When I was a little girl my 爸爸 took my sister and I to Taiwan. It was my first trip to Taiwan as well as Asia. I remember the hot wet air hitting us like a ton of bricks when we descended from the airplane onto the tarmac, the hot sluggish wind. This was a completely different place from where we were growing up, a place full of strange new sights, sounds and smells. My 爸爸 had lived in Taiwan during his formative teen years and had never been back since. He was emotional, full of half complete stories of his Taiwan years, stories sprinkled with joy, nostalgia and sadness. One of the side trips we took on this little family adventure was a long and winding bus ride that took us to the lush deep south of Taiwan. It was on this never ending bus ride that I had my first lesson on How to Eat Sugarcane 吃甘蔗. Munching away on a stick was never so sweet!
|Sugarcane, Jan Brandes, 1779 - 1787 - Rijksmuseum, between 1779 and 1787|
It was at a humble roadside stop during this bus ride that my 爸爸 discovered to his delight a rickety wood stall with a bucket of sugarcane, or 甘蔗, for sale. He promptly bought each of us a sticky stick of sugarcane. My sister and I had no idea what these were! The sugarcanes had been peeled of their hard skins already and 爸爸 showed us how to take a big bite of the crunchy, pulpy, juicy interior of the sugarcane.
Oh, the sweet, pure juice! Sugar in a stick! Tasting like a light but rich caramel, uncloyingly sweet and so refreshing. Who could have guessed that the juicy pulp inside this hard stick could be so delicious?! The bumpity bus ride resumed while my sister and I chewed away happily on our sugarcanes, loving each sweet juicy bite. It was so good I couldn't stop munching away until (too late!) I realized that 1) My bladder was really, really, really full from all the sugarcane juice and 2) the bus was not going to have a pit stop again for a long, long time. Oh how my poor bladder suffered on each bump of that never ending bus ride of long ago!
Sugarcane, of course, is the plant that gives us most of the sugar that we use. The Persians called sugarcane "the reeds that produce honey without bees". Indeed it is the world's largest crop but we seldom get to see it in its natural state, usually enjoying its sugar after refinement. Curiously, it is rather hard to find raw sugarcane nowadays but if you do happen upon it you must try it out! You won't believe that a plant tastes so good!
Buy sugarcane that looks fresh and unwrinkled without cracks and discolorations and that feels heavy, the heavier the more juice and the sweeter. Check the ends to see that the pulp is not dried out looking. To prepare your sugarcane cut off a length of sugarcane that you think you can eat in one sitting, perhaps 8-10 inches. Or better yet get your vendor to cut into suitable lengths for you if possible. Rinse well under running water. Then hold the sugarcane upright on your cutting board, get a sharp knife and carefully slice the hard skin off at a thickness of approx. 1/8" to 1/4" thickness. The pulp inside of the sugarcane will be a pale yellow with a green tinge. Once you have all the hard skin off, rinse and you're ready to eat!
|Sugarcane cut to smaller bite sized bits|
To eat the sugarcane you just bite into it and pull off a bite sized bit. Then you chew all the delicious juice out of that bit of sugarcane until just the pulp is left in your mouth. It's pretty soft, you just have to chew to extract the plentiful juice. Spit out the pulp, take another bite and repeat. Or you can also cut up the now peeled sugarcane to smaller pieces that you can pop in your mouth at your convenience.
|The leftover pulp from eating sugarcane|
To store the unpeeled sugarcane that you've bought but are now too full to eat just wrap both ends with plastic wrap secured with a rubber band and and keep it in the fridge for up to two weeks. If you've bought pre-peeled sugarcane you should eat it at once as once you've peeled sugarcane it starts to lose flavor and juiciness.
Well, that's about it! I've been wanting some more sweet refreshing sugarcane (want to try a sugarcane soaked in vodka idea I read about) but haven't seen anymore at our local wet market. Meanwhile I'll be on the lookout for these yummilicious sticks of sweetness, hope you all have more luck to find it first!
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