No. 5: Bamboo Pith and Sauteed Winter Melon at East Harbor
This dish of pith and unsweet melon is as wan as a wintry day -- but the taste is supremely delectable.
Bamboo pith is not a common ingredient in Western gastronomy. In fact, I've never seen it outside grandiose Hong Kong-style restaurants. Winter melon is more common -- you can see it in every Chinatown greengrocer. It's one of those vegetables (beets, carrots, potatoes, winter squashes) that can survive the coldest season in your root cellar.
The tubular, spongy, off-white shapes known as bamboo pith are not really the pith of the bamboo plant, which they somewhat resemble. Instead, it's a fungus known by its botanical name of Phallus indusiatus (maybe you can guess what the "phallus" part means by looking at the dish, above). Even the common names are hilarious: long net stinkhorn, crinoline stinkhorn, or veiled lady.
The plant is a mushroom, which has an odd, lacy skirt of flesh hanging around the cap, giving it a veiled look. When cooked, the plant is deliriously mushy, unlike anything you've ever tasted before, and the winter melon provides the ideal green backdrop. The broth in which the constituents flounder is chicken-y tasting and soothing, and the totality of the dish is delightful and strange.
Get it at Hong Kong-style restaurant East Harbor, a gigantic presence on the southern frontier of Sunset Park's Chinatown, right on the Bay Ridge border and slightly south of the N train track, which runs in a rut in these parts.
East Harbor 714 65th Street Sunset Park, Brooklyn 718-765-0098
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