Today’s belated Malaysian Monday dish is a very simple meal of fried sweet potato leaves. If you’re not living in the tropics, these leaves are admittedly very difficult to obtain. Try making friends with a gardener and you might get lucky :). If you do harvest your own, make sure you choose young leaves and shoots, otherwise they will be too tough to eat.
The leaves were a lucky find when l visited the local wet market recently. We’d been in the area about two weeks before I’d even realised there was a wet market to visit! The market only opens in the morning, and it’s closed and all shut up by about 2pm. So I had been wandering past the empty shell of the market with no inkling of what I had been missing out on.
What is a wet market? Well, it’s sort of like a grocery store meets fresh fruit and vegetable store meets butcher meets florist - only wetter. It’s not wet all the time, just when the traders are done for the day and hose down their stalls to clean them. Traders have individual stalls housed in an undercover building with no walls, so it’s semi-open to the elements. Great for air-flow and sunlight which keeps things hygienic. This local market is actually a far cry from the markets of my childhood. It’s bright, clean, airy and quite modern.
One of the many vege stalls
It does depend on the suburb, but you can buy practically anything at the wet market, from fresh fish (for eating), to fish (for pets). The emphasis is on freshness. The market stalls don’t have refrigeration (except for the meat and flower stalls) so the produce is brought in on a daily basis. Most locals make a trip to the markets in the morning to pick up what they need for the day. The locals usually have their favourite stallholders, so I homed in on the busiest/ most popular stalls and so far, haven’t been disappointed. Apart from freshness, the markets are popular because the produce is much cheaper than the supermarket (lower overheads). For example, I bought a plate sized fish (a black pomfret) for $4.50 Singapore dollars (about $3.60 AUD). Frankly, I thought I’d misheard when the fish-man told me how much I owed him!
A visit to the wet market is certainly worth the experience if you’ve never been before. We took the MCs on the weekend and they were fascinated. They kept darting off to explore, bringing back very exciting tidbits of information, like “Mum! We just saw a pig’s head!!”. (Again, depending on where you go, there is usually a section for non-halal and halal meat).
Mr. Kitchen Hand and the MCs check out the egg stall. On the right is the pet fish stall. It actually says fancy Fish shop :)
Anyhoo, let’s get back to these leaves of mine. The dish couldn’t be simpler to prepare - wash and dry the sweet potato leaves well, then separate the stems from the leaves. Cut the stems into bite-sized pieces and do the same with the leaves. Finely mince a clove or two of garlic and you’re ready to go.
Heat a wok on high heat, drizzle in a little bit of vegetable oil, and when it’s hot (but not smoking), fry the garlic and the stems. Stir often to prevent the garlic from burning (lower heat if necessary). Then throw in the leaves, cover with the wok lid for a minute or two - this creates steam and causes the leaves to wilt rather than dry out or char. Stir fry until the leaves are soft but still bright green, season with salt, then dish up and serve as part of a meal. We ate this with the fried pomfret and rice. Super simple, but super fresh.
The leaves are quite mild in flavour but the texture is beautiful, the leaves are so tender and velvety, they feel as if they are melting in your mouth. Because the leaves are mild, you can change up the flavourings as you wish. Some folks cook the leaves with a spicy sambal, others add dried shrimp or even oyster sauce.
Thanks for coming along on my wet market excursion, drop by again soon!
Don’t forget, I’ll be posting the Muhibbah Malaysian Monday round-up on the first Monday in June, so keep those entries coming in to its(dot)sharon(a)gmail(dot)com. Thank you to all of you who have been sending your entries in, I’ve been getting quite a collection! Suresh (of 3 Hungry Tummies) and I really appreciate all your support.