Bac ha is the Vietnamese name for an Asian vegetable which is known by a variety of names in English including taro stem and elephant ear. The scientific name for the plant is Alocasia odora. The plant is native to Southeast Asia, and is available from Asian markets and specialty stores. It is also possible to grow bac ha at home, since it is often used as an ornamental plant in temperate and tropical gardens.
The plant is in the same family as taro, which leads some consumers to confuse the two. The use of “taro stems” to describe bac ha increases the confusion. However, the edible part of bac ha is the stems, not the corms, as is the case with taro. Although bac ha corms can be eaten, the primary reason for cultivating the plant is the fleshy long stalks, not the corms. Just like with taro, however, bac ha must be carefully cooked before consumption, or the plant can stimulate an allergic reaction.
I can’t believe this is the first vegetable I’ve profiled. What can I say? Fruits are my fave.
I found these beautiful stalks of bac ha at an outdoor market in the city of Vinh Long in the Mekong Delta this past weekend. I was taken aback by how long they were; the tropical climate in Vietnam sure is amazing for growing hefty produce.
I only know of one dish that features bac ha and it’s a delightful soup called canh chua. I’ve mentioned my love for this soup many times on gas•tron•o•my. When cooked, the texture of bac ha becomes very sponge-like and tastily soaks up the soup’s sour notes. Although I’ve never tasted raw bac ha, I imagine it to be a bit like celery—crunchy, loaded with water and a bit tasteless.