It is a common sight along roads everywhere, and is primarily considered a weed rather than a source of food. But in northwestern mountainous localities like Yen Bai Province, it is treated as a special vegetable with medicinal benefits.
Black-jack flowers bloom alongside roads. Photo acquired by VnExpress.
The most common way to eat it is by sautéing it with garlic and beef. But chopped black-jack also makes for a refreshing and crunchy addition to a salad.
According to the traditional herbal medicine belief, the flower possesses anti-bacterial and healing properties and is beneficial to the liver, lungs and the digestive system. It is usually prescribed for strep throat, diarrhea and inflammatory bowel disease.
The flower belongs to the daisy family. Essentially the floret, shorter version of a daisy, it has five small white petals surrounding a bright yellow pistil.
Since it grows along dusty roads, it first goes through a careful handpicking process to ensure safety. Typically, the flowers are harvested from around streams in high mountains where the air and water are clean. They have to be picked when they have just bloomed for best quality.
The preparation process is no less elaborate. Since the herb has a pungent smell and bitter taste, it is boiled twice and then wrung dry. After each time it is soaked in ice water to preserve its vibrant color and crunchy texture. After a few rounds it is finally ready.
Black-jack flower salad, a northwestern region specialty. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Chi.
For people living in the northwestern region, smoked buffalo meat is the highlight of every meal. With black-jacks added to it, the dish gains depth.
The thinly shredded buffalo meat is fragrant and infused with Indian prickly ash while the flower tastes fatty and crunchy. The spices of the salad douse the herb with sweet and sour notes. Other toppings such as peanuts, herbs, finely sliced carrots, and roasted sesame seeds complete the dish.
It might be an unexpected combination but in reality the black-jack and buffalo meat complement each other exquisitely. Some variations of the dish have shrimp crackers for more flavor and texture.
Besides buffalo meat, black-jack flowers are also used in other dishes like sticky rice of Yen Bai’s Tu Le Commune and vegetable soup.