There are secret elixirs, which we silly Americans know nothing about. Elixirs what can be purchased right down the street yet exist in another reality altogether. There are whole fruits, in fact, which are alien to us middle-Jesuslanders. Take grosvenor momordica fruit. Never heard of it until the other day. Then, famished, we swung by Central Trading Company, a clean, well-lighted market in Olivette's Asian enclave, and lo, on the beverage shelf -- a grand place -- we discovered the Hong Fook Tong Company's Common Selfheal Fruit-Spike. At least that's what we think it is. Hard to tell. All the information save the following is written in Chinese.
Ingredients: "Purified Water, Common Selfheal Fruit-Spike, Grosvenor Momordica Fruit, Dates, Licorice Root." Web site listed: www.hungfooktong.com. A visit there yields little information of value but is highly entertaining! This much we know: Common self-heal fruit-spike is the dried extract of prunella vulgaris, a plant that is found throughout Midwest America. It's also known as "heal-all."
Grosvenor momordica fruit is some sort of bulbous green thing, we think -- we can't know everything -- which, according to that same quasi-authoritative Web site, can be used "to remove heat, moisten the lung and relax the bowels."
Both taste funny in a drink and, combined with liquorice and date, the result is a liquid that lands somewhere between Mississippi sweet tea and diluted ear wax, with a back-end kick of green tea.
"This will bring heat to your throat," says owner Margarita Wong, patting her chest as she rings us out, "for when you need it hot in herre." Central Trading is sixteen years old and offers an orderly array of Asian delicacies and staples, from teas to oils to grains to canned goods to many many funny funny beverages. Some of them are brown and gelatinous, others green and gelatinous, others simply brown.
Over the course of the next few weeks, Drink of the Week will investigate the many gelatinous and non-gelatinous beverages offered at Asian markets in a Drink of the Week Special Report. Next week: Grand Western-brand Grass Jelly Drink (with Banana Flavor).