Monday, August 5, 2013

Watermelon Tourism (Guest blog post from Korea and Hong Kong)

Summer vacations! The time to hit the road and check out far away lands, reunite with family and friends and visit tourist attractions. And the time for me to engage in some vicarious produce tourism.

My friend Thom has been visiting Hong Kong and Korea this summer, and - of course - our email exchanges have a certain focus to them: the food.

And even within our niche topic I've noticed a little sub-niche: watermelon. 

Large & in charge!

Back in New York Thom and I debated the relative merits of seedless (so convenient) versus seeded (usually more flavorful) watermelon. While I mulled over my weekend purchase of a disappointing whole seedless watermelon, Thom continued her exploration of this topic from Hong Kong and Korea.

Here are some of her comments:

We're in Korea! We went to an ocean park today, and I thought it was interesting one of the snacks that was offered was mini watermelon.  They cut it open and served both halves with a with a spoon! It was very refreshing! I normally hate small mini watermelon, but this one was was surprisingly sweet - and seedless too! 

(Here's Thom's daughter Heidi enjoying some of the mini-watermelon.)

Why are you taking my picture, Mom?

Thom's watermelon commentary continued in Hong Kong. 

The photo of the giant watermelon [photo at the beginning of this post]  was taken inside a Japanese supermarket in Hong Kong that sells a lot of beautiful greenhouse fruit. They sold a pretty looking cantaloupe for $240 HK -- about $35 US! There was also a pretty peach -- for $20!

This long, mini-melon [photo immediately above] is known as a "Blacklady," maybe because of the seeds. You can see the name on the price label.

These Malaysian Melon are about half-way between our typical watermelons' size and that of the super mini-melon size. (Mini stuff is big: they have mini-pineapple too.)

In Hong Kong, people still prefer to go shop in the market in they have household help, a stay-at-home mom, etc. old style. People still prefer to hand pick their produce, but the best quality stuff gets picked early in the AM well before lunch. Unless you get there early, by the time you get to the market, the most popular stalls are usually closed since they are sold out. Working people usually go to the supermarket, which will sell everything. I noticed the market is getting smaller and smaller as Hong Kong land is getting more and more expensive, and it's more regulated since the initial outbreaks of SARS and bird flu.

In Hong Kong, people definitely eat very seasonally. In a restaurant, for example, instead of ordering a plate of broccoli, you would ask the waiter, "What vegetables do you have today?" Now in the summer there is something called "yean choi," that is available. It's like spinach except with more texture and less of a minerally taste - like a big, crunchy watercress. You might get that. Once you select your vegetable, you tell the waiter exactly the way you want it done. [Editor's note: Cover your eyes, vegetarians!] Poached in fish stock, steamed with chicken broth, stir fried with shrimp paste with chili, etc. The vegetable dish is more of a main dish than a side dish; it's the same size as an entree.

Thom sent another interesting picture, this time from Korea. (With nary a watermelon in sight! See, we are complex people with many varied interests - vegetables, for example.)

It's alive!

The Lotte Mart is a 3 story supermarket in Seoul that sells everything from shampoo to stationery to pots to frozen, fresh and preserved vegetables. They also sell lettuces that are still growing - here they are in their little nursery.

Given that Korea is kimchi world, they have a whole section, easily a 2000 square foot space, just for preserved and pickled vegetables, fish, etc. Every customer seems to buy leeks and scallions in this market.

The weather has been rainy, otherwise I'd be visiting the market we passed on a taxi ride. It's huge - Vietnamese, Hong Kong style. The vendors sell stuff from woven baskets, just grabbing and weighing. Like Chinatown but on a massive scale. Sorry to miss out on those pictures.


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  3. Your blog is very informative and i try to check up before going for travling.. Hong Kong Holidys

  4. Thank you! Feel free to let us know about any intriguing produce you find in your travels.