Green Queen Living: Wet Market Series Part 6 – Guide to Chinese Dried Goods (Gon Fo)

The sheer variety of dried products sold in Hong Kong wet markets is staggering. Not only do each and every one of them have special health benefits, they are really handy because they last forever (well, almost!), so no waste! Below we cover some of the most commonly seen ones. 

 

Dried Scallops/Conpoy – Jiu Cyu/ Jyun Bui

 

Conpoy is a well known ingredient in Cantonese cuisine though they are rarely used whole and often unrecognizable in their original state as you see them in the markets: in golden brown colored thick medallions. Depending on the scallops used, they vary in size. The two most commonly scene in Hong Kong are the larger Chinese ones and the smaller Japanese ones, which people say have a finer taste. As with all dried foodstuff, the scallop flavour is much more concentrated and they have an unmistakable “oceany” scent. Conpoy have a chewy, stringy texture. It is a key ingredient in XO sauce though to most Cantonese it is most well known as a popular congee topping. It tests extremely high for umami flavor, one of the reasons for its popularity as a ingredient with chefs in this region. 

 

High Season: Available all year

 

What To Look For: Make sure they have a vibrant golden hue. 

 

How To Eat:  Conpoy is a great replacement for other cured seafood like anchovies: why not use it to make a Canto-style Caesars dressing? Chopped up and thrown in to your wok, it adds that elusive umami flavor to stir fries. Make sure to soak the scallops in water for 30 minutes (and save the scallop infused water to use as a seafood broth to the dish you are making). 

 

Storage: Keep dried scallops in an airtight container in the fridge for a up to two years.

 

Dried Lotus Seed (Lin Zi)

 

Dried Lotus Seeds – Lin Zi

 

There are actually three different types of lotus seeds: dried, crystallized and raw. The most commonly found ones are the dried ones. They have a brown peel and are usually sold sliced in half after the bitter center has been removed. Dried lotus seeds is used extensively in Cantonese and Chinese cuisine, especially as an addition to soups and in desserts. Lotus seed paste is the one of the main ingredients in traditional moon cake filling. Taste wise, the seeds are fairly neutral. 

 

High Season: Available all year

 

What To Look For: Look for brightness (of the white insides- the yellowish ones have passed their prime) and avoid those with blemishes. 

 

How To Eat:  Dried lotus seeds must be soaked for a couple of hours at least before usage- overnight is best. The easiest thing to do with dried lotus seeds is make pudding! Boil them until soft and then thicken with your favorite sweetener and homemade almond milk (or milk/mylk of your choice).  They also make a great snack when roasted or dehydrated (soak first). 

 

Storage: Dried lotus seeds can be kept in a sealed container at room temperature for a year.

 

Apricot Karnel (Naam Bak Hang) 

 

Dried Sweet Apricot Kernels and Bitter Apricot Kernels – Naam Bak Hang

 

Dried apricot kernels are the dried inner part of apricot seeds. Depending on where the apricots originate, the dried kernels can be sweet or bitter. They have been prized for centuries for their superfood qualities and are undergoing a renaissance in health food circles. The kernels are very pale yellow in color, almost white, and have a heart-like shape. The bitter ones are slightly smaller than the sweet ones. The bitter ones are often used to make marmalades and liquors in the Mediterranean regions. 

 

High Season: Available all year

 

What To Look For: Their surface should be smooth and cream colored. 

 

How To Eat: The bitter dried apricot kernels must be eaten cooked as they contain a slight amount of cyanide in them. Use the bitter ones when making any type of jam or preserve- they add a wonderful depth of flavor.  The sweet ones can be used as a almond substitutes in recipes- we recommend grinding them and making your own dried apricot kernel flour out of them. Throw the kernels into your blender for a nutritious addition to smoothies or sprinkle them onto your morning breakfast bowl. 

 

Storage: Dried sweet and bitter apricot kernels can be stored in a sealed jar at room temperature for up to six months or in the fridge for up to 18 months.

 

 

Dried Ginkguo (Baak Guo)

 

Dried Gingko Nuts/Silver Apricots – Baak Guo

 

Dried gingko nuts have a hard white shell that belies their creamy, starchy yellow insides. Right at the centre, the nuts have an embryo that is slightly bitter when raw (though with cooking, this dissipates). Gingko nuts are a regular feature in Cantonese dishes. They are extremely popular across Asia too and very often used instead of soya beans and in desserts. Most people have a love-hate relationship with gingko- some can’t get enough of its creaminess, others are repulsed by its very strong, overbearing scent. 

 

Gingko are great for easing asthma and promoting blood circulation to the brain. It usually appears in sweet soup such as Dried Bean Curd and Ginkgo Nuts Dessert. It is added to many vegetarian dishes too! The most typical one is the Buddha’s Delight, which gingko is stir-fried with cloud ear mushroom, tofu skin stick, red dates etc. Meat can also be put in the dish if you can’t live without meat!

 

High Season: Available all year

 

What To Look For: Stick with the smooth surfaced unblemished ones. 

 

How To Eat:  There are many different methods to get to the creamy insides from the hard shell. You can use a nutcracker or a small hammer. You can boil them for 15 to 20 minutes until the skins crack or you can stir fry them to open them up. They are a good way to incorporate starch into your soups, stews and stir fries- use them where you would other large pulses. You can also make puddings, jellies and creamy desserts with them, just pop them in whole after mixing the other ingredients. Roasted in the oven with olive oil, they make a great accompaniment to a main or work well as a snack too! If you want to avoid the bitter aftertaste, remove the embryo. Important note: in large quantities (more than 10 a day), gingko nuts can be toxic for some. Young children should avoid them. 

 

Storage: Unshelled,  gingko nuts can be kept in a sealed container at room temperature for a while but they do grow mold quite easily so check on them. Once shelled, freeze them for later use, they last for a long time this way.  

 

Dried Tangerine Peel (Can Pei)

  

Dried Tangerine Peels/ Dried Mandarin Orange Peels – Can Pei

 

Available all around Hong Kong in the city’s wet markets, dried tangerine peels are incredibly versatile. Some love them for their medicinal properties, while others are fans of the delicate, heady scent (which some liken to cinnamon) they impart to a dish. Many Cantonese make their own dried peels at home. 

 

High Season: Available all year

 

What To Look For: The more fragrant they are, the fresher. 

 

How To Eat: Make your own medicinal herbal tea! Just bring the peels and filtered water to a boil and then simmer. Alternatively, soak in warm water for 20 minutes, slice thinly and throw into a dish of your choice like braised meats, seafood stir fries, sauteed veggies. When baking, use instead of orange rind or lemon zest, just finely ground the peel to use. If you are making marmalade, adding the peels offers a much deeper flavor. 

 

Storage: Unshelled,  gingko nuts can be kept in a sealed container at room temperature for up to a year. 

 

 

 

Join us next week for the Wet Market Series Part 7 where we explore the world of Chinese fruits. Or try the previous entries in this series:

Green Queen Living: Wet Market Series Part 5 – Guide to Tofu Products (Dao Fu)

Green Queen Living: Wet Market Series Part 4 – Guide to Chinese Herbs & Spices (Heng Liu)

Green Queen Living: Wet Market Series Part 3 – Guide to Chinese Root & Tuber Vegetables (Gan)

Green Queen Living: Wet Market Series Part 2 – Guide to Chinese Melon & Gourds (Gwaa)

Green Queen Living: Wet Market Series Part 1 – Guide to Chinese Leafy Greens (Choy)