My parents travel light, so when they told me they were waiting at the baggage carousel, I knew some food had made its way from Missouri to California. I’ve been treated before to freshly dug potatoes, bags of dewy herbs, a catfish with its whiskers still intact, gooseberry jam, homemade beef jerky, and a selection of Kansas City’s finest BBQ sauces. As we approached the airport, I wondered what treats we’d be unpacking this time.

Before boarding that morning’s plane, my mom had picked asparagus and packed them into conveniently shaped bags stashed from her newspaper delivery. Earlier in the week, when a freeze recently threatened her food supply, she’d covered her asparagus tips to insulate them from the cold. Some of the stalks were caught in the cover and curled into tight spirals. Though kinda funny-looking, they taste just as good.

As anyone who has tried to grow asparagus knows, they are a labor of love. The scraggly crowns require double-dug trenches and lots of compost-rich soil. Asparagus plants take two to three years to begin producing, and once they start sending up their shoots, they require vigilance from the gardener-cook. Reinvigorated after a winter’s rest, the ground pushes out those asparagus stalks with astonishing speed. If you forget to pick your 3-inch baby tips before you head off to work, you just might find 12-inch giants when you return later that afternoon, and perhaps a flowering stalk or two by nightfall.

If you have the space, though, it’s definitely worth all the coddling and cutting. I can swear to the truth: freshly harvested asparagus that hasn’t traveled further than the distance of your yard (with perhaps a quick plane ride carried by someone you love) are as sweet and tender as the heart of spring.


Roll the asparagus stalks gently in olive oil, and then sprinkle with a hint of salt and black pepper. Fire up your grill. While it heats, split a few hotdog buns, preferably the lovely egg-enriched ones from Acme Bread. It’s fun to set out a selection of your favorite condiments. Some of mine include Sukhi’s tomato chutney, Happy Girl’s pickled peppers, basil pesto, or thin shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Once your grill is hot, flash the asparagus just until they show a touch of char at their tips. I like mine with a bit of bite at their stalk ends, but go ahead and cook yours to the point you prefer. With tongs, nestle a few asparagus stalks in each of the hot dog buns. Top with your favorite dressing or condiments, or leave bare and beautiful.


Asparagus on a Bun 9 April,2008Thy Tran

  • Brett

    How cool! I didn’t know that asparagus would curl up into a spiral like that. Thy, good luck to your folks in the marathon!

  • Passionate Eater

    What a simple, yet pure way to enjoy aspargus! Thanks for the great idea!


Thy Tran

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place.

Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website,, to learn more about her culinary adventures.

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