The Mysterious Matter of the Missing Water Chestnut

In any grocery store in New Jersey or New York City you can find all kinds of ingredients. The abundance of food varieties is staggering, and we totally take it for granted. It’s inconceivable that you’d go into the grocery store and not be able to find Chinese, Indian and Mexican food ingredients waiting for you to pluck them off the shelf and put them in your cart.

In fact, I wrote about making my own vegan Chinese food on the blog back in February:

But I’m not in Jersey City; I’m in Bonifacio Global City, a wealthy suburb of Metro Manila. And none of the grocery stores in all of BGC carry water chestnuts or bamboo shoots.

This is not a big deal if you have a lot of other vegetable choices, but vegetable choices here are more limited (in some ways) than what we have at home, but expanded in local Philippino green leafy veggies which (frankly) all look like variations on bok choy. Anyway…

A few days ago, a friend told me to check a high-end specialty food store called Santis. But that place emphasizes European imported goods, and European meats and cheeses. No Chinese ingredients.

I decided that this situation required me to be a bit radical. There’s a very good Chinese resto in my neighborhood called Sichuan. I stopped in.

The perplexed looking staff wondered why I wasn’t going to sit down for a meal, and I wasn’t putting in a take out order, but I wanted to speak to the manager. In the given tradition of over-staffing, about a dozen Filipina girls started whispering to each other about why I’d want to speak to the manager? Was someone in trouble?

Soon the “manager” came over, a young man in his late 20’s. I explained that I loved the food at Sichuan, and I had eaten there several times, but that sometimes I wanted to cook Chinese food at home, and I couldn’t find the ingredients I needed.

Before I could even ask, he said, “Would you like us to get these water chestnuts and bamboo shoots for you?”

“Yes,” I said, so happily surprised at his kind generosity.

“Do you need them right away?” he asked. Knowing how Filipinos can go very far out of their way for simple requests, I emphasized that I did NOT need them right away, and anytime they could get them would be fine.

“How often do you get deliveries?” I asked.

“Every day,” he said. And confirmed what I thought. If I had said I needed it “right away” I imagine he might have sent a courier for same day water chestnut delivery!

A few emails later, we confirmed prices and I was told my ingredients would be available the very next day for pick up. But, the manager added, the cans of bamboo shoots were “a bit” large, was that okay?

Oh sure, I wrote back. How big could they be, I thought?

It turns out, restaurant sized cans of Bamboo Shoots are pretty big

It turns out, restaurant sized cans of Bamboo Shoots are pretty big

Each one of the cans of water chestnuts in this photo is about 1.5 pounds, so, yes, the cans of bamboo shoots are huge.

And then, I opened one big can, and this is what I found inside:

The real deal - authentic Chinese bamboo shoots

The real deal – authentic Chinese bamboo shoots

I was thrilled! This is exactly what I had been buying in Jersey City, and so I knew how to process them. (For anyone not familiar with this ingredient, when you slice the bamboo shoot down the center, do it in the sink or over a bowl, they are filled with water inside. Then, once split in half, it’s easier to slice them up to prepare them for use in stir fry dishes.)

Incidentally, the restaurant manager told me where I could go and find these ingredients myself. “It’s very far from here,” he said. “Where’s that?” I asked.

Chinatown – in Manila.

I’ve heard of it, and I’ve been told it’s dangerous enough that it’s not a place for me to go by myself, so I have not ventured there – YET. I’m in the process of trying to convince some local friends to go with me, and when I do, I’m sure I’ll have more stories to tell!

7 Responses

  1. Hilarious!

    But be careful when you go to Chinatown (oh, you’ll go).

    • LOL, yes, I’m gonna try to go because I’ve been told there are a LOT of very good Chinese restaurants there.

      Listen, I’m a Jewish girl from NYC and I have a homing beacon that was installed at birth to find Chinese food………………………

  2. Hi, Carol! There are a lot of great restos in Chinatown (my fave is Wai Ying), but there are other Chinese restos around BGC that are worth the try. Crystal Jade (30th street corner 7th avenue), Mann Hann (Market! Market!), and Lugang Café (SM Aura).

    Hope this helps. Just drop me an email in case you have anything to ask. 🙂

    • Thanks Cathie! I’d also add Modern Sichuan, located in the Fort. They seem to have even more vegetarian choices than Crystal Jade, which is a beautiful place, but kind of expensive.

      But I haven’t tried Lugang Café in SM Aura, OR Mann Hann in Market! Market! – so thank you for that! Both of those are easy walking distance from me – yay! 🙂

    • Hi again Cathie,

      I tried Lugong Café in SM Aura and LOVED the food!

      It’s more expensive than my regular go-to Modern Sichuan in the Fort (I think the rents at the malls are always higher, thus driving up menu prices) but I must say, despite the expense, the food was really delicious. And I was so HAPPY there were many vegetarian options on the menu, because I am a vegetarian (well, I’m mostly vegan, but anyway.)

      In terms of service, I’d give Lugong a worse rating than Modern Sichuan or Crystal Jade. When I went, the resto was half empty, there were tons of servers but I had trouble flagging one down to place my order, and again I had trouble flagging down my bill, etc.

      Okay … I’m going to have to get over to Mann Hann and see what tastes good!

      Thanks again!

      • Glad you liked the food at Lugang Café. Too bad the servers were inattentive.

        You should also checkout The Wholesome Table (30th st corner 7th ave). It’s not a Chinese restaurant, but they have a lot of vegan options.

        Let me know what you think about Mann Hann! 🙂

        • I ate at Wholesome Table so often that not only did the staff know what I wanted to eat, but my request to make the eggplant parm vegan for me was honored every time. The chef altered the recipe for me, which I appreciated.

          Well, I did try Mann Hann at the Market! Market! mall, but I thought the vegan options were much more limited and for me I didn’t really think the food was that great.

          At this point though, I have returned home to New York City / Jersey City and so I have a LOT of places I can go here where I enjoy Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean and Indian food. 🙂

          Now I have a different “problem” – where can I go to get the Filipino vegan dishes that I came to love! LOL. That includes Lumpia with ubod, and Torta Talong, and Banana Heart salad.

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