My Tropical Asian Treasure Trove – Part 1

It looks like some overgrown wasteland, neglected, in disarray … well, Ma Nature never created forest growth in straight rows. If they can grow in harmony as companions, and they have for over 3 years, why should I try to ‘straighten things out’ and spoil their habitat?

My shade loving Asian bed

It’s summer. Both plants and human beings in this household can feel the heat, which results in the planting and monitoring frenzy of spices, herbs and rhizomes I use in the kitchen. I try to grow as much as I can, to harvest and preserve (dry or freeze) as I know when the weather gets cooler, they die off or hibernate. They make way for their cool weather comrades.

You may ask “why not just get Asian stuff from an Asian grocery store?” Well, it’s over 35 miles to the closest well-stocked Asian produce store so it would be crazy frequently heading there just to get herbs & spices I need. More important, many of the items that I use, are not sold there … oh yes, not all Asian culinary spices are created equal.
(Click on the sub-titled links for more info & photos.)

Turmeric ~ a much-needed spice in my kitchen. It has grown in my backyard for over 3 years so it simply feels at home and will start re-growing in Spring but will show its leaves in Summer. I use these leaves in tea, curries and as wraps when roasting; and the roots in curries, pickles, sambal, etc.

Fresh green Turmeric leaves.

Galangal (Alpinia officinarum) 南姜 ~ which I simply call Lengkuas is another crucial item needed when preparing S.E. Asian dishes like those Mum taught me.

Galangal – just “normal” looking rhizome growth.

Can you get these in Chinese, Vietnamese or Filipino owned stores? No, but you might find it in Thai & Indian stores … frozen ones, yes but fresh ones, maybe.

Sand Ginger (Kaempferia galanga) or Cekur/沙姜 ~ the mysterious ornamental ginger which I began growing when a ginger-growing enthusiast sent me a rhizome.

Cekur, it makes a beautiful groundcover

Leaves and rhizomes are edible. Lovely as ground cover, even lovelier as an organic backyard grown food aroma enhancer. Can one find this in Asian stores in Florida? Unfortunately I have to say 99.9% it’s “No”. So I simply grow it!

Jicama or Bangkuang/地瓜 (direct translated to mean ground gourd) is a commonly grown root crop in Florida.

Pretty but poisonous!

It’s a beautiful vine but all parts are poisonous except the root ~ a bulbous turnip, which I can eat raw with no fear.



Springroll – no need for frying

Actually when shredded and slow-cooked with salted fermented beans it makes the best Spring Roll stuffing ever!

Ginger (Zingiber officinale), the common ginger loves this semi-shady bed too.


Here it doesn’t mind acting as a trellis for the Jicama vine, just like in a forest. They actually make good companions. Is it crazy to grow ginger when I can simply head to the supermarket to get a piece? Not at all. The young leaves are very aromatic and when very finely shredded (fresh or dried) can be added to the cup when steeping tea. Young ginger need not be peeled, just rinsed, its texture is fiberless and excellent for pickles, ginger candy and even gingerbread.

Tapioca or Cassava (I’ve always called it Ubi Kayu, a Malay term, literally translated to mean Woody Tuber) grows like weed! Anywhere you stick a cutting in, it just takes root ~ pardon the pun.

Tapioca ~ the woody tuber

In this shady patch, it provides support to Jicama vines and provides an extra blockage of sun rays to the Sand Ginger.

Cassava the Woody Tuber

The root does indeed look Woody…
but when used in the kitchen you can use  it in sweet dishes

Tapioca cake called Kuih Bingka

or savory. You get to make the choice.

Corned Beef with Cassava


Now do you see why I’m growing all these in my backyard? Oh, but there’s more …

(Part 2 forthcoming)


One response to “My Tropical Asian Treasure Trove – Part 1

  1. Pingback: My Tropical Asian Treasure Trove – Part 2 | Temasek Garden

What's your Opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s