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Chinese Vegetables Illustrated

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4 hours ago, kayb said:

Is the red potato what we here in the US know as a sweet potato? Looks like it...


Yes, They are occasionally called 甜薯 (Mand: tián shǔ ; Cant: tim4 syu4 )  or 'sweet potato' here, too


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(Mand: zhú; Cant: zuk1) is one of the world's most beautiful plants and definitely the most useful. It is used for so many things. It's a building material - people make houses from it. It is as strong if not stronger than steel and is used as scaffolding across China, but especially in Hong Kong.  I look around my home and see this plant  everywhere. I have clothes made from it. The pen holder on my desk is made from it. You can even buy computer keyboards and mice made from it. It is made into paper.


In the kitchen,  it is even more apparent. Chopping boards, brushes, rolling pins, bowls baskets, serving dishes, mats, chopsticks, toothpicks and more.



The only thing here which isn't bamboo is the metal hanging ring on the left.


And we eat it.


I am of course,  talking bamboo.




There are over 1,400 different species but we mainly eat the shoots of only a few. Phyllostachys edulis and  Bambusa oldhamii in particular.


In Chinese the shoots are 竹笋 (Mand: zhú sǔn; Cant: zuk1 seon2) often abbreviated to (Mand: sǔn; Cant: seon2).



Bamboo shoots


Bamboo shoots contain a cyanogenic glycoside that produces cyanide in the gut, so must be prepared correctly by thorough cooking. The shoots are boiled, then peeled and sliced. These can then be stir fried along with other ingredients.



Peeled shoots



Sliced and peeled sweet bamboo


The bamboo pictured above is referred to as 甜笋 (Mand: tián sǔn; Cant: tim4 seon2) or sweet bamboo. It is sold preprepared in many supermarkets and just needs frying.  


Winter bamboo is harvested around November to December. I haven't seen it yet this year.



Winter bamboo


Bamboo is also pickled and is an important ingredient in Liuzhou's signature dish 螺蛳粉 (Mand: luó sī fěn) Luosifen - river snail noodles.


The leaves of bamboo plants are used in the kitchen, too. The are used to wrap various foods, especially 粽子 (Mand: zòng zi; Cant: zung3 zi2), sticky rice dumplings.



Bamboo leaves





The canned bamboo shoots available in many overseas Chinese or Asian stores are unknown here. In fact canned goods at all, are rare.


This is the whole of the canned goods section of one of the city's largest supermarket.



L: Luncheon meat; R Canned fish


Edited by liuzhou (log)
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A couple of late arrivals.


Canavalia gladiata


刀豆 (Mand: dāo dòu; Cant: dou1 dau6*2) are what you possibly know as sword beans, although that term is sometimes used for other species.




These are almost always simply stir fried.


We also get the dried beans which are known as 红刀豆/紅刀豆 (Mand: hóng dāo dòu; Cant: hung4 dou1 dau6*2) meaning 'red sword beans', as the beans in the pod are - you guessed, red!


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Another seaweed we occasionally get is 裙带菜/裙帶菜 (Mand: qún dài cài; Cant: kwan4 daai3 coi3). This is what is widely known as 'wakame' from the Japanese or 'sea mustard' in English.




I've only ever seen it pre-prepared and dressed on the sushi counter of local supermarkets. I always buy it when I see it. A favourite.


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On 11/15/2018 at 3:42 AM, liuzhou said:

Bamboo shoots contain a cyanogenic glycoside that produces cyanide in the gut, so must be prepared correctly by thorough cooking.


I wonder how many people died before this treatment was worked out - or, more importantly, how it was ever worked out? I realize that the necessity of preparing something properly to make it safe to eat is not unique to bamboo shoots. Nonetheless this is another marvel to me.


Is the pickled bamboo cooked first? Do the leaves need special treatment, or does the steaming do the trick?

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7 minutes ago, Smithy said:

I wonder how many people died before this treatment was worked out - or, more importantly, how it was ever worked out?


I think until recently almost all food are cooked in China.





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12 minutes ago, Smithy said:


I wonder how many people died before this treatment was worked out - or, more importantly, how it was ever worked out? I realize that the necessity of preparing something properly to make it safe to eat is not unique to bamboo shoots. Nonetheless this is another marvel to me.


Is the pickled bamboo cooked first? Do the leaves need special treatment, or does the steaming do the trick? Perhaps the cyanogenic glycoside  is only in the shoots ant not in the leaves.


I've often wondered that, too. For example, how did people work out which mushrooms taste great and which kill you? Trial and fatal error? And many other foods are poisonous unless prepared correctly. A marvel indeed.

The bamboo is cooked before pickling, yes.

The bamboo leaves are soaked overnight before being used as wraps then steamed.

