I landed at Bangkok airport some two decades ago for the first time, one fine morning and after the necessary clearances, crossed the nearby highway in the heart of the city.
Lo and behold! There were ‘kang kung’ creepers growing wild in the neglected drains at the edge of the highway, reminding me of my own marshy lane over here. (It was prior to the present, highly sophisticated ‘Swarnaboomi’ airport became functional).
On a visit to a wayside eating house thereafter for lunch, I was served with ‘kang kung’, among other side dishes, both fried and raw. Curious, I inquired from my Thai guide, a pretty young girl, as to what they called it in their language, only to be told it is ‘pak boong’. "Nay," barged in a Singaporean national, seated at the same table. "We call it ‘kang kung’ in Singapore," to my amazement and explained that it is a popular dish even in 5-star hotels in his city state.
This set me in motion for further inquiry. On meeting a Filipino in the cyberspace, I described the creeper in minute detail to her and asked her what it is called in their language – ‘Tagalog’. "Oh. You are talking of ‘kang kung’, she exclaimed.
I later discovered that this self-same terminology is known not only in Asian countries such as Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Japan, etc. but in Florida and Texas in the US as well as in Australia. The Portuguese call it ‘cancon’. Two other names I can think of as equally common worldwide are ‘rambuttan’ and ‘durian’. Though the name sounds Chinese (like its Postal Minister Mr. Lium Kium, as someone said), the plant is native to India from where it spread to other parts of the world.
Botanically, it is known as ‘ipomoea aquatica’, and is a close relation of ‘ipomoea batatas’, (sweet potatoes). In the English speaking world, it is known by such names as swamp cabbage, water spinach, etc. A lady from Florida told me that they call it ‘kang kung’ both in Florida and Texas. In 1970s, it began to spread so fast in the US that authorities thought it to be an invasive weed and launched a countrywide campaign to eradicate it. But she is so fond of it that she is even now growing it in her home garden.
The cultivation of ‘kang kung’ needs hardly any maintenance, as it is almost totally resistant to any pests and diseases. I understand that it is prepared fried in most countries, while it is only in Sri Lanka that we consume it in the form of a ‘malluma’. It contains vitamins A and C, protein, calcium, iron and fibre.
But do you know that there exists a separate Facebook site for ‘kang kung’ fans on the Internet, where I, too, joined recently?
Gothatuwa New Town.