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Chinese Vegetables Illustrated


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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.

 

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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.

 

bamboo.thumb.jpg.eceb9af36815397304ef3afcc5d97dd6.jpg

 

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).

 

1196257300_bambooshootlarge.thumb.jpg.bb6b5ef9ae37d33a5f03d39b1b0590d5.jpg

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.

 

705832072_Peeledbambooshoots.thumb.jpg.e6b2c8d1333dedf5bb8afdd2c0aeb21a.jpg

Peeled shoots

 

1086671370_sweetbamboo2.thumb.jpg.6618155d094aa0a4882121834ec68f74.jpg

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.

 

1939176110_Bambooshoot.thumb.jpg.5ef93c78fd708de76cae3181395adb3a.jpg

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.

 

114471099_bambooleaves2.thumb.jpg.1f8c2a0f2e622568dc0c06f82d1f7ac9.jpg

Bamboo leaves

 

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Zongzi

 

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.

 

canned.thumb.jpg.ce37e187b69d0838a7312ee70c2cd709.jpg

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.

 

1977812353_swordbeans.thumb.jpg.dd6fa67ac8afe774cd80504e2782c87f.jpg

 

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.

 

wakame.thumb.jpg.81c6364db4992b64a937fcc75e3cac3d.jpg

 

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.

 

dcarch

 

 

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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.

 

toms.thumb.jpg.2fd69ba61494799d23bb094c8eab3196.jpg

 

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.

 

538481821_Vinetomatoes.thumb.jpg.f3f05dcdc2845524beb701a6168c4a16.jpg

 

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.

 

egg-and-tomato.thumb.jpg.b689c8b36fed8e86a96ff74334dcf7d8.jpg

 

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.

 

cherry-tomatos2.jpg

 

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.

 

Dried-cherry-tomato.jpg

 

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

 

Edited by liuzhou
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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.

 

dcarch

 

 

 

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.

 

dcarch

 

 

 

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

 

mugwort.thumb.jpg.f887425f582e1a40a87b43d1fc017833.jpg

 

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.

 

749682410_Mugwortcakes.thumb.jpg.2ac339db2e84acfcdcee3b38fdac57ed.jpg

 

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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This turned up in one market today.

 

japonica.thumb.jpg.a65de89eab91a8fdba47c85541bc5346.jpg

 

Artemesia japonica.

 

鸡肉菜/雞肉菜 (Mand: jī ròu cài; Cant: gai1 juk6 coi3), literally and inexplicably "chicken meat vegetable"'.

 

This is closely related to the plant in the previous post, but is sold as a leaf vegetable for stir frying or using in hot pots. It is bitter, which may be why this site rates it as only 1/5 edible. I guess they don't like bitter. Folks around here do, including me. I'd give it 3/5.

 

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3 hours ago, liuzhou said:

 

I took my cellphone for a walk around the vegetable section in my local supermarket, this morning. This is a small neighbourhood supermarket and this is their winter offerings. Later they will have more.

 

That is pretty stunning but I don’t think it is a lot different than some of our larger Asian groceries. It is definitely very different from our Western supermarkets. If I  had easier access to our Asian markets I would be trying a lot more vegetables!   Right now I am thrilled to find baby bok choy in a regular supermarket.   Thanks very much for sharing.

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3 hours ago, Anna N said:

That is pretty stunning but I don’t think it is a lot different than some of our larger Asian groceries.

 

I was thinking the exact same thing when I watched it.  I think the variety I get locally is similar, although in many cases the amount of each item on hand may not be as great at my market.

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How did I miss this topic 'til now!?

Very nice!

Thanks! 

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The best thing about a vegetable garden is all the meat you can hunt and trap out of it!

 

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The first sighting of a new arrival for the new year.

 

Cichorium endivia var crispum

 

苦苣 (Mand: kǔ jù; Cant: fu2 geoi6), literally 'bitter lettuce' or 苦菊 (Mand: kǔ jú; Cant: fu2 guk1), literally 'bitter chrysanthemum.

 

Curly endive.

 

endive1.thumb.jpg.06c349d1638318e145bd51f609eff3bb.jpg

 

endive2.thumb.jpg.1950c143aa5d7eef883c479a84d5aa86.jpg

 

This pleasantly bitter greenery is typically stir-fried with garlic or used in hot pots.

 

 

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Seeing the curly endive, I'm wondering if China does anything vaguely similar to the hot bacon vinegar sweet/sour dressing that is a traditional accompaniment to the stuff in my very western experience.  China does ham/bacon, lots of vinegars, and lots of hot thickened sauces.  Do they combine the three and pour it over endive?  Or use those flavors in the hotpots this stuff gets tossed into?

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19 hours ago, cdh said:

Seeing the curly endive, I'm wondering if China does anything vaguely similar to the hot bacon vinegar sweet/sour dressing that is a traditional accompaniment to the stuff in my very western experience.  China does ham/bacon, lots of vinegars, and lots of hot thickened sauces.  Do they combine the three and pour it over endive?  Or use those flavors in the hotpots this stuff gets tossed into?

 

I've never come across anything like that.

Hot pot broths are usually chicken based here although they can use other meats elsewhere in China (Sichuan often uses beef, for example)  but ham is also often used in preparing stocks, too, but only in addition to the base meat. I often make chicken stock with a bit of ham.

