“Toon is more than an ingredient to me,” says Jonathan Wu, the chef and partner at Fung Tu (22 Orchard St., 212-219-8785) “It’s personal.”
Toon is a type of Chinese cedar tree; its edible fresh shoots are considered a delicacy, and are in season for just a few short weeks. It’s such rarity in the United States that Fung Tu could be the only place in New York serving it fresh.
The leaves are slim and long, with a flavor somewhere on the spectrum between onion and garlic, only much darker — almost smoky and earthy. You can find them salted or pickled, sold throughout the year in some Chinese supermarkets, but it’s very rare to get the fresh leaves. “A lot of Chinese people come in to eat toon when it’s on the menu,” says Wu. “They’ve grown up with the flavor, but they’ve never had it fresh before and they love it!”
“There’s a toon tree in my grandparent’s yard in New Jersey,” Wu explains. “They pick the leaves and take them to Senior Club, and they’re happy for me to cut leaves for the restaurant. When the leaves are young they have a deep red color; that’s when they’re really at their best. Over the course of three weeks or so, they change to a light green. Once they get too big and too green, they’re too tough, and the season is over.”
Toon, (fresh or preserved), is most often steamed or stir-fried. “My grandma makes toon scrambled eggs,” says Wu. “That’s the inspiration for my dish. I make a floating island, where the egg whites are infused with dashi, kombu, ginger and garlic. The cloud of eggs is served in the broth, and I drape toon leaves over the top.”
“Even out of season, toon is at the heart of Fung Tu,” says Wu. “My wife used the tree as her inspiration when she designed our wallpaper!”