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Big Joe the Pro

Asian Green Taxonomy

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Hey, let's have some fun with trying to identify exactly what cookbooks are referring to when they reference certain Asian vegetables.

This is the most commonly used onion in Beijing, if someone said 'Chinese leek' to me, this is what I would think of:

Big Joe - Chinese Leek.jpg

Cooking shows always point out that you have to wash the inside of leeks as they collect grit there but I don't have that problem with these. They do get awfully woody in the center though.

This is what go for 'spring onions' here. I believe that they're seasonal as I don't regularly see them. I just looked in Laurousse and I think they call them 'Asian spring onions'.

Big Joe - Asian Spring Onion.jpg

I don't have any of the really small ones at the moment. They're awfully perishable so if I see the 'Asian spring onions' I don't normally buy the smaller ones also.

Sorry but I don't have any 'jiu cai' (Garlic Chives). I can eat them but don't really like them so much (a fairly common thing amongst non-Chinese I've been told).


Maybe I would have more friends if I didn't eat so much garlic?

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Excellent. I love the box of Zhong Xin Hai cigarette pack as a size reference. Perhaps we should adopt those as a standard unit of measurement?

Those leeks are what I call negi, mainly because I don't know the Chinese name. I'm assuming people in the West may call these "baby" leeks. Unlike full-on Welsh leeks, they don't seem to collect grit, and I happen to think they also make a fine leek and potato soup.

The really small green onions seem to perish almost immediately, don't they? They get thrown in for free when I buy veg at the street market, but I never buy them myself.

I'll go next:

2010 12 26 022_edited-1.jpg

Size: roughly one-and-a-half Zhong Xin Hai

Locals call these qing cai 青菜, which I believe translates to "green vegetable". What would an English-speaker call these?

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Without wishing to dampen anyone's enthusiasm in resolving this problem, I suspect you are not going to get very far.

Despite my best efforts over many years, I have never found definitive translations for many ingredients. The nature of China and the Chinese languages means that almost every town has a different name for any one ingredient.

When I moved from Hunan to Guangxi in 1999, I discovered that the local restaurants didn't do any of the dishes I had carefully learned the names of, and nor did the market have the veg I wanted.

But I eventually found out that they did have the same dishes and ingredients. They just used totally different words. I now know five different ways to say "potato".

Prior to the 2008 Olympics, Beijing authorities published what they called "official translations" of many dishes. I have shown this to many local chefs and cooks and they don't even get the Chinese!

Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuan book is particularly confusing because she often uses Sichuan dialect, but then renders it in traditional characters which Sichuan doesn't use.

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I'll go next:

Locals call these qing cai 青菜, which I believe translates to "green vegetable". What would an English-speaker call these?

Ok, this is getting interesting. Nakji, those are 'Bok Choy' split in half, aren't they? In Beijing they're called 'you cai'.

'Qing cai' in Beijing is 'Chinese celery', leafy upper-part included. 'Xi qing cai' is the large, western celery (often sold in the same bags that are used in the US) and the upper, leafy part has been cut off.

Sorry, I don't do characters and the numbers in the parenthesis after the pin yin (to denote the tone) looks a little silly to me. Someone was posting with the tone marks above the pin yin, how do you do that? Do I have to download a character set?

Oh, the things I call 'Chinese leeks' are called 'tong' in Beijing. Spring onions are just called 'xiao tong'. A western onion is 'yang tong'

This may sound uppity but might I suggest we adopt 'pu tong hua' (Mandarin Chinese) as the standard? Good luck getting others to follow but might help us keep our sanity. Zhong Nan Hai smokes for measurement works for me, ha ha. Cheers.


Edited by Big Joe the Pro (log)

Maybe I would have more friends if I didn't eat so much garlic?

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This may sound uppity but might I suggest we adopt 'pu tong hua' (Mandarin Chinese) as the standard?

Not uppity at all, but the point is there is no real consensus in 普通话 (pǔ tōng huà), either. The many names for potatoes which I mentioned are all 普通话.

By the way, in Beijing (in 普通话), the various alliums are '葱 cōng ', not 'tong'.

I'm not sure that there is much consensus in English, either. I have had endless confusion about 'turnips'. They are totally different vegetables in Scotland from what they are in England. And what is the difference between spring onions, green onions, scallions, syboes? Apparently none.


Edited by liuzhou (log)

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What nakji posted up above is what I know as Shanghai bok choi. They come in different sizes from little 6 cm floret-like ones to 18 cm more fully grown ones. They have a sweeter taste and finer texture than regular bok choi. I don't speak putonghua so Cantonese will have to do from me.

