The other night we had the honor of being invited to a birthday celebration of a 6-year-old boy. The party, or banquet I should really call it, was held at a very fancy, very traditional Chinese restaurant. The setting was amazing, a private room complete with scroll artwork on the wall, traditional style chairs and a giant mahogany round table decorated with blown glass pieces and fresh flowers. The host told us the restaurant spent 1 million yuan on each private room and you could really tell.
The meal was amazing. Local fish, rare mushrooms (called cave ears), bamboo shoots, meat filled buns and even sushi. (This isn’t traditional of course but is gaining popularity here in China.) There was so much food I tried to eat only the unique items so I wouldn’t fill myself up with things I could get elsewhere. As the nuts kept circling by me on the lazy susan I kept passing them up. The looked kind of like pistachios, and I didn’t know what they were.
“Ginkgo nuts,” said our host holding up a few.
Ginkgo nuts?! I know about the ginkgo tree, and the ginkgo leaf, but nuts? I had to try it.
It turns out that ginkgo nuts are quite famous and popular in China. The ginkgo leaf is well known as a memory aid, but the fruit has a lot of healing properties as well. They are used in traditional cold remedies as it can help coughs, sore throats and asthma. They are also good for the digestive system.
These nuts are about the size of almonds and are served in the shell. They come from the middle of ginkgo fruit which is suppose to stink like crazy. I’ve read descriptions of the smell that range from rotten butter to vomit. Luckily we had just the nuts and the fruit stench wasn’t apparent.
The inside of the nut is a pale yellow color and the most amazing thing is the texture. It’s like a jelly bean, or a piece of soft plastic, not hard or brittle at all. The taste wasn’t quite up my alley. A little too bitter really, but also kind of bland. In fact, it didn’t have much of a taste at all besides the bitterness. They are usually added to soups so I assume their flavor comes out with a little cooking.
The ginkgo tree itself is old, very old. It is called a living fossil and was likely on the planet the same time as the dinosaurs. They are also considered a sacred tree in China and can often be found planted outside temples.
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