A Mystery Philippine Vegetable

Some TV folks were here to interview us about guerrilla gardening, following up on the story that mentioned us in the LA Times this week. We did the interview down in the parkway next to our illegal street-side vegetable garden. I nattered on about reclaiming wasted space, staying in touch with nature, the value of homegrown food, dodging the authorities and knowing where your carrots come from. I harvested for the camera, an unimpressive string bean and two small cucumbers.

On a whim, I suggested that we visit the parkway garden that inspired us to plant our own. Just two blocks away, this parkway garden is the handiwork of a retired couple from the Philippines. As luck would have it, the couple pulled up during our interview. Julie (I’m afraid I can’t spell her last name) stepped out of her car and proceeded to give us a tour of her “guerrilla” garden, talking about–guess what–reclaiming wasted space, staying in touch with nature, the value of homegrown food, dodging the authorities and knowing where your bitter melon comes from. The only differences between our two spiels–the bitter melon, and Julie’s lack of Generation X irony and a blog.

I think the TV folks were hoping for something more telegenic, sexy and radical, to fit the “guerrilla gardening” story, like say the image on the left. They were, perhaps, less excited by some ordinary middle-aged to elderly residents of Echo Park passionately talking about vegetables.

Their loss our gain. As a parting gift Julie gave us this leafy green whose name, I’m afraid, I can neither pronounce nor remember. She told us to parboil it and season with soy sauce. Any guesses readers as to what this is?

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9 Comments

  1. Hello! I wish I could help you identify that plant, but I cannot. The title caught my eye as I spent a good part of my life (now on Canada’s west coast) in the Philippines…

    I’m interested in getting in touch with you if you could email me back ([email protected]) as I have a blog concerning land use and sustainability. I wrote a post a few weeks ago on the LA River movement there, and keep seeing that California isleading the way in urban reclamation in more than a few ways…maybe that’s cause you have such a long way to go.

    Anyhoo, I really like what you do and would like to feature at some point in a post what you do, and the importance of such actions in the urban environment. The positive impact is more than social and site based, it can really affect the overall system in a city.

    Good work, and I hope to hear from you soon.
    Torbjorn @ Variable Interest

  2. I don’t know what the plant is, but I am interested in the bitter melon as I am currently growing some just because I thought the seeds were so impressive looking. I commend your work with the reclaiming wasted space such a great idea. I just pulled out all of the grass in my backyard (much to the chagrin of my kids and my dogs) and put in lots and lots of veggies so I LOVE your site as it can throw in some questions about california climate and growing procedures and how to keep the chickens out of the garden!

  3. I believe that is “kankong” or “river spinach,” an essential ingredient in sinigang, the Filipino tamarind soup–which is really great by the way. In the US, unless you have a good Asian market or farmer’s market nearby, regular spinach is usually used. I’ve had both and prefer kankong, which doesn’t have that iron-y taste spinach sometimes does.

    Matthew on the San Mateo coast

  4. Hello! I chanced upon your blog today and I got curious with your post on the mystery plant from the Phil.
    NO! THAT is not kangkong. I am from the Philippines, and I’ve been to some local markets and yet that plant is new to my eyes.
    It may be from southern Philippines, ‘coz I haven’t seen (I’m from the north) that until now. Maybe it would help if you ask Julie herself :).

  5. Another Filipino here. I agree with Cecile, that is not kangkong. Kangkong leaves are kinda shaped like spearheads – check wikipedia.

    I’m from the southern Philippines (Mindanao) and a foodie, but nope, those leaves do not look familiar at all.

    Granted, fruits and veggies vary widely throughout the Phlippines and there is a lot of variation when it comes to local favorites, what with 7,107 islands.

  6. that is not kangkong. please check the internet. perhaps that’s a culantro (Sc. name: Eryngium foetidium). its smells like coriander though. it has blue flowers.

    or perhaps its talinum, Talinum fruticosum. talinum flowers are pinkish in color and the plant is not smelly.

    so you just have to keep it and wait for the flowers. then you can identify. :-)

  7. Yes!That is talinum taste close like alugbate in philippine and alugbate also taste like spinach. I been eating a lots of that kind of vegetable.Delicious! I miss that an i wish i can grow that here.

  8. This is ASHITABA I don’t know the correct spelling but it sound like that. I just called my wife to confirm the name. She planted this in a half cut soft drink plastic bottle at home. I just recently know this when I came from abroad. She introduce me this plant and seeing her eating because it has lot of health benefit. My wife is so selective of eating vege and even eat raw but I was convince when she pick some leaves, wash in the faucet and eat fresh. Very easy to grow and no need of fertilizer and spray.

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