Our hawker down the street offers a full table of raw herbs and vegetables (collectively referred to as ulam) as condiments. On most days the ulam array includes banana flower, simply steamed and left to cool. They have usually oxidized by the time they make it to the table for lunch, and some petals have turned black. But you can peel those large layers off to reveal the inner beauty:
As I chomped down on some plain banana flower the other day, I wondered, “Why aren’t they used more often in the West? What do they do with the flowers on commercial banana plantations?” Some make their way into cans, but I bet most are wasted. If you have a banana or plantain tree, I strongly recommend looking up some recipes on how to use the blossom.
The banana blossom tastes like artichoke and has a similar texture. To a degree it even looks like artichoke and even has a core called the heart. The heart is meaty and versatile, and the petals have a strong texture too. Banana blossom is nothing like the delicate flowers used in European salads. You can work with banana blossom in cooked preparations like curries, and also consume it raw in salads, side dishes, and condiments.
Banana blossoms are also one of those foods that transcends borders. They are actually used a lot in Southern India and Sri Lanka but also throughout Southeast Asia.
the banana flower on the tree
Another item on our hawker’s ulam table will receive a love letter next week: bitter melon (aka bitter gourd).