because it was considered (erroneously, I might add) that there was something vaguely artificial, and therefore inferior, inherent in the concept of ‘’coercing’’ it to grow indoors, away from the natural elements, so to speak. Growing forced rhubarb requires that its development is strictly controlled, which can only be achieved under dark and warm conditions in specially designed ‘’forcing sheds’’, a process which produces rhubarb that’s usually longer and more slender, more brightly and evenly coloured, more tender and less astringent than outdoor-grown alternatives. All these factors make it ideal for use in sweets and desserts, and furthermore means it requires less cooking time and less sugar to sweeten it.

Peruvian Flat Peaches have been seen in the market - but before you get too excited, let me just say that the whole consignment amounted to just one tray consisting of about 18 or so. Nevertheless, it could be a prelude of more to come. We shall see next week.

Chilean Cherries have been in season now since about November but, being so extortionately expensive, it was decided to only make them available to those customers prepared to fork-out for a 5kg box. 5kg was the minimum quantity that we ourselves were required to buy in the market, so imposing the same requirement on our customers would mean eliminating the risk of us being stuck with nearly a boxful of unsold cherries. Now, they’re available in 2kg boxes - which doesn’t make them any cheaper weight-for-weight, means you won’t be compelled to buy a whole 5 kilo’s worth.

Fruit of the Week

Passion Fruit

Market Alert

  • The presence in the market of Spanish Leaf Clementines has increased since last week, but they nevertheless remain less than abundant and continue to be expensive as a consequence.

  • Ongoing Alert: Plum Tomatoes and Plum Vine Tomatoes are still experiencing market shortages at present.

  • Despite declaring last week that Brussels Stems/Stalks were no longer to be found in the market, wouldn’t you know it but they reappeared. However, they were definitely past their best and really not worth considering. Our advice, therefore, is to avoid them.

  • Ongoing Alert: As mentioned last week, the availability of Portuguese Hispi Cabbage is a bit tight, but what there is available is very good.

  • Ongoing Alert: English Spring Greens are also still in short supply and their heads are regarded as being a bit on the small side. However, the upside is that their diminutive size does mean they are more tender.

  • Ongoing Alert: English Rainbow Chard remains very scarce and consequently very expensive.

  • South African Peaches and Nectarines are at present still abundant, but, as mentioned last time, their time is limited both in terms of availability and quality.

  • Ongoing Alert: Onions are continuing to prove somewhat difficult at present, and are consequently in short supply and expensive as a result.

  • Ongoing Alert: A rise in the popularity of European Apples and Pears in the Middle East (it was news to me, too) has ultimately resulted in shortages at home. This won’t mean they’ll become unobtainable, but it will mean they’ll be less surplus and therefore higher prices across the board.

  • The availability of Wild Mushrooms is at present a bit hit and miss, and their quality variable. Our advice therefore is to check with us for further advice on the current situation before including them on your menu board.