Yu choi is different again from bok choi. The stalk is solid with slender leaves branching off from it - like gai lan but much more tender and brighter green. Often, there are yellow blossoms at the end.. These are very tender and are called yu choi because they are usually just cooked very quickly in oil with ginger and garlic - yu - meaning oil. Check the bottom of the stalk when you are purchasing. If the end is transluscent green, then the choi will be fresh and tender. These are great thrown into wonton soups at the last minutes.


Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Locals call these qing cai 青菜, which I believe translates to "green vegetable". What would an English-speaker call these?

[i'll use Hanyu pinyin, with tone markers used at least the first time I reference something, and mostly simplified characters, with one exception, below.]

Yeah - qing cai is just like saying 'greens' (meaning dark leafy greens) in English... generic term. I think these are just baby bái cài (bok choy in Cantonese) - I usually see these labeled as 小白菜. There are of course, regional differences too - some places call Napa Cabbage "大白菜' (big bok choy) or even just '白菜', whereas others call it 黃芽白 (huáng yá bái). I believe the vegetable more commonly known as bai cai / bok choy in the West can also be called 清江白菜 (qīngjiāng bái cài, with Qingjiang being a river in Hubei). There is also 菜心 (choy sum in Cantonese), which is cài xīn in Mandarin. This is the heart of some vegetable, usually bai cai (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choy_sum).

Another source of confusion is 'jì cài (荠菜 / 薺菜)', vs 'jiè cài (芥菜)' vs. ‘jiè lán (芥蓝)’. Not only is the phonetic sound of the first two similar (though not the same), but the tones are the same, and if you look at the simplified character for 'jì' (on the left in the example above), it's very easy to confuse with the one for 'jiè'. Jicai is an herb, frequently used in Shanghaiese cooking, as a filling for buns, dumplings, and also stir-fried with niangao (xuěcài aka xuě lǐ hóng (雪里红), a kind of mustard green) is also used instead sometimes). Jie cai is, I believe, a general term for mustard green, though the Chinese, like us, have different kinds of mustard green (and different names are often used when the greens are preserved). Jie lan is Chinese broccoli -- more commonly known in the US by the Cantonese name, gai lan.


Edited by Will (log)

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Yu choi is different again from bok choi. The stalk is solid with slender leaves branching off from it - like gai lan but much more tender and brighter green. Often, there are yellow blossoms at the end.. These are very tender and are called yu choi because they are usually just cooked very quickly in oil with ginger and garlic - yu - meaning oil.

Yu choy is yóu cài (油菜)in Mandarin. In English, you'd probably just call it 'rape', but it's different from most of the Italian versions (i.e., rapini). It's roughly the same plant as the plant that canola oil is made from, though my understanding is that the plant used for canola oil has been hybridized to reduce levels of euric acid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canola).

Another really common green is kōng xīn cài (空心菜 - "hollow heart vegetable"), referred to as 'ong choy' in Cantonese (ong (蕹) being wèng in Mandarin). I've also heard it referred to as water spinach. It has a very crunchy stem. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipomoea_aquatica


Edited by Will (log)

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Oh, the things I call 'Chinese leeks' are called 'tong' in Beijing. Spring onions are just called 'xiao tong'. A western onion is 'yang tong'

This may sound uppity but might I suggest we adopt 'pu tong hua' (Mandarin Chinese) as the standard? Good luck getting others to follow but might help us keep our sanity. Zhong Nan Hai smokes for measurement works for me, ha ha. Cheers.

I think you mean cōng / yáng cōng(葱 / 洋葱)(rather than tong) for green onion and onion. yang is used much like xī to precede certain vegetables to denote a similar foreign version; for example, carrot is 'foreign radish'. As best I know, at least here in the US, cong by itself refers to green onions, whether or not it's prefixed with small (xiao).

"Spring onion" is confusing, because it means different things even in the west. Some people use it as synonymous with scallion / green onion (especially in the UK). In the US, I most often see it refer to very young actual onions, with the stalk attached... bigger than even a large green onion.

I think if you're going to call anything "Chinese leek", it should be 韭菜(jiǔ cài)and not scallions / green onions, which already have a name in English.

In case it's helpful for some folks, basic information on how to pronounce Hanyu Pinyin is here:

http://www.1morepeat.com/knowledge/mandarin-chinese-pronunciation.htm

Pinyin is not designed to be pronounceable as in English or other languages; it's just a way of representing a set of sounds using the Western alphabet.


Edited by Will (log)

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Locals call these qing cai 青菜, which I believe translates to "green vegetable". What would an English-speaker call these?

Yeah - qing cai is just like saying 'greens' (meaning dark leafy greens) in English... generic term.

