Life Life

14/03/2020 - 07:46

A nostalgia for papaya flowers fried with garlic

There are many dishes memorable for their buttery, nutty, sour or sweet tastes. There are also dishes making impression with a strange taste – the bitter taste. Bitter melons, Glinus herniarioides and centella have their own bitter tastes. For me, I love another bitter taste. It is the bitter and nutty taste of the papaya stamen flowers.

The bitter and nutty taste and the aroma of pre-mature papaya

When I was young, the papaya is a companion. With only a stalk of a papaya leaf cut at the two ends, I could blow bubbles the whole part of the day. As the papaya sap caused itchiness, we children only looked for the ripe or half-ripe fruits.

Not only the children but also magpies and red-whiskered bulbuls are fond of papaya. The sweet and freshness of papaya makes such rapture. It is fun to eat half-ripe papaya because each bite is crunchy and tasty.

Amazingly, some trees are redundant with fruits, some others produce almost nothing. The stamen flowers which seem to idly attract the butterflies turn out to be a special ingredient for a special dish.

To prepare a dish from papaya stamen flowers, it is essential to boil it carefully first, because it is strikingly bitter. A good pre-processing will soothe the bitter taste and create a nutty taste. A simplest dish to prepare is papaya flowers fried with garlic.

This is how I often pre-process. After picking the flowers, I rinse them and remove the stems, only retaining buds and ivory petals. Then I boil them for around 30 minutes. When I pick them out, I rinse them again with cool water, rub the flowers, and then drain to make sure it will be tasty and less bitter.

Another way to make the flowers less bitter without rubbing them is to boil them twice or three times. After that, there will be soft and silky ivory papaya flowers.

After frying garlic until it turns brownish yellow, put it into the boiled flowers and mix. Put in some fish sauce, pepper, chilly and seasoning powder. Since the flowers absorb spices well, I never put salt in, or if I have to, I will put very little of it. Gently turn the mixture over and over for a while, then there will be a flavored, tasty dish of papaya flowers fried with garlic.

The flowers are soft and silky, absorbed with special flavors of pepper, chilly and fish sauce. The flowers are no longer malodorous and bitter. They taste a little bitter, but nutty.

The papaya flowers fried with garlic has the smell of the pre-mature papaya, but it is not pungent. The sense of taste is awakened when having a bowl of warm rice with the papaya flowers fried with garlic, feeling a fantastic harmony of the natural spices.

In addition, papaya flowers can be used to make salad and soup, or they are boiled to eat with fish sauce. Whatever the dish is, the taste of the flowers remains a little bitter, nutty and flavored. The differences lie in the characteristics of each dish: a little sour with salad, gentle with soup and delicate with boiled papaya flowers.

In my village, there is also a folk remedy from papaya stamen flowers. It is used to help the digestion, reduce coughing and husky voice.

For me, when there are stamen flowers in the garden, I have a special feeling of happiness. It is not only the pleasure to prepare folk dishes, but also the recall of my beautiful childhood memories.

Story and photo: MAI HUE