Chinese bottle gourds (húlu) in Beijing, China (2013)
I spend a great deal of time looking for connections between things in cooking and when I find them it’s like finishing a set of tiles in Tetris, a wall disappears and I’m suddenly left with room for more and different tiles. I try to recognize things that are similar and place them wherever they fit, no matter where they are from. The biggest obstacle to this is language. If you heard all the words for “apple” spoken in every language one after the other you could easily think they are all different things. This can lead to trying to identify the same thing over and over. If you’ve ever done this, it really makes you appreciate something like binomial nomenclature. These days the way I learn is more a process of elimination than a compilation of information. Instead of looking at everything as something new I immediately try to relate it to other things, most of the time it turns out I’ve already seen something somewhere else and just didn’t realize it. Take these bottle gourds for instance, the ones in the photo above are known as húlu (葫蘆) in Chinese but they go by many names; calabash and opo squash, Polynesian hue, Indian lauki (लौकी), Japanese hyōtan (ひょうたん), Vietnamese bầu, Italian cucuzzi and Sicilian zucchetta or Serpente di Sicilia. All different shapes and sizes, all dried to hold water, wine or spice, all used as a vegetable in a number of dishes.
All Lagenaria siceraria.