Chillies are very commonly used in hot pots, either in the form of sauces or just the fresh things. Especially in Sichuan, Hunan and Guizhou provinces.

Although, as you say, China has many excellent vinegars. I think I've only had them at hot pot dinners as side dips and not in the hot pot itself

All that said, endive is not  a common vegetable. I think the season is quite short and. thankfully. the locals like their food to be seasonal.

 

 

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This morning, in a local supermarket, I found this pile of dirty little ball-shaped things.

 

1603907188_mati.thumb.jpg.356d2aecd8dacf83b9650d39c4bc8967.jpg

 

Eleocharis dulcis

 

In Chinese, 马蹄/馬蹄 (Mand: mǎ tí; Cant: maa5 tai4), literally 'horse hoof' or 荸荠/荸薺 ( (Mand: bí qí; Cant: but6 cai4).

 

Chinese water chestnuts.

 

Cleaned up, they look like this.

 

1671643449_mati3.thumb.jpg.00729bb0aed8f7e34050596edf2eb7ed.jpg

 

Despite their their nutty name, they are not nuts, but a root vegetable. More technically a corm.

 

They are eaten in many ways. They can be ground to make a type of flour used in sweet dim sum cakes. They can be candied. They are used in hot pots and stews.

 

They are not something I buy a lot and when I do I buy them from the farmers' market, where a couple of women sit peeling them all day long. They do it 100 times faster than I ever could.

2137676350_mati2.thumb.jpg.967cfe767a3b532f91cb8e926440327f.jpg

 

They have the benefit of staying slightly sweet and crisp even after cooking or canning. I don't recall seeing them canned here - only fresh.

 

 

 

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      凤尾菇 (fèng wěi gū), literally “Phoenix tail mushroom”, is a more robust, meaty variety which is more suitable for stir frying.
       

       
      Another member of the pleurotus family bears little resemblance to its cousins and even less to an oyster. This is pleurotus eryngii, known variously as king oyster mushroom, king trumpet mushroom or French horn mushroom or, in Chinese 杏鲍菇 (xìng bào gū). It is considerably larger and has little flavour or aroma when raw. When cooked, it develops typical mushroom flavours. This is one for longer cooking in hot pots or stews.
       

       
      One of my favourites, certainly for appearance are the clusters of shimeji mushrooms. Sometimes known in English as “brown beech mushrooms’ and in Chinese as 真姬菇 zhēn jī gū or 玉皇菇 yù huáng gū, these mushrooms should not be eaten raw as they have an unpleasantly bitter taste. This, however, largely disappears when they are cooked. They are used in stir fries and with seafood. Also, they can be used in soups and stews. When cooked alone, shimeji mushrooms can be sautéed whole, including the stem or stalk. There is also a white variety which is sometimes called 白玉 菇 bái yù gū.
       

       

       
      Next up we have the needle mushrooms. Known in Japanese as enoki, these are tiny headed, long stemmed mushrooms which come in two varieties – gold (金針菇 jīn zhēn gū) and silver (银针菇 yín zhēn gū)). They are very delicate, both in appearance and taste, and are usually added to hot pots.
       

       

       
      Then we have these fellows – tea tree mushrooms (茶树菇 chá shù gū). These I like. They take a bit of cooking as the stems are quite tough, so they are mainly used in stews and soups. But their meaty texture and distinct taste is excellent. These are also available dried.
       

       
      Then there are the delightfully named 鸡腿菇 jī tuǐ gū or “chicken leg mushrooms”. These are known in English as "shaggy ink caps". Only the very young, still white mushrooms are eaten, as mature specimens have a tendency to auto-deliquesce very rapidly, turning to black ‘ink’, hence the English name.
       

       
      Not in season now, but while I’m here, let me mention a couple of other mushrooms often found in the supermarkets. First, straw mushrooms (草菇 cǎo gū). Usually only found canned in western countries, they are available here fresh in the summer months. These are another favourite – usually braised with soy sauce – delicious! When out of season, they are also available canned here.
       

       
      Then there are the curiously named Pig Stomach Mushrooms (猪肚菇 zhū dù gū). These are another favourite. They make a lovely mushroom omelette. Also, a summer find.
       

       
      And finally, not a mushroom, but certainly a fungus and available fresh is the wood ear (木耳 mù ěr). It tastes of almost nothing, but is prized in Chinese cuisine for its crunchy texture. More usually sold dried, it is available fresh in the supermarkets now.
       

       
      Please note that where I have given Chinese names, these are the names most commonly around this part of China, but many variations do exist.
       
      Coming up next - the dried varieties available.
    • By liuzhou
      It is possibly not well-known that China has some wonderful hams, up there with the best that Spain can offer. This lack of wide knowledge, at least in the USA, is mainly down to regulations forbidding their importation. However, for travellers to China and those in  places with less restrictive policies, here are some of the best.
       
      This article from the WSJ is a good introduction to one of the best - Xuanwei Ham 宣威火腿  (xuān wēi huǒ tuǐ) from Yunnan province.
      This Ingredient Makes Everything Better
      I can usually obtain Xuanwei ham here around the Chinese New Year/Spring Festival, but I also have a good friend who lives in Yunnan who sends me regular supplies. The article compares it very favourably with jamon iberico, a sentiment with which I heartily agree.



      Xuanwei Ham
       

      Xuanwei Ham
       
      more coming soon.
       
       
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