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liuzhou

Celtuce and Its Tops

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I’m an idiot. It’s official.

 

A couple of weeks back, on another thread, the subject of celtuce and its leafing tops came up (somewhat off-topic). Someone said that the tops are difficult to find in Asian markets and I replied that I also find the tops difficult to find here in China. Nonsense. They are very easy to find. They just go under a completely different name from the stems – something which had slipped my very slippery mind.

 

So, here on-topic is some celtuce space.

 

First, for those who don’t know what celtuce is, let me say it is a variety of lettuce which looks nothing like a lettuce. It is very popular in southern mainland China and Taiwan. It is also known in English as stem lettuce, celery lettuce, asparagus lettuce, or Chinese lettuce. In Chinese it is 莴笋 wō sǔn or 莴苣 wō jù, although the latter can simply mean lettuce of any variety.

Lactuca sativa var. asparagina is 'celtuce' for the technically minded.

 

celtuce.thumb.jpg.30824c1bd07482d0a43ad4e42b75e216.jpg

 

Those in the picture are about 40 cm (15.7 inches) long and have a maximum diameter of 5 cm (2 inches). The stems are usually peeled, sliced and used in various stir fries, although they can also be braised, roasted etc. The taste is somewhere between lettuce and celery, hence the name. The texture is more like the latter.

 

The leafing tops are, as I said, sold separately and under a completely different name. They are 油麦菜 yóu mài cài.

 

598992d98f637_.thumb.jpg.1f00e68712d697d5e781b3e2096e1738.jpg

 

These taste similar to Romaine lettuce and can be eaten raw in salads. In Chinese cuisine,  they are usually briefly stir fried with garlic until they wilt and served as a green vegetable – sometimes with oyster sauce.

 

If you can find either the stems or leaves in your Asian market, I strongly recommend giving them a try.


Edited by liuzhou enlarged Chinese characters to clarify (log)
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Last year when in Beijing, we had a salad at a donkey burger restaurant - at the time, I had no idea what the green was - I thought some kind of romaine lettuce, but it looked just like your photo of the celtuce tops!  I'm sure that's what it was!  Thanks!

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2 hours ago, liuzhou said:

I’m an idiot. It’s official.

 

A couple of weeks back, on another thread, the subject of celtuce and its leafing tops came up (somewhat off-topic). Someone said that the tops are difficult to find in Asian markets and I replied that I also find the tops difficult to find here in China. Nonsense. They are very easy to find. They just go under a completely different name from the stems – something which had slipped my very slippery mind.

 

So, here on-topic is some celtuce space.

 

First, for those who don’t know what celtuce is, let me say it is a variety of lettuce which looks nothing like a lettuce. It is very popular in southern mainland China and Taiwan. It is also known in English as stem lettuce, celery lettuce, asparagus lettuce, or Chinese lettuce. In Chinese it is 莴笋 wō sǔn or 莴苣 wō jù. Lactuca sativa var. asparagina for the technically minded.

 

celtuce.thumb.jpg.30824c1bd07482d0a43ad4e42b75e216.jpg

 

Those in the picture are about 40 cm (15.7 inches) long and have a maximum diameter of 5 cm (2 inches). The stems are usually peeled, sliced and used in various stir fries, although they can also be braised, roasted etc. The taste is somewhere between lettuce and celery, hence the name. The texture is more like the latter.

 

The leafing tops are, as I said, sold separately and under a completely different name. They are 油麦菜 yóu mài cài.

 

598992d98f637_.thumb.jpg.1f00e68712d697d5e781b3e2096e1738.jpg

 

These taste similar to Romaine lettuce and can be eaten raw in salads. In Chinese cuisine,  they are usually briefly stir fried with garlic until they wilt and served as a green vegetable – sometimes with oyster sauce.

 

If you can find either the stems or leaves in your Asian market, I strongly recommend giving them a try.

 

I am adding this to my list as we speak.  I think I've seen it before at the Asian Market.  Thank you!

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4 minutes ago, Shelby said:

 I think I've seen it before at the Asian Market.

 

Check the name at the market. There are a couple of other 'greens' which look almost the same. Particularly, watch out for 油麻菜 which looks very similar and even has a similar name (only the middle character is different) but it tastes totally different.

 

I should also give the Traditional characters which are often used by the Chinese diaspora (and in Hong Kong and Macao).

 

The leaves: 油麥菜  yóu mài cài    

The stems: 萵筍 wō sǔn or 萵苣 wō jù

 

 

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1 minute ago, liuzhou said:

 

Check the name at the market. There are a couple of other 'greens' which look almost the same. Particularly, watch out for 油麻菜 which looks very similar and even has a similar name (only the middle character is different) but it tastes totally different.

 

I should also give the Traditional characters which are often used by the Chinese diaspora (and in Hong Kong and Macao).

