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Who says exotic ingredients are hard to find in Hong Kong? From New Zealand to South Africa, Peru, Japan and ancient China, we’ve trawled the honestbee online grocery store to find nine mysterious foods. Here’s a little primer on how to identify them, what they taste like and how to make something delicious with them.
What the heck is it? The Feijoa is a fruit — but not just any fruit. It’s from the acca sellowiana flowering shrub, which grows in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia and New Zealand.
What does it taste like? It’s sweet and juicy, kind of like a minty apple but with a pulpy texture and seeds inside. The smell might remind you of perfume, which is fitting since feijoa are also used in lots of bath products.
How can I use it? If it feels like a ripe banana, then it’s good to go. Inside, it should look clear and a bit jelly-like, rather than opaque. You can eat it plain — cut it in half, and eat the pulp inside. It also makes a mean fruit smoothie, not to mention a nice addition to cocktails, chutney and jam.
Fun Fact: It’s also called the pineapple guava, fig guava, and guavasteen — but no, it’s not a guava. Oh, and you can eat the sweet petals, or add ’em to a salad.
What the heck is it? Typically made with beef or ostrich, this cured meat hails from South Africa. Back in the day, indigenous people first introduced biltong as a way to preserve meat and keep it from spoiling. European traders and settlers followed the same methods, though often using salt or vinegar to cure the meat instead of air-drying it. You can make biltong from pretty much any meat, including chicken, fish, and game meats.
What does it taste like? If you like beef jerky then you’ll love biltong. Instead of a teriyaki or smoky flavor, biltong usually revolves around cumin, pepper, vinegar, salt and coriander. Of course, these days there are several more styles, including brown sugar, garlic, nutmeg, onion and balsamic.
How can I use it? Gnaw on it as a snack — ideally as you watch Game of Thrones. Alternatively, you can also add it to soup, slice it up for sandwiches or bake it into a savory bread.
Fun Fact: The name biltong goes back to South Africa’s time as a Dutch colony. The Dutch word bil means “rump” and tong means “strip.”
What the heck is it? Pretty much what it sounds like — coconut yogurt is made from coconut milk, making it a great alternative for those who have dairy allergies. It’s typically packed with fiber, protein, calcium and healthy cultures so it’s a nutritious breakfast or afternoon snack.
What does it taste like? So good. A creamy texture and a distinct aroma of coconut, plus a slight tang.
How can I use it? If you prefer not to eat yogurt plain, top it off with fresh fruits and crunchy granola. You can also use it as a baking ingredient to cook desserts like coconut milk custard, cheesecake bars, smoothies, cakes and popsicles.
Fun Fact: Botanists actually classify coconuts as a “drupe,” aka a fruit with a seed that’s protected by a shell (like an olive).
What the heck is it? Put simply, it’s a probiotic drink that’s made from tea, then fermented for one week to a month. Kombucha thought to be good for your gut and overall health thanks to its bacterial properties, vitamins and naturally occurring acids.
What does it taste like? Naturally fizzy, refreshing and slightly sour — not unlike carbonated apple cider. Modern kombucha recipes incorporate all kinds of ingredients, from ginger to lime, bergamot, pineapple and more.
How can I use it? Just drink it plain to add a little spring to your step. Or mix it into a cocktail for something a little more fun.
Fun Fact: Kombucha originated in China and has been consumed for thousands of years — first dubbed the “Tea of Immortality” in 221 BC — but the name kombucha supposedly comes from Japan.
What the heck is it? A type of sweet potato, kumara typically grows in New Zealand. Compared with the average orange sweet potato, kumara tend to sport a reddish-purpleish skin and pale flesh inside.
What does it taste like? It’s starchy, just like most tuberous roots, but with a drier texture and a much milder flavor that’s not so sweet.
How can I use it? So many ways — roast it, add it to soup, take it to a BBQ, or cut it thin and bake yourself some healthy chips for a snack.
