There’s a common vegetable here that I love, 丝瓜 (si gua), which is often found in soups and stir-fries at restaurants. It is commonly translated in menus as “towel gourd,” though Google prefers to call it “luffa,” which is derived from its scientific name (apparently it turns into loofahs when it grows older).
According to Wikipedia, it is sometimes referred to Chinese okra, which I’ve heard used, though I can’t say if it actually refers to the si gua I’m talking about. To add to the confusion, Wikipedia says the species is acutangula, while Baidu says it’s cylindrica. I don’t know what I’m eating! (A si gua.)
Anyway, while it’s fairly common on restaurant menus — it sort of just pops up when you’re least expecting, and I always just know that it’s a a si gua in that picture — I didn’t think it was right under my nose the whole time. I am fairly used to not knowing what most things are in China, firstly because I’m no culinary wizard and secondly because Chinese vegetables be Chinese and, let’s be honest, I barely know my vegetables in English. My food world is especially bizarre because I know Chinese food by their Chinese names and Western food by their English names, and only rarely do I know what they might be in another language. Plus, food comes to me all prepared and cut up — how am I supposed to know what they actually look like??
So it was only the other day that I remembered and bothered to ask my parents about si gua. My mom said that one kind is skinny and long, and my dad said that they are hairy, but then they got into an argument because my mom said that they aren’t hairy (they really aren’t). In the end, I just looked it up online and realized I’ve seen them. A lot. They look like really long cucumbers but with ridges. (As an aside, lots of things look like cucumbers in China with slightly different bumpy skins, some of which are actually cucumbers.) And when I got to the market, I found out that they are kind of squishy, too, like an eggplant. I bought some and then went home to stir-fry them with some garlic and xia mi (the tiny dried shrimp things, not the Chinese music streaming site) and decided that I am the greatest.