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Jul 20, 2012 07:11 AM

Help me understand what I ate from Mulan!

Picked up some take out from the Waltham Mulan last night. First time there, and decided to try the Watercress with "Taiwan Sauce". Very interesting dish...had tiny little fish (?small dried anchovies?). But the thing that baffled me were these small, pea-sized morsels with a very hard pit in the center! They were tan colored and had a sweet/salty vibe going. Does anyone know what these were? They were yummy, but I almost broke a tooth biting down on a mouthful of the dish, not knowing what they were and that they had this diamond-strength pit in the center!

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  1. So far disappointed that no one can help me with this one....someone must know this!??

    9 Replies
    1. re: Science Chick

      Could they have been soy beans? I haven't had that dish nor even been to that location, so I'm just tossing out an idea. I've purchased and used many jarred fermented chili bean sauces/pastes over the years. I'm somewhat random with my purchases. Sometimes they contain whole fermented soybeans that can be a little al dente. Fits your visual clues, but I wouldn't describe it as having a "pit", so maybe not.

      1. re: deglazer

        Thanks, deglazer, for the attempt. Nope, definitely not soybeans. This was a real, stone pit!

        1. re: Science Chick

          Can you describe the texture of the flesh around the pit? Was there a skin (which might suggest some sort of fruit)? How big was the pit (if the entire thing was pea-sized)? And, what was the color of the pit?

          1. re: FoodDabbler

   is a picture of the fleshy item in question, along with its pit. Pardon my greasy hands, I had to dig around in the leftovers......

              1. re: hargau

                hargau, you sent me on the correct path.....I think I found it. Longan fruit! Here is an image I found that is identical to the thing in my dish:

                1. re: Science Chick

                  well this certainly is interesting. I want to get that watercress dish next time i go for their smoked duck! But boy, i must be losing it; i thought longan, rambutan and lychee were all roughly the same size (I eat them from cans, chilled, and love them all, w/ rambutan my preferred)which i would describe as much larger than a pea, more like 1/3- 1/2 of a golfball. but the one is your hand looks like pea sized... baby longan?


                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                    Definitely not longan. Longan's have a translucent like flesh, and definitely much bigger than pea sized as you noted.. I think the responset below is correct.

                    But rambutan, lychee and longan are not the same size. Rambutan > lychee > longan (generally speaking). Typical rambutan I've had is about 50% bigger than a lychee (and sometimes 2x the size). I would say the same about a lychee vs longan...about a third to half bigger than a longan. I've only had them fresh though, so maybe when they're canned it's harder to tell once the pits are removed.

              2. re: Science Chick

                I love that you put your online name to a good use. These look like scientist hands to me.

      2. This is " 破朴子", which is a tree fruit pickled in soy sauce. It is often used with steam fish/fish dishes as flavor enhancer, but can be eaten straight (don't eat the pit!) with congee. It has medical effect of digestion aid and helping one to "cool down" during hot summers. A traditional Taiwanese thing.

        2 Replies
          1. I think coffee_monkey is on the mark. I got the dish myself today (it was excellent) and deconstructed it: . They do appear to be "tree seeds" (Cordia dichotoma).

            Science Chick's pic seems to be from and none of the ingredients are the right ones, I think, although the lotus seeds look similar.

            5 Replies
            1. re: FoodDabbler

              This is so neat to learn about. Are they mealy like ginkgo nuts, and is their flavor describable or more that of the soy sauce? I know the dish is called 'watercress' but is that what it is?cuz the green stuff doesn't look like watercress to me (watercress has small rounded leaves.)
              Is it water spinach maybe?(we saw some at the Union Sq farmer's market sunday)

              One of the more unusual vegetables I've had at a Boston chinese restnt was fern tips ('Mountain vegetable' on the menu) at that Szechuan place in Medford Sq.years ago.The Japanese call it zenmai and you can find it in sealed pouches and prepared salads at some Korean and other Asian markets.Lightly pickled, crunchy/chewy and neat woodsy flavor.

              1. re: opinionatedchef

                This is awesome, CH wins again!

                I'm pretty sure the "mountain vegetable" you had at Chilli Garden in Medford is also on the menu at MuLan.

                Chilli Garden makes some pretty awesome food and seems to me to have the most subtle/complex favor mixes of any of the local Sichuan places. I recommend pretty much everything on their Chinese menu, though the rabbit in spicy sauce was the standout IMO.

                1. re: KWagle

                  Thanks for the Chilli Garden rabbit tip. It's not on my way to anything, but spicy rabbit can be its own destination.

                  And, yes, "Chinese watercress" is, I believe, indeed water spinach. Makes this dish an aquatic harmony.

                  Science Chick: Glad I could be of assistance. I live to serve.

              2. re: FoodDabbler

                Dabbler, you rock! I love your photo, and I bet you've solved our mystery. Thanks!

                1. re: FoodDabbler


                  makes me appreciate Mulan even more. I can't imagine there being many Chinese restnts in the U.S. where you would find these being used, no?

                2. Looks like some variety of gooseberry. In India, we had these extremely sour (to the point of being bitter) berries that after pickling would be delicious. The color and seed certainly look very similar. Perhaps it is a relative of that.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Prashar

                    no, not the same thing.Berries not translucent, and it's a tree. If you read above and click the links for Cordia, you will see.

                  2. 破布子(Cordia dichotoma)

                    You can buy them in jars in Asian grocery stores.

                    For images of the berries - on branches, pickled in jars, cooked in various dishes - check out the following link:

                    Folks usually do not cultivate this plant. Simply because it grows everywhere in southern Taiwan and China. When the berries are ripe/almost ripe, all one has to do is to forage (cut the branches down) for free. There are many videos on the internet about how to process the berries and how to use them in cooking (as an ingredient in scrambled eggs, meatballs, seafood, or even just plain vegetables).

                    The berries are rumored to have certain medicinal uses. But like most of the Chinese herbal medicines, the efficacy has never been proven.