Growing Tokyo Bekana
“Jesus Christ Mildred, come quickly, you’re not going to believe this!”
“What is it, Henry, has the computer filled up with porn again?”
“No, it’s nothing like that. My pants are all zipped up and everything, honest Mildred. It’s this Idiot Gardener fellow. He’s written a post without any smut, innuendo or jokes in it.”
“Are you sure, Henry? Have you been sipping the Brass Polish again?”
“Seriously, come see. There’s nothing in it about ladies private parts or wee-wee or any of that other crap he writes about. It’s just about … gardening.”
“Are you sure? If he says something about a cock, he won’t be talking about chickens, and not all tits are small songbirds.”
“Trust me Mildred, unless ‘Tokyo Bekana’ is some sort of slang for an erection, it’s all about gardening!”
And so it goes that I have written a post without any obvious or hidden knob jokes. Truly, it is I, the Idiot, and not some puritan on a wind-up mission. So, what the hell is all this about? I shall explain. I have learned things about Tokyo Bekana, and if anyone out there has yet to learn these things, then this post might (and I stress might) help them out.
Tokyo Bekana is an oriental brassica. Predominantly grown outside of Asia for salad leaves, in Asia it is typically very quickly stir-fryed, similar to Pak Choi. There is a reason for this difference in how it is eaten. We in the West have other crops that taste very similar to Tokyo Bekana when cooked. However, in Asia, there’s nothing (well, nothing I have come across in 20-odd years of regularly visiting the place) that quite has that taste.
I knew nothing of Tokyo Bekana until recently. I was shopping on line for some Ong Choy seeds, and I spotted that the supplier offered free postage if the order came to more than £20. I was a packet of seeds short of that magic figure, so I browsed the Oriental section and stumbled across this, under the guise of a salad leaf.
How was germination? Quick! It was very good, with success rates of around 90 per cent. It was sown into an open bed after the last frost, when the nights were around 5-6°C and daytime peaks were about 12-14°C. Germination took around a week. After that it was watered daily, but grew slowly. After a couple of weeks it was well established, and a few hotter days led to it shooting up. Growth is rapid, with salad leaves at around 15-20 days and mature plants similar in size to Pak Choi in 30 odd days. It’s been healthy and strong, with a lovely pale green colour. The only downside is that the old Flea Beetles love it.
Here’s the real clincher. As a salad leaf, it is quite bitter, with a taste of raw cabbage. For me, there are much better cabbage-like salad leaves out there. From that point, it wasn’t good.
Once mature, I cut the plants off in a cut-and-come-again style, and separated the leafy tops from the stems. The stems went into a hot wok with a tiny amount of peanut oil for about 1 minute, then the leaves went in for another minute, and that was it. I served it up with some red chilli paste-fried chicken. Texture-wise, it was very much like Pak Choi, but the taste is like a milder version of spinach. Yes, crunchy spinach, and it was good.
Out of interest, The next day I rustled up a rum and spice-marinated fillet of pork, and wilted some Tokyo Bekana in a few tablespoons of salted water for a couple of minutes. Cooked this way, it is very much like a mild spinach; the taste of iron is still strong, but without the acidity that spinach sometime exhibits. Just make sure you shred it if cooking it this way, because it doesn’t break down like old-fashioned spinach.
At first, I did think I’d miss it out next year and give the space to actual spinach. However, it’s in the same bed as my current spinach, and was sewn at the same time, and the spinach is still weeks away from being ready to eat. Tokyo Bekana, however, is very fast, very easy, can be used as a cut-and-come-again crop, and can be cooked in different ways.
On reflection, it will be going in next year.