Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Banana Flowers @ Avondale Sunday Market

It seems that every time I go to the Avondale Sunday Market, I see something new and inspiring.  I'm not the only one bubbling with excitement, because a couple of other bloggers have already beaten me to a post.  I too bought the curious winged beans and fresh bamboo shoots that Lauraine Jacobs found, though I somehow managed to overlook other things she mentioned, like galangal (I've been searching for this for ages!) and kaffir limes.  I also failed to see the Black Doris plums that Anna King Shahab wrote about, but I did discover something neither of them mentioned, which I had no idea was available here: banana flowers!

Bamboo shoots, banana flowers, bitter melons, silk melons and more.
I find that a lot of the time, I have no idea what is being sold, because often there is no sign, or only a price, or only a description in a foreign language.  I was particularly embarrassed once, when I asked what a vegetable was called, only to be told it was watercress!  But I had seen the distinctive banana flowers (also called banana hearts, or inflorescence if you want to be scientific) before in Vietnam, so I knew what they were when I saw them (though I also asked just to be sure).

Banana flower with a couple of bracts taken off.
Preparing a banana flower was very educational and interesting in itself.  I did not realise how many of the purple bracts (often incorrectly called petals) you had to take remove before you reached the pale coloured edible portion.  There was a row of yellow flowers between underneath each bract I removed, the female ones of which could have developed into fruit.

The banana flower had significantly reduced in size by the time I reached a bract that only had a hint of purple.
I kind of wish I'd kept peeling (though it was getting pretty difficult to detach the bracts), because I would have quite liked to see what it looked like in the middle, but I decided to follow this recipe for a Vietnamese banana flower salad, which told me to thinly slice the flower into rings.  The cut surface oozed a sap, which is sticky and apparently turns black on exposure to air and can stain your hands, though I didn't try to confirm this.

The cut end of the flower oozed a sap.
The centre of the cut surface began to come off in little bits as I went along, which I removed as instructed.

Tiny rings in the centre of larger ones.
Then I discovered why I was told to stop slicing after getting three-quarters of the way down.  There were barely any out rings left at all by this stage.

Cross section of banana flower three-quartersof the way down.
Although placing the banana flower slices into diluted lemon/lime/tamarind juice was supposed to stop them turning brown, though they did darken noticeably anyway.  It also apparently removes the sticky juice and tart taste.

Banana flower slices floating in lemon juice and water.
Here is the finished product, served in one of the outer bracts, like a banana boat.  It was delicious, though the crisp banana flower slices were subtle in flavour and could probably have been substituted with julienned green papaya or choko.

Vietnamese banana flower salad, with mint and Thai basil, garnished with crispy fried shallots.
I threw away the tiny rows of flowers (the immature fruit), but I noticed afterwards that Indian recipes call for cooking them, and don't seem to use the inner bracts.  Maybe I'll try this next time, though a vazhaipoo curry is a rather unattractive name for a banana flower curry.


  1. I you are still looking for galangal and kaffir lime leaves you can buy them in the at Thai Foods on New North Road in Mt Albert.

  2. Thanks, Warwick! I'll have to check it out! I've only come across frozen galangal up until now, except in Wellington where there were some fresh NZ grown ones for sale.

  3. Hey Warwick, I finally made it to Thai Food Products, but only managed to spot the dried and frozen galangal which I have also seen elsewhere. There didn't look like there was too much fresh produce in the shop, though I was tempted by the Thai sweets out the front. I did manage to see kaffir limes (the fruit, not the leaves) at the market in the end. Let me know if you come across anything else that's interesting! :)


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