The Ugly Duckling|Yuriko Mikami|KnowLedge World Network|Activities|KNOWLEDGE CAPITAL

  • 2021.03.10
  • The Ugly Duckling
I was at my regular supermarket the other day, and what I realized after really looking around for a while was that even though I’ve lived in Italy for over twenty years, there are still vegetables and other ingredients that I’ve never eaten. I also realized that my diet might be a little unbalanced.

I do have a bit of an excuse, though. Italian vegetables are so big that you really have to think things through before you buy them. If I bought an eggplant, for example, I’d probably have to eat nothing but eggplant dishes for days! So I stopped buying them. Could I just do some prep work in advance and store it? Well, it’s not that I couldn’t…

Whether it’s red peppers or yellow peppers or cucumbers or green onions… or even kabocha squash already cut in half—they’re too big!! I could keep going on forever, but it’s not just vegetables. Things in cans, things in bottles, things in tubes… what I’m really trying to say is that everything is too big. It’s just not common in Italy for things to be neatly packaged for a single use like they are in Japan.

Let’s get back to vegetables I haven’t tried yet. One thing that’s particularly caught my eye lately are vegetables that look like cauliflower, except they’re orange or purple instead of white. Are they the result of selective breeding? Vegetable stands have gotten a lot more vibrant with the increasing popularity of these new colorful varieties. We assume carrots are orange, but these days you almost always see purple ones in the store, too. It’s not so much selective breeding as a kind of genetic upheaval. Pretty soon daikon radishes are going to be pink and blue!

One of the vegetables I’d never tried is cardi. It looks like celery, except with really rough stems. It’s too brutal-looking to stimulate the appetite, and it’s another example of something that isn’t sold in a single-serving size. If I didn’t like it I’d have no idea what to do with it—so for twenty years I just walked right by it pretending I didn’t even see it. Recently, though, I had it for the first time when a vegetarian friend cooked it for me. And guess what—it was good! Not to mention she cooked it really simply, just boiled in salted water and drizzled with a little olive oil. I shouldn’t have been so thrown off by the look of it…

Speaking of vegetables I passed by without buying, my most intense experience recently was with sedano rapa. Even though it’s not harsh-looking like cardi, it’s a root vegetable—which are the ugliest vegetables there are. And even though it’s a root vegetable, it’s not a pretty orange like a carrot, or long and tapered like a daikon radish so you’d want to pick it up. It’s a gnarly, spherical root about the size of a cantaloupe and twisted in a grotesque shape. It makes you wonder who had the courage to try eating it in the first place.

Most people prepare sedano rapa by peeling it and cutting it into cubes or other shapes and then sautéing it in oil or boiling it in salted water—and despite its unpleasant appearance, it’s quite good. What does it taste like? Exactly like its name suggests. Sedano means “celery”, and rapa means “turnip”—and it has the flavor of celery with the texture of a turnip. Even though it looks like some weird creature from a sci-fi movie, the meat itself has a refined flavor and texture that gives it a lot of potential in all kinds of cooking.

I shouldn’t have judged a book by its cover…


  • Yuriko Mikami
  • AgeDog (INU)
  • GenderFemale
  • JobMusician

A cellist based in Milan. Performs as a soloist also with some ensembles. Has a wide range of genres from classic to pop. Actually plays in a band on an Italian comedian's TV show.

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