Taro (known as 芋头, yutou in Chinese) has been called “the potato of the tropics” and is widely used in Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Africa. This purplish vegetable is the corm of Colocasia esculenta. It’s similar in size and texture to a potato, and can be used for similar purposes in cooking. As a tropical and subtropical plant, taro needs at least 200 frost-free days to mature and must be harvested before the weather turns in fall.
In China, taro is often steamed, boiled, stir-fried, braised, or used as a food flavoring (taro pie from McDonald’s, anyone?). With a bit of experimentation, you’ll also come to appreciate the versatility and wholesomeness of taro. When grocery shopping, choose firm, blemish-free tubers that are heavy for their size.
Steamed Pork with Rice Powder 粉蒸肉 (fen zheng rou, pictured above)
My mom used to make this delicious Sichuan dish for special occasions; the pork comes out tender, rich, and wonderfully fragrant. The recipe calls for rice powder (蒸肉粉, zheng rou fen), an ingredient that is luckily easy to find in China. This version uses sweet potato, but you can easily substitute taro.
Taro and Coconut Sago Dessert 芋头椰汁西米露 (yutou yenai ximilu)
This Cantonese dim sum dessert is like crack. It only includes a few ingredients – tapioca, taro, condensed milk, and coconut milk – and can be served hot or cold. Sure, it’s not the healthiest thing on this list but you gotta live once in a while. Here’s a simple recipe from Homemade Chinese.
Braised Taro with Pork Belly 芋头烧五花肉 (yutou shao wuhua rou)
In Chinese cooking, taro is often braised with pork or beef. Pork belly (五花肉, wuhua rou) in particular holds up well to slow braising and ends up really tender. Here’s a super-simple recipe from Homemade in Hong Kong that you can dress up as much as you like with extra vegetables or seasoning.
Taro Cake 芋头糕 (yutou gao)
First steamed then pan-fried, taro cake is a sweet-savory treat that is also commonly found in dim sum restaurants. It contains shrimp, mushrooms, onion, grated taro, and Chinese sausages in a rice batter. Find a recipe with step-by-step pictures at The 350 Degree Oven.
For something a bit different, try making a Northern Indian arbi curry (arbi is the Hindi word for taro). eCurry has an easy recipe (with beautiful pictures) with ingredients that can be found in Beijing. Just head to Sanyuanli or Qiyuan Supermarket (more commonly known as “the little Indian shop”) across from the police station in Sanlitun.
When produce is available year-round at Beijing’s farms and greenhouses, it’s easy to forget that each fruit and vegetable has its own sowing and harvesting cycle. Eating seasonally not only ensures the best-quality produce, it also helps maintain our body’s yin and yang balance, according to TCM. The Seasonal Eats series on beijingkids introduces foods best eaten this month.