I watched the mass of shoppers hover around the table for at least 10 minutes before I mustered up enough courage to elbow my way in and take a look. I was surprised to see a knobby, speckled, skinny root vegetable staring back at me. I had no idea what it was and given all the hustle around me, I doubted I’d get an answer even if I asked.
I walked away, but it didn’t take long for my curiosity to get the better of me. Finally, on my last lap through the Farmers Market there was a lighter crowd swarming the vendor. I stepped up, analyzed the unfamiliar root, and I caught his eye. I asked what it was. He responded twice with the proper name, and I’m sure my face revealed that not only could I not hear over the people, but that I also couldn’t understand him.
His next response was, “Chinese potato. You cook it like potato in a soup.”
Sold. I grabbed up a handful and he nodded in acknowledgement that I only needed a few for soup.
After a bit of research, I think I finally found the name for this new-to-me vegetable. I say – I think - because it wasn’t easy to come by. I have found a couple of blogs which identify it as Wai San.
It’s long and thin, and almost looks like it has dots. Check.
When it’s peeled, its starch is sticky and a little glue-like. Check.
It boils up like a potato, yet is has a blander flavor. Check.
If you happen to know it by another name, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to learn more about it.
This being my first attempt at cooking with Wai San I didn’t want to get too adventurous. I stuck to the recommendation for soup, and I wasn’t let down.
Cut into small pieces, it takes less time to cook than potato. It has a similar texture, but it’s less starchy. It’s almost like a cross between a carrot and a potato, but with little flavor. That is, until you mix it with the ginger, coconut milk and shrimp in this soup.
Ginger Coconut Soup with Wai San and Shrimp
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, sliced
½ inch piece of ginger, grated
1 ½ cups peeled and chopped Wai San
1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk
3 cups seafood stock
½ lb cooked shrimp, chopped
½ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
2-3 green onions, sliced for garnish
In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high. Add the onion, garlic and celery. Cook, stirring often, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the ginger. Add the Wai San and cook 1 more minute.
Pour in the coconut milk and seafood stock. Bring to a low boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow the soup to simmer about 5 minutes or just until the Wai San is tender.
Add the shrimp, salt and pepper. Cook just until the shrimp are heated through, about 1 minute. Top each bowl of soup with green onions and serve warm. Makes 4 meal-sized servings, and about 6 appetizer servings.
Lori Rice is a freelance writer, recipe developer, food photographer and nutritionist. Fake Food Free is a creative outlet that allows her to connect with people from around the world who share a love of travel, food culture and cooking.