Alien Veg

Feast your eyes

Feast your eyes

Nothing bent here

Nothing bent here

I read an article once about China taking vegetable seeds up to a newly launched space station. It’s the kind of story you might imagine was an elaborate April Fool’s Day gag, since it ran for a while, but I also have a vague recollection of reading about the produce subsequently: how the peppers were crispier and all manner of veg larger than anything ever grown before. That might even have been in one of my Shanghai propaganda lessons except if the Telegraph reported it it must be true.

Being reminded of this I went online to double check whether I’d made it up but sure enough the records are there

As you may see, but in case you haven’t the infinite leisure to investigate further, they brought the space seeds back to earth and still managed to supersize them. Imagine my surprise as I looked up these links to discover that this is once again current given that in recent months the scientists here have been trialling methods to cultivate Mars.

I can report that the original super veggies don’t seem to have made it into the mainstream yet. Not that there is anything wrong with what I have come across so far. For all the quality control and standardisation of produce in the UK, I have yet to see a vegetable whose cause could be championed by Jamie Oliver and I can’t believe the supermarkets here are prejudiced against bendy carrots.

I never really rate fruit anywhere but I have always been quite impressed by the variety of pears in this part of the world which I find much easier to eat than the sandpaper covered ones in the UK. The apples are also great if, like me, you prefer a Fiji or Pink Lady to a Granny Smith or a Cox. (Saying that, I do miss a good Braeburn).

China being so vast, a bit like the US it already has access to multiple climates and therefore varied growing conditions – so much so obvious. While this has not been commercialised on the same scale as the US, despite the best efforts of a somewhat governance-challenged HK-listed company, regions do specialise in whatever suits them best. So Hami is famed for its melons, Lijiang rings a bell for its pears and Sichuan, as I have discovered this last couple of weeks, has the most beautiful strawberries I have ever seen.

I didn’t believe that the taste could possibly live up to the presentation so the first time I saw their shiny red rows winking at me I just took a photo and moved on. Strawberries can be a particularly disappointing fruit, as anyone who has forked out on a bowl at Wimbledon will attest. Korean strawberries so excite my HK friends that they send round a general text when they spot them marked down and with good reason since they do a very good job of reminding one how a strawberry should taste.

Sichuan strawberries are to Korean strawberries what Korean strawberries are to Wimbledon impostors. No wonder then that I didn’t know how good they would be: the best produce is always kept for the home market. But I might have guessed that if they weren’t considered worth buying by the gastronomical Chinese consumer they certainly would not have been considered worth shipping all the way from Sichuan by the parsimonious vendor. Thankfully I was enlightened just in time to catch the end of the season, if not quite in time to eat enough until the next one comes around.

Pity me then as I finish my latest box and hope there are more tomorrow before we move on to the next thing. If it’s good enough to bring in from the provinces it’s definitely going to be worth trying, even if it hasn’t come from space.

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