It belongs to the herbal tea section: a type of red fruit dried to the size of the eraser at the end of an HB pencil, but skinnier and wrinklier. I’ve had dried goji berries before at a Chinese herbal medicine stores, and it was salty like salted plum. It was good, I almost got a bag home to munch. Steeped in boiling water for quite some time (2-2.5 minutes), this goji berry tastes nothing like that salted goji berry, but it’s still excellent. The “tea” shines a topaz color, tastes gently sweet, as I described to Mutsumi, “like a kind of grassy plant with hollow stalks that grows near water bodies, in the same family or genus as bamboo or reed…”
– Wow that’s really specific! – says Mutsumi – The closest thing I can think of is sugarcane juice.
– Well, it’s close to sugarcane juice, but sugarcane is more sugary.
The conversation halted there, I couldn’t remember the name of that plant even in Vietnamese, but I knew I had drunk this flavor before. When I asked my mom, she immediately said: “Mía lau. I used to boil buckets of it for you. The drink cools the body really well.” Some people call mía lau “dwarf sugarcane”, but I don’t agree (it looks more like “super skinny sugarcane” than “dwarf sugarcane”), and I haven’t pinned down its official English name yet, if it has one. But I know for sure it belongs to the bamboo or reed family. And the amazing thing is that this red little berry makes a drink that tastes exactly like that plant!
I tried to outsteep it. Three times, 5 times, 7 times. Then my tummy just got too full and the berries showed no sign of losing flavors. Goji berry: 1. Mai: too much tea.