Ridged luffa, smooth luffa, opo squash and fuzzy melon in Marina, California (2010)
By far the hardest thing I’ve had to do when it comes to learning about food and cooking is break myself from seeking comfort, particularly when it comes to other cultures. This means going to the market and instead of looking for things I know and love, I buy ingredients I’ve never tasted and have no idea how to cook. When you bring something new home, what you learn from the research alone is invaluable, much less what you learn from the failure when cooking it for the first time. For instance, it used to be that many of the green vegetables and leafy greens in an Asian market all looked similar to me, though since I learned the fundamental differences between things that has changed. The photo above was taken at a farmers’ market in Marina in Central California, a place where everything grows. In the center is ridged luffa (or loofah) and directly to the right is smooth luffa, different varieties of the same plant. The spotted squash on the left is known as fuzzy melon, a very young version of winter melon. The solid light green vegetable in the top left is called opo squash, also known as bottle gourd or calabash. Each of these has many names in many languages. They are eaten everywhere from India to Thailand to Taiwan, but in the U.S. are most often labeled in Chinese. They even eat bottle gourd in Sicily, where they have a very long version called Zucchetta Serpente di Sicilia (Serpent of Sicily).
BTW, the luffa you eat and the loofa you wash with are the same thing. :)