So a few weekends ago I went to meet Justin & Kerri at Orient Market to give them a whirlwind tour of ingredients and such. One thing that they asked me about was this sugarcane looking vegetable in this picture (all the way in the back, directly behind the fresh green onions). I asked the employees, but it was hellishly busy, and I got no straight answers.
I took to the streets to pound pavement, demanding to know the truth! Well, not really. I just went to the library and put on hold the book Into The Vietnamese Kitchen.
It turns out that bac ha is also called elephant’s ear because the leaves are giant ear shaped leaves. Growing in tropical regions, like Vietnam, we don’t have this available locally except in the markets. For a close up image and description click here. Bac ha is flavorless.
Not to be eaten raw, bac ha absorbs a great deal of flavor from whatever it is cooked with, and therefore is mostly relied on for texture. Peel the outer layer, and then slice it the stalk on the diagonal to look most appealing. Most popularly, bac ha is used in a Vietnamese fish soup called canh chua ca. This is called sour fish soup because the ingredients include pineapple and tamarind which provide a sweetly sour flavor.