Tuesday, April 7, 2015

ONG CHOY (Ipomoea aquatica)

Ong Choy is a green leafy vegetable that I was introduced to at our local Chinese restaurant.  They serve Ong Choy with oyster sauce as one of their dishes.  Some time later I got a plant of Ong Choy but I forget how that came about.  I know that I did not understand how water loving the plant was until I saw it covering an old shrimp pond at a local farm.  From then on I made sure that my container grown Ong Choy was sitting in a deep saucer filled with water and I make sure to water it often.  Even then, I notice the plant is a lot happier in the rainy season that in the dry summer.

Ong Choy is a member of the sweet potato family, which becomes obvious when you see its flower.  It is a tropical and semiaquatic.  It grows in moist soils as well as water.  Its hollow stems allow it to spread out on top of water. The leaves and shoots are a popular vegetable through out the tropical world.  Apparently it is extremely popular in Taiwan.  There is some variation in the shape of the leaves; from arrow head shape to lanceolate.  Stems can grow 2-3 meters in length.  There is rooting at the the nodes which makes it easy to grow new plants from cuttings.  It can also be grown from seed.

Ong Choy is a vegetable that does not store well.  You really need to pick it on the day you are going to eat it.  A good reason to have some of this growing in your kitchen garden.  I have just one four gallon size container of it but it is a quick vegetable to grab for a stir fry or to add some nutrition to my packaged, instant noodle soup. My container plant has kept going for several years at this point.  I just cut the leaves and tips off to eat and occasionally cut the old stems back  and give a bit of fertilizer for new growth.  Ong Choy has a history of providing survival food for people in the tropics during war time when other food was scarce  It is also high in vitamins and minerals.  Definitely a good plant to have around and an easy one to care for.


PS Nov, 2016

I have recently been traveling in Cambodia and it has been interesting to see Ong Choi used so much there.  It is referred to as Morning Glory on the menus in English.  They tend to use a long stalk of it rather than the leaves which puzzled me.  After I saw it growing I realized why.  There seems to be a bug or snail that eats holes in all the leaves so those are removed with only the very young leaves on the top used.  I had some nice stir fry meals using the Ong Choi and also I had it chopped and fried as tempura too which is something I have not seen done in Hawaii although why not as you see chopped mixed vegetables in tempura batter.

Ong Choi (morning glory) for sale in a market in Cambodia
Near Siem Reap there are floating villages that are built on super tall stilts where life is lived completely on water when the lake grows way big in the rainy season.  Each family had containers of herbs up on by their house but there was also floating masses of Ong Choi by each house where the plant is just growing on top of the water as a vegetable garden with a bit of floating bamboo around it to keep it contained.

A floating vegetable garden of Ong Choi
Ong Choi is seen grown through out the country side of Cambodia.  Most farmers are growing padi  rice and have a watery corner of their field near the house where they are growing Ong Choi.

Here is a little old lady harvesting Ong Choi near her home.