Fun Fact: Kumara was a staple in the diet of indigenous Maori people in New Zealand way before Europeans touched down, which is why the starch has retained its Maori name. There are a few varieties, so you can also find them in gold or orange colors.
What the heck is it? This Korean street food staple goes by a million different spellings — teokbokki, tteokbokki, dukboki, etc. No matter what you call it, it’s delicious. The dish is made from soft rice cakes (tteok), fish cakes, and a sweet gochujang chili sauce. Other varieties also come topped with cheese, sausage or various kinds of veggies.
What does it taste like? The main ingredient — the tteok rice cakes — are typically soft and a bit chewy. On their own, tteok rice cakes are a bit mild and flavorless, but that’s what sauce is for. Tteok tend to have a chameleon quality, borrowing flavors from other ingredients. When accompanied by meats, veg and red chili sauce, the dish turns into a hearty and savory treat.
How can I use it? Take a cue from the Koreans and get creative. You can add a Hong Kong spin by adding in oyster sauce or shrimp paste, incorporating some Sichuan peppers, or barbecuing them on skewers at the beach.
Fun Fact: Teokbokki might be new to you, but it’s centuries old in Korea. It dates back to the Joseon dynasty in the 1400s and was considered a royal dish and called “gungjung tteokbokki.” Traditionally, though, teokbokki was brown, savory and seasoned with soy sauce rather than chili sauce.
What the heck is it? A cocktail hors d’oeuvre that typically consists of a mix-and-match combo — think pickled bandillas peppers, pickled garlic, green olives, pearl onions, anchovies, fennel seeds, chili flakes and manchego cheese.
What does it taste like? Thanks to the acidic olives and salty anchovies, banderillas make an awesome complement to martinis or a gin drink of choice.
How can I use it? You can make these at home for a little DIY fun, or you can just be lazy and buy them online. Put ’em out ahead of your next cocktail party or eat them alone on the couch. No judgement here.
Fun Fact: The name “banderillas” is inspired by bullfights — the banderillas are the colorful darts they use to stab the bull. Yeah okay, maybe not such a fun fact.
What the heck is it? You’ll know this gorgeous fruit when you see it, thanks to its bright pink skin and green leaves. Dragon Fruit is a pretty common snack in Asia, but just in case you’ve been living under a rock — look for a funky looking fruit in three varieties: red skin with white fruit, yellow skin with white fruit, and red skin with red fruit. Inside, the white or red flesh comes dotted with black seeds, which kind of looks like a dalmatian.
What does it taste like? The refreshing, subtly sweet taste is kind of like a cross between a pear and a kiwi.
How can I use it? Cut it in half and scoop out the fruit inside for a quick solution. You can cube it and add it to a fruit salad, top off some ice cream or make a smoothie. Don’t throw the leaves away! They can be used to make tea.
Fun Fact: The dragon fruit plant is pretty too, commonly called the “queen of the night” because it only blooms after dark.
What the heck is it? A fruit that goes by a million names, the physalis is also referred to as a bladderberry, gooseberry-tomato, obra cabbage, ground cherry, Poha berry, Chinese lantern and lots besides. It’s a sister of the tomatillo (if you know what that is), and it has a very distinctive appearance thanks to a cocoon-like shell and heart-shaped leaves. Part of the nightshade family (along with eggplants and tomatoes), the physalis is chock-full of healthy nutrients, antioxidants and minerals. Inside there’s a berry the size of a small tomato, which typically turns yellow or orange when it’s ripe.
What does it taste like? You can eat the pulp inside the yellow berry, which tastes pretty much like a tart grape.
How can I use it? Physalis berries are awesome for baking — choose them as a tangy addition to jams, pies, or salads. Or use it as a garnish!
Fun Fact: That big flaky shell is called a “calyx” and, no, you don’t really want to eat it; however, it has traditionally been used in Chinese medicine as an herbal remedy to reduce fevers and suppress coughs.
[Updated June 2017]