Weirdly Wonderful Wednesday: Edible Lily Bulb and Arbutus (and wet market love)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Want to eat a lily bulb? No? How about an arbutus?

 Edible lily bulb -top view

 Ok, so it’s not really that weird, just a bit interesting, but long-time visitors to the blog will know how much I luuurve alliteration. And I so wish I’d though of it first but you can check out a whole host of Weird Food Wednesday posts over at Me Hungry (where I pinched the idea, ta!).

Back to these strange, uh, interesting things. I was wandering around the wet market with Mum recently when I spied something for sale buried in a box of sawdust. “What’s that?” I quizzed Mum, who happens to know and eat all sorts of weird and wonderful things (being Chinese and all). Mum questioned the stall holder for me (since I can’t communicate in any useful form of Chinese dialect), which is how we were introduced to the lily bulb.

 Edible lily bulb - base (covered in saw dust)

According to the vegetable stall “uncle”, the bulbs came from Hokkaido, Japan and could be eaten raw or cooked. We were told to handle the bulbs as gently as possible (they are sold individually packed in sawdust) and to “peel” the individual bulblets off, rather than use a knife.  “Add it only at the last minute,” we were warned, as prolonged cooking can cause the bulbs to disintegrate.

Cleaned bulblets

All this was sounding too difficult so I let Mum buy some bulbs to take home with her. Unfortunately for mum, and luckily for you blog readers, she totally forgot the package and left it in my fridge.

I had to find a way to cook the bulb that would ensure maximum “eaten-ness” by the family. A stir-fry sounded pretty safe. First though, I tasted a bit of the bulb raw. The taste and texture reminded me of water chestnuts but not as sweet - crunchy, mild and pleasant tasting with a bit of “earth”. If you’re familiar with jicama/ yam bean, you’ll get what I’m talking about.

The resulting green bean, carrot, chicken and lily bulb stir-fry went down relatively well with the family. The texture changes considerably when cooked and the sweetness disappears. I was terrified of overcooking the lily bulb so I think it was a little “under”  and the texture was  a bit “sticky” - similar to lotus root, or even slightly undercooked potato. Overall, no one hated the dish, but lily bulb isn’t exactly something everyone wants me to hunt down and cook again as soon as possible. It was really more of a novelty dish for us. Perhaps I should have prepared the bulb a different way to
extract maximum enjoyment?

I still have one bulb left in the fridge but I’m going to plant it in a pot and see what comes up :)

The arbutus though, was a different story. We really liked these and just ate them fresh. The taste is tart and sweet at the same time. The texture though is what makes it so interesting. Even though it looks “hairy”, each individual “hair” is actually fleshy and quite firm, giving it a very appealing mouth-feel. In fact, I think the arbutus is a type of berry (the plant is also known as a strawberry tree) which is why the texture reminds me of a firm mulberry. Unlike most berries, the arbutus has a little green seed in the middle. Overall a very exciting find and I’ll definitely get more of these when I see them.

As you can probably tell, I am totally enjoying my wet market expeditions. Not only are there interesting finds to be made, the stall holders are real characters. Once you frequent a stall a few times, they treat you very well and even start to offer advice on how you should cook whatever it is you are buying from them that day. I even scored a free bag of spice mix from the spice store “uncle” after confiding that my kids couldn’t handle the heat of chillies. “I’ll make you a special blend just for kids,” he assured me and deftly placed teaspoons and half teaspoons of various ground spices into a bag.

"Magic" spice blend

Then he launched into a very detailed explanation of how to cook a mild chicken curry with the spice mix - this involved first marinading some chicken with a bit of the mix, then frying a little bit more of the spice mix with onions, then tipping the rest of mix form the bag into the rapidly boiling curry at the correct moment. Intrigued, I followed his instructions to the letter (although I did end up not tipping all the spice mix in for fear it would be too spicy for the kids), and voila, delicious curry that the kids actually ate! I did have to dollop some plain yoghurt on for MC Junior because it was still a a teeny bit fiery, but at least it’s a start :)


Thanks for stopping by and if you are interested in contributing anything for Muhibbah Malaysian Monday, do remember to send your entries to Shannon from Just As Delish  who will be our host for the month of June: shannoncclim(at)gmail(dot)com

Take care and see you soon!

Btw - sorry for the photo quality, my poor, darling G10 is being repaired (the lens just decided to quit one day) so I’ve resorted to the iPhone for all pics. Hopefully G10 will be back shortly...

PS - if you are contemplating eating lily bulbs, please check to make sure they're edible as some varieties of lily can be poisonous!


Barbara said...

Well, Shaz, I sure learned a lot here today! :)
That first photo of the lily bulb is really pretty and I loved the how you tried this unusual bulb. Not that I'm ever going to find these things around here, but I'm loving all your finds in the wet market.
The berries look yummy, a bit like strawberries in the second photo.

Lora said...

Wow oh wow what incredible and interesting market finds. I just love what you did with them.

PlumLeaf 李葉 said...

Ah yes! Have had fresh lily bulbs in Hong Kong...Dad bought them and did them in stir-fry. Frankly, I have to agree they are ok but not worth effort - a bit floury like potato. The dried version in chinese tonic soups and in red bean "sweet soup" is better!

Curry looks delicious!

grace said...

what neat finds! i can't say that eating lily bulbs appeals, but that arbutus sounds exciting! thanks for sharing these things, shaz!

Vanille said...

Your post is totally exotic ! Discovering once more new-to-me food. This wet market sounds really like a great place ! Look forward to seeing what you will share with us next time ;)

Beth said...

What a fun post! It really is great when the vendors get to know you, and can help with recommendations. That, and the freshness of the produce, is what makes markets so special.

chowwithchow said...

Fascinating! Re. lily bulb... I think if all else failed, I would have dowsed it with soy sauce and garlic. But I've only ever had dried lily bulb in Chinese herbal soups my mom forced me to eat...

Fiona Reilly said...

Great discoveries Shaz! The most popular lily bulb dish here is a very simple stirfry with asparagus, cut into small lengths on the diagonal, short lengths of baby celery (very tender) and a little garlic and salt. The sweetness of the lily bulb seems to marry well with the asparagus. Kids love it!

The yang mei (arbutus) are in season too just these last weeks, and I just finished writing a magazine article about a European chef using them poached alongside rich chocolate cake. They make a great icecream sauce when cooked over a low heat too - very jammy and luscious!

Look forward to more WWWs

Juliana said...

Oh Shaz, awesome many interesting stuff here :)
I never had lily bulbs...and from you description I think I would have liked it. The arbutus look so exotic...
Thanks for the post and hope you are enjoying your week!