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You may be surprised that I'm including these here. Nothing exotic about them. Well, I'm not trying to show you "exotic", but what we get in China. In fact, one of the Chinese names for this item suggests that the Chinese once found them exotic.


西红柿/西紅柿 (Mand: xī hóng shì; Cant: sai1 hung4 ci2) literally means 'western red persimmon'. The other, equally common name is 番茄 (Mand: fān qié; Cant: faan1 ke4*2) and they are tomatoes.




The quality of what we get is average. I've had worse. My problem is getting my nearest supermarket to stop shelving them in the chill cabinets and ruining them. In season, we also get them on the vine, which improves them.




They are not so common in Chinese cuisine as in many western cuisines, although there are a few well-known dishes that use them.  Best known is scrambled egg with tomatoes, the one dish that every Chinese person over five-years-old can cook. Often the only dish some can cook.




Other dishes that come to mind are Nanning's "Old Friend's Noodles" and Guilin's Beer Fish and a few Sichuan dishes.


These tomatoes are always displayed in the vegetable sections of supermarkets and on vegetable stalls in farmers' markets.


Cherry tomatoes are sold separately in the table fruit sections and stalls. The Chinese consider them to be unrelated.  In Mandarin, to my delight, they are known as 圣女果 (Mand: shèng nǚ guǒ) which means "Saintly Women Fruit", There  may be no saintly women in Cantonese speaking areas as they don't use this term, but instead go for 车厘茄 (Cant: ce1 lei4 ke4*2) which doesn't really mean anything at all.

Cherry tomatoes most often turn up in fruit salads in western restaurants or are simple eaten as a table fruit. My Chinese friends are always surprised that I use them in savoury dishes.




These, too turn up on the vine at the appropriate time of year. They are also dried and sold as a snack item. These I like a lot, although I usually dry them myself.




Canned , imported tomatoes are only generally available on-line at silly prices.


Edited by liuzhou typos (log)
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I think I have now documented pretty much everything in the markets and supermarkets at present along with some things which I can't get now, but had photographs of. More will turn up as time passes, but with this being the start of winter there isn't going to be much. Come spring, I'll be busy here again.


(I bet, having said that, two new items will turn up tomorrow. @Anna N - I haven't forgotten your red bean question and will continue to check for supplies. I have asked friends, but none admit to ever having cooked them, so don't know.)


In the meantime, I have been going back to previous entries and adding information, clarifications or images and correcting some mistakes. This I will continue to do. So, in the unlikely event that anything fascinated you before, you may wish to go back for a second look. It may be different.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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17 hours ago, dcarch said:


I think until recently almost all food are cooked in China.






That's true worldwide. It was helpful to ensure survival in times where sanitation barely existed and people had no idea of the world of germs. In medieval Europe, porridge was a common food and almost everything was boiled into it including lettuce.


I learned in a food history class that the Chinese workers who came to the US to work on the railroads in the 1800s had a much lower mortality rate than any other people living here because they drank tea almost exclusively and thus always boiled any water they consumed.

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18 hours ago, dcarch said:


I think until recently almost all food are cooked in China.






As I've mentioned here more than once, eating raw food, including vegetables, is extremely rare in China, even recently.


You have to remember that "night soil"* is still used as a fertiliser. Vegetables are washed thoroughly (to extreme) and then cooked. And before people get freaked out about night soil, remember it was common in the US until relatively recently.


*Human and other excrement.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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@liuzhou Thanks again for putting in all this effort to document this - I know the effort involved, and I'm sure I'm not alone in how much I appreciate it!

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It's a bit late in the season, but I saw this today.  Artemisia vulgaris. 艾草 (Mand: ài cǎo; Cant: ngaai6 cou2)




Mugwort or Common Wormwood


This is used extensively in  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), where it is usually identified as Artemisia argyi.


It is used as yet another green to be stir-fried and is also used in "teas", but the most common usage round here are these little cakes which turn up in mid- to late-summer. Called 艾叶粑  (Mand: ài yè bā) or "mugwort leaf cakes" in the local dialect of Mandarin, they are made from a mixture of mugwort, which supplies the colour and flavour, and rice flour which supplies the bulk. The manufacturing process is complicated but involves washing then boiling the mugwort leaves. These are processed with lye to remove bitterness and soften them. Then they are sweetened with sugar and mixed with a 50-50 mixture of rice flour and sticky rice flour to make a dough. The dough is formed into little cakes two to three inches in diameter, then steamed for around 30 minutes.




They are nearly always sold as street food, although I have come across a couple of noodle places which have them. Despite their visual resemblance to miniature versions of something a passing cow might have left behind, they taste pleasantly vegetal or herbal but are very sticky. Not for the loose of tooth.


Edited by liuzhou (log)
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