Meet hakurei turnips
Almost everything that’s true about a standard Brassica rapa rapa (better known in the U.S. as a turnip) doesn’t apply to a hakurei turnip: It’s a small, smooth and sweet root vegetable.
Learn the backstory
Turnips are ancient, but the hakurei hybrid is a relatively recent arrival on the subterranean vegetable scene. Developed by Japanese plant breeders in the 1950s, hakurei turnips are sometimes referred to as Tokyo turnips.
Whatever you call it, the delicate white turnip is so crisp that it can be enjoyed raw; its skin is so thin that there’s no need to peel it. But for decades in the U.S., only gardeners who carefully read their seed catalogs were familiar with hakurei turnips. They didn’t command any significant press attention until the late 2000s, when food writers in Atlanta, New York and Houston started noticing them on their farm-to-table plates. In 2008, The Wall Street Journal mentioned hakurei turnips in a story about surging “foodie fascination with new and exotic” vegetables.
Within a few years, hakurei turnips were a favorite of farmers market vendors, including those in Carrboro, North Carolina, where Ben Barker shopped when he was chef at Magnolia Grill. “I appreciate is that even with all the fava bean and white hakurei turnip vegetable-of-the moment things, there’s still some people who want to grow the old varieties. And that’s really important to me as someone who wants to be able to cook with those ingredients that mean Piedmont, North Carolina, to me,” he said in 2012 to graduate student Sara Camp Milam, now Southern Foodways Alliance’s managing editor.
Increasingly, though, it’s become harder to separate high-end Southern cuisine from the tender turnip.
And order it here
Fish, 442 King St., fishrestaurantcharleston.com, 843-722-3473 (Scallops with hakurei turnip puree, $16)
— Hanna Raskin