my favourite greens – roselle leaves

roselle leaves

What I love about being back in Asia is the wonderful warmth that clings to you when you step out into the night air. There is no need to fuss about bringing a cardigan or worry about the threat of rain. Rain is a welcome relief. It makes me think about my childhood in Rangoon. It was a treat to stroll around a bustling market after supper for a late-night snack; an indulgent dessert of faluda (paluda) or a bowl of noodles in slippery garlic oil and soy sauce (si chet khaut swe).

I am delighted to hear there is a pasar malam (night market in Malay) most nights and we head off to Bangsar this evening. It is not a huge market as I have hoped for but there are several fruit and vegetable stores that interest us. It is tantalising to see the ’exotic’ fruits that make me stop and ponder their names in Burmese. I buy a few guavas, a handful of rambutans and a pink dragon fruit.

The next stall along has many types of greens I do not recognise. Then one of these piles of greens begin to look familiar. I remember the deep burgundy stems and pointy leaves when I grew a batch of roselle leaves in London on the window sill. It soon became a hedge as they grew to about 2-3 feet. I was reasonably proud of the small harvest of leaves, which I made into roselle leaves with bamboo shoots (chin baung kyaw). It’s worth remembering they shrink down considerably when cooked.

I pick a bunch of roselle leaves, choosing the most sprightliest looking. I wait behind a couple to pay and notice they also have roselle leaves in their basket. I cannot help but be curious and ask them, ‘how do you cook these leaves?’ The woman turns to her husband for a response. He speaks good English and instructs me to wilt the leaves in a pan, add mustard seeds, a little oil and spices (he did not specify) until the leaves are soft. In return I tell them about the spicy salty sour concoction I make with roselle leaves. It’s always good fun swapping recipes with complete strangers.

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  1. nyunt on February 15, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    I am also very fond of ching baung kyaw. It is delicious and appetite stimulating. Those who have not tasted before, I recommend to have a trial. Thanks for your book, Cho.

  2. Maya on January 21, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Hi Cho, I just came back from Burma and had “si chet khaut swe”, I tried to figure out how it is made – but I’m so not used to find out the ingredients. Would you post a recipe, when you make it some time? By the way, I love your website and just ordered your book. Greetings from Germany.

  3. Liz on February 25, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    They are quite good. Is it possible to find this here in Australia? is there a substitute that is similar? Anyone know if I could get some seeds from somewhere?

  4. Ann on August 14, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    This looks very much like what is sold in South Asian grocery stores here (NY) as “gongura.” Don’t know if the Indian grocers in Australia carry it, but it’s a slightly sour leaf (a bit like sorrel but less intense) & the stems are dark red, as here. Good luck!

  5. Rose on October 20, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Chin baung can be substituted with sorrel- my dad used to grow it (it’s a perrenial) in London, and my mum used to cook it with blachen & dried prawns. It was great – you can also use it in soups!