We’re at this year’s Singapore Food Festival and while checking out the stalls at the Mid-Autumn Festival Bazaar along Bencoolen Street, huge trays of creepy-looking things caught our eye, sold side by side moon cakes and other baked goodies.
From afar, they looked menacing—like small bull’s heads with horns. So before we moved closer, we made sure the creatures won’t crawl towards us and bite. The stall’s sign read “water chestnut” which we took as permission to inch forward and have a better look. The pods are very hard and are darkish brown in color, about 5 to 7 centimeters long, with two sharp curving horns.
They also have an unusual earthy odor. A quick research tells us they’re known as water caltrops—or “ling kok” in Cantonese, also commonly called buffalo nut, bat nut, devil’s pod, ling, and horn nut. The reason they’re sold with moon cakes is because the Chinese partake of them as a dish for the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the lantern or moon festival.
These devilish looking nuts are harvested once a year, usually a few weeks before the festival. This year, the festival falls on September 10. These buffalo nuts can be toxic when eaten raw. So it is either roasted or boiled before they are consumed. After cooking, use a nutcracker to open them and get the white, crumbly, starchy flesh.
The bat nut has an interesting but mild taste—slightly sweet and musky. The texture is similar to a typical chestnut. They’re often sautéed with rice and vegetables. The seeds can also be grounded into flour to make bread, or preserved in honey and sugar or candied.
But they can also be enjoyed like boiled peanuts. Fill a pot with water, put the washed water caltrops, add star anise, salt, and cook half-covered over medium heat for 30 minutes. Strange appearance aside, you’d be nuts not to like them.