In Vietnamese, “bông bí“, which literally means “pumpkin flowers” (and sometimes zucchini flowers), are actually male flowers. And “bí nụ“, which literally means “pumpkin buds”, are actually female pumpkin flowers. A female pumpkin flower has a young or baby pumpkins which is freshly developed and the flower petals. Female pumpkin flowers are harvested when the pumpkins or squashes are very young and small, just a little bigger than a thumb.
Both male and female pumpkin flowers are consumed as a vegetable in Vietnam. Previously, only male flowers were harvested because it would not affect the crops. But nowadays, female pumpkin flowers are also harvested, and some farmers grow pumpkin plants only for these freshly-developed pumpkins.
Basically, the cooking methods of male and female pumpkin flowers are similar. They are all often stir-fried with garlic, beef, dried shrimps. Male pumpkin flowers can be stuffed with pork, but female flowers can be rolled in beef slices.
Today, female pumpkin flowers are a highly-prized vegetable in many restaurants in Vietnam.
Heat 2 TB of cooking oil in a pan. Add 1 TB minced garlic to sautee. Add the blanched female pumpkin flowers and stir slightly for 1-2 mins. Season with 1 TB of fish sauce, 1/2 TB of sugar. Finally, stir-fry for another 2-3 mins until the seasonings are dissolved. Taste and re-season if necessary.
This dish is served with white rice, and a bowl of garlic-chili fish sauce
Blanching with an ice bath helps making the flowers crunchier.
You can cook with male flowers, but the texture is different. Male flowers are softer.
Beef version: Marinate the beef with ginger and seasonings first, and then stir-fry until the beef is nearly cooked (Stop when the beef changes color) then set aside. In a new pan, stir-fry the flowers, then add the beef back, and cook a little bit.