Ah, but maybe in this case, it's short for '青江菜' (qīngjiāngcài), another word for Shanghai bok choy. Noticed this at the store the other day, but the store had a typo on one of the characters, making it take a while for me to figure out the name. It looks like the really small ones may sometimes be labeled as '青江菜苗' (qīngjiāngcàimiáo), with miáo being 'sprout' (as on dòumiáo).

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Ah, that clarifies things somewhat. The really small ones - about how small? (In units of Zhong Xin Hai)

The small ones (Siu Bak Choy / Xiao Bai Cai), with "siu / xiao" meaning "small", are about one Zhong Xin Hai.

Here is another one:

6a00d8341c509553ef00e54f5a92708834-800wi.jpg

Snow Pea Sprouts / Tao Miu (Cantonese) / Dou Miao (Pinyin)

Length: 1/2 a Zhong Xin Hai

As the name suggests ... these are immature sprouts of the snow pea plant. Delicious when fried with soy sauce and garlic.

By the way - you should think of sauces for Asian greens the same way you think of sauces for various shapes of pasta. I choose the shape of pasta to match the sauce. Or adjust the thickness of the sauce to suit the pasta. In the same way, some Asian greens (like snow pea sprout or spinach) will fry up into a very dense texture. Even a very thin sauce will adequately coat the greens. Others, like Kai Lan, Bak Choy, or Choy Sum - do not wilt much and need to be served with a thickened sauce.


Edited by Keith_W (log)

There is no love more sincere than the love of food - George Bernard Shaw

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I don't suppose that latin names for each of these could be found somewhere? I have a tough enough time with North American herbs and vegetables having multiple names....perhaps latin might help?

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Don't you think an Asian grocer will look at you funny if you went up to him and asked for Brassica rapa chinensis (Latin for Bok Choy) :) If you google the names we have mentioned, you will find the vegetable.


There is no love more sincere than the love of food - George Bernard Shaw

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I don't suppose that latin names for each of these could be found somewhere? I have a tough enough time with North American herbs and vegetables having multiple names....perhaps latin might help?

Wikipedia has most of the greens we're talking for (just search for the Chinese characters, and usually has the scientific names for things. In fact, I think I've even seen them on restaurant menus (Capsella bursa-pastoris, anyone?), probably due to auto-translation software.

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Snow Pea Sprouts / Tao Miu (Cantonese) / Dou Miao (Pinyin)

Length: 1/2 a Zhong Xin Hai

As the name suggests ... these are immature sprouts of the snow pea plant. Delicious when fried with soy sauce and garlic.

There are both small and big (小 and 大)variants of this one too. I believe the big ones are usually more expensive. The difference in size between the twyp types is pretty great, though not sure how it compares to a cigarette pack.

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That is indeed tatsoi. I have bought it at an Asian supermarket, and they have started to show up at our local farmers markets. I like to cut it into segments and stir-fry like bok choi.

As for dou miu, I have never seen the immature sprouts. The only kind available here, from what I've seen, are actual cuttings from the mature snow peas plants.

When my chef's wife came from China (about 15 years ago), she said the big "new vegetable" was dou miu. Big patches of plants are grown just for the cuttings. The plants sprout new "branches" for a continuous harvest.

The grocer puts cuttings in closed bags. Sometimes, half the bag is wasted because the cuttings are too long -stalks being tough.

Lovely stuff quickly stir-fried with minced garlic and ginger, finished with a drizzle of sesame oil.

The immature sprouts would cook down to nothing? Would they be better used like sprouts in a salad or in a sandwich?


Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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I just finally learned that what was labeled sesame in the Korean grocery is what I was looking for...shiso.

I kept looking at it and thought it was the same, but had to research to find out.

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So what the heck is this this? The interior is radishy so that's my guess. It started to develop those slashes after a few days in the fridge. Please forgive if it's a no-brainer, I'm kinda new to cooking and picked it up in Asia, maybe this is a common thing in the bins at Wal-Mart in the States?01092011197.jpg


Maybe I would have more friends if I didn't eat so much garlic?

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I just finally learned that what was labeled sesame in the Korean grocery is what I was looking for...shiso.

I kept looking at it and thought it was the same, but had to research to find out.

FYI, yes, those leaves are shiso, but I find them too large and fibrous for a lot of the classic Japanese uses. I have no idea why it's labelled "sesame leaf".

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FYI, yes, those leaves are shiso, but I find them too large and fibrous for a lot of the classic Japanese uses. I have no idea why it's labelled "sesame leaf".

According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perilla, it's because the literal translation of the Korean for Shiso (들깨) is "wild sesame". The plant is not related to sesame, though.

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