 

The leaves: 油麥菜  yóu mài cài    

The stems: 萵筍 wō sǔn or 萵苣 wō jù

 

 

Thank you!  I'm going to print this out so I can show it to someone there if I need help :) 

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The leafy part looks like what's usually labelled in the Asian markets here as A Choy / A Lettuce. Is it the same thing?  Maybe the Taiwanese name?

Very tasty stir-fried with fermented black bean or fermented tofu and loads of garlic.

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1 hour ago, Beebs said:

The leafy part looks like what's usually labelled in the Asian markets here as A Choy / A Lettuce. Is it the same thing?  Maybe the Taiwanese name?

Very tasty stir-fried with fermented black bean or fermented tofu and loads of garlic.

 

Heh! Just answered my own question - it's the same, Lactuca sativa, aka Taiwan lettuce. Courtesy of Google & Serious Eats

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6 hours ago, Beebs said:

The leafy part looks like what's usually labelled in the Asian markets here as A Choy / A Lettuce. Is it the same thing?  Maybe the Taiwanese name?

Very tasty stir-fried with fermented black bean or fermented tofu and loads of garlic.

 

Yes, in the US it is often sold as "AA Choy."

 

I make this often when I'm feeling lazy because you really don't need to do much to it and its easy to put something green on the table.  I prefer the bottoms, and simply peel it until I reach the "jade-like" inside and either slice it into coins or little bars, and then stir fry and finish with salt and sesame oil.  Very simple and very good.  

 

I really think that Celtuce is a vegetable which has world conquering potential.  It is very easy to cook and to enjoy.

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7 hours ago, Beebs said:

The leafy part looks like what's usually labelled in the Asian markets here as A Choy / A Lettuce. Is it the same thing?  Maybe the Taiwanese name?

Very tasty stir-fried with fermented black bean or fermented tofu and loads of garlic.

 

Yes. The same. It has many names. Here are a few more: Indian lettuce; Taiwan lettuce; sword leaf lettuce


Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Thanks for enlightening me.  I have seen Aa Choy in the local Korean market and wondered what it might be like... now I have an idea what to expect. 

 

Some day I'm going to need to buy a bunch of all of the different Asian greens on offer and try them... there are so many, and I know so little about most of them.


Edited by cdh (log)
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On 12/08/2017 at 0:37 AM, cdh said:

Somebody has done some of the work demystifying the asian greens section for me already:  http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/05/asian-green-guide.html

 

Do those with personal knowledge think this article comports reasonably well with reality?

 

I know the article. and it is useful and reasonably accurate, although not without a few minor errors. For example, it says the celtuce tops (AA Choy here) is Lactuca sativa. Well, yes it is, but so are all varieties of lettuce. You really need to be more specific. It is Lactuca sativa var. asparagina.

It is also a bit limited, to my mind, in its selection
, but that may reflect what's available in the author's local Asian market. There are many more Asian greens than are covered here.

 

It's biggest failing, I would say, is the lack of any Chinese characters for the names. They can be so helpful in clearing confusion. As @Shelby mentioned above, you can print them and take them along if there is something you particularly want.

 

The cooking notes are certainly useful.

 

About a year ago, I was asked (away from eG) to put together something similar but declined. My reasoning was that for every type of greens there is a plethora of names and I don't know them all. I guess no one does. The Saveur article only has a fraction of the possible names. AA Choy, for example, is commonly known as 油麦菜 yóu mài cài both in mainland China and in Taiwan. Saveur doesn't give this name. Nor does it give the most common Chinese name for water spinach - 空心菜 kōng xīn cài (hollow heart vegetable.

 

Secondly, I know Mandarin Chinese but many of the Asian market people will speak Cantonese or some other Chinese language which I don't know. The names Saveur gives are predominantly Cantonese. 

Historically, Cantonese has been the main language of the Chinese diaspora, although that is rapidly changing with Mandarin becoming more common to the point where, in some cities, it outnumbers other languages (as it does by a huge margin in China)). This is another reason for giving characters. Characters are nearly always the same across Chinese languages and dialects although the pronunciation differs widely. For example, 菜, meaning vegetable, is pronounced cài in Mandarin, but choy in Cantonese, yet the character is the same.

 

It is not my intention to be negative about the Saveur article. It is mostly correct and useful. I am just trying to illustrate the complexity of the issue. I have a number of short articles on Chinese greens on my website (along with other foods), but I always stress that any names I use are possibly local. Maybe some day, I will expand them and repost here.


Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Bought some A-choy on the weekend. 2 for $5, mix & match greens, at the neighbourhood greengrocer! So got one giant bunch of celtuce and another giant bunch of choy sum (propping up the A-choy). I used about two-thirds of the bunch. Because dinner was spinach & cheese ravioli, I decided to forego my usual fermented tofu/fuyu, and stir-fried it with garlic, anchovies, olive oil.  A large pan of it shrinks down to practically nothing - it exudes a lot of water. No after picture. It was tasty, a bit like escarole.

 

IMG_1538.thumb.JPG.967cd7aa0be3b4ecb1383c3573d5e840.JPG

 

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