Phyllis Louise Harris
I am often asked to name my favorite food. And my answer is always the same – any food that is perfectly ripe and just picked. Last week that applied to the perfectly ripe and very fresh water chestnuts I found at one of my favorite food stores, Truong Thanh (Great Wall).
About this time each year I make a double batch of Chinese Pearl Balls, my daughter’s favorite dish that are best made with fresh water chestnuts. And each year I go to Truong Thanh hoping they have some on hand. Only once was I disappointed because owner Hung Lanh Duong felt the chestnuts in the market were not up to her standards. This year they were perfect!
If you have never tasted a fresh water chestnut you will not understand my excitement in finding perfect chestnuts. They grow in the mud along Southeast Asian riverbanks and when you see them in the store they are still covered with some of the soil. Their outer skins are also dark brown so it is difficult to know whether you are picking up a perfect chestnut with a white, crunchy, tasty interior or one that may have turned brown throughout.
To give me the best chance of getting good water chestnuts I squeeze each one. If they are solid all around I’ll take my chances and keep it. Last week I picked up 14 perfect water chestnuts. Now that may seem like a small thing to you, but to me it was wonderful!
To use the chestnuts I slice off the root end and peel away the dark shell with a knife leaving beautifully crunchy and tasty “nuts.” Not at all like the canned versions that are simply starchy and bland, fresh water chestnuts have a flavor similar to fresh coconut but less sweet. The peeled chestnuts can be kept in a covered container filled with water for several days in the refrigerator. Fresh water chestnuts are among hundreds of items available at Truong Thanh Grocery Store.
Founded in 1988 by Hung’s father Xuong Mau Duong, the store was originally located at 15th Street off Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. Xuong was the state’s first Chinese herbalist who stocked several hundred traditional herbs. It was fun to go into the store on Saturday’s to watch him consult with a customer then go to the drawers and pull out one herb after another putting them on a big square of paper until he had the combination he wanted for his customer’s ailments. In 1993 they moved the store to 2520 Nicollet Avenue South on Eat Street with an adjoining parking lot.
I also go to Truong Thanh for all the Asian basics and cooking equipment as well as beautiful watercress, fresh long beans, live crabs, and in season, persimmons and fresh lychees. That’s another food you need to try fresh and not canned. Lychees have a rough shell around very sweet fruit and a seed. With a sharp knife cut around the circumference of the shell, pull the two shell pieces off and eat the fruit avoiding the seed. Very sweet and very good!
Truong Thanh is open everyday. For information call 612-879-0561.
Read more about Asian food in Minnesota and try more than 160 recipes in Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875, in bookstores and on amazon.cm.
Buy online: Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875
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