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Chinese Vegetables Illustrated

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3 hours ago, KennethT said:

Is it common to find lesser ginger? In Thailand it is called grachai.


It is, but only dried in traditional Chinese medicine pharmacies. It is a type of galangal ( Boesenbergia rotunda) rather than true ginger, and unlike in Thailand, it is not really considered a culinary item here. 凹唇姜/凹唇薑 (Mand: āo chún jiāng; Cant: nap1 seon4 goeng1), "literally 'concave lipped ginger'  in Chinese.


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2 hours ago, heidih said:

My farmers market folks from Fresno (yes they travel this far) have been selling fresh young ginger that looks almost like giant scallions. They say folks juice it (!) or just smash as flavor element. They grow it in a greenhouse.



Juicing ginger is common. I also have a small grater specifically for grating the young ginger to extract juice. In some recipes, the pulp is then discarded. My grater is stainless steel, but bamboo versions can also be found.





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China often has its own classification system for plants and animals. For example, they are convinced that mice and rats are the same species, just that the rats are old mice. This is reflected in the names they use.


They also consider carrots and radishes to be the same, despite them being botanically unrelated.


I'll start with radishes. The general term in Chinese for radishes is 萝卜/蘿蔔 (Mand: luó bó; Cant: lo4 baak6). However what we get almost always is the large white version, Raphanus sativus longipinnatus, commonly called 'daikon' after the Japanese name. In the UK, both 'daikon' and 'mooli' are used, the latter being derived from the Hindi name. In Chinese 白萝卜/白蘿蔔 (Mand: bái luó bó; Cant: baak6 lo4 baak6), meaning 'white radish'.




These are used in many ways: Cut into chunks and boiled in soups or hot pots, cut into strips and stir fried, used in noodle dishes, pickled, salted, candied etc, etc.


We do, very occasionally, see the small red radishes known in the west. They are known as 小萝卜/小蘿蔔 (Mandarin: xiǎo luó bó; Cant: siu2 lo4 baak6), meaning 'small radishes'. Few people know what do do with them.




Then it gets silly. Here we go with 'red radish'.  Not the above but these.




Daucus carota sativus


红萝卜/紅蘿蔔 (Mand: hóng luó bó; Cant: hung4 lo4 baak6)


The 'umble carrot.


These are used in the same way as the white variety above. Also a popular side dish is potato and carrot, cut into fine strips, stir fried with garlic and finished with white rice vinegar. Very nice.


The shoots of all varieties are also eaten.


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If you are wondering what those are, then you know how I felt when  I first encountered them. After doing some research, to my great surprise, I found they are native to a huge stretch of land starting in Ireland and heading all the way to Japan, then veering south through China, Vietnam and hopping to Australia, at some point passing my original home, the UK. I first saw them in Hunan, China.

They are the tubers of Sagittaria sagittifolia, apparently known in English as 'arrowheads', on account of their shape. In Chinese, they are 慈菇 (Mand: cí gū; Cant: ci4 gu1).


This root vegetable has little taste but is valued in Chinese cuisine for its texture ( and some supposed , fanciful, magical health benefits).  Unlike most root vegetables it remains crisp even after long boiling. Mainly used in hot pots and soups. Very traditional at Chinese New Year.


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I decided, when I started this, not to include nuts, so I feel no shame in bringing you this.


Arachis hypogaea




I suppose most people associate peanuts with the USA, especially the south. Well, they certainly originated in S. America (not south-USA) and are widely consumed in the US, but by far, China is the largest producer today.


Whatever you call them - peanuts, ground nuts, earth nuts, monkey nuts, pygmy nuts, pig nuts or goobers, the one thing for sure is that they aren’t nuts. Rather, they are a legume or bean. But hey, as Juliet said, what’s in a name?


Peanuts, in Chinese 花生 (Mand: huā shēng; Cant: faa1 sang1), are so important to the cuisine here that it is difficult to imagine what they did before they were introduced by Portuguese traders in the 17th century. Much of China's production goes to cooking oil. Peanut oil is the oil of choice around this part of China.


Peanuts are available everywhere. But I have to be careful. Sometimes they are just peanuts in the shell. Other times they have been boiled. I can’t deal with the boiled ones. They feel all wrong. Peanuts in bags from supermarkets are usually just regular peanuts in the the shell. Those from street vendors have nearly always been boiled. Don’t ask me why – just one of those Chinese things. You can usually tell by looking. The boiled ones have damp looking slimy surface to the shells.


Apart from the regular in-shell nuts, we can also sometimes find what are one of my favourites. Red mud peanuts 红泥花生/红泥花生 (Mand: hóng ní huā shēng; Cant: hung4 nai4 faa1 sang1)! These have been “cured” by being buried in a muddy red paste of unidentifiable ingredients then baked until the shells turn red and the ‘nuts’ take on a pleasant earthy taste. These are good (in my humble).




Another oddity is a peculiar strain of peanut in which the bean is absolutely black. Nothing has been done to these - that is just they way they are. Black peanuts – 黑花生 (Mand: hēi huā shēng; Cant:  hak1 faa1 sang1). They taste exactly the same as the regular ones.




But the nuts nearest my heart are these. Known in Chinese as 酒鬼花生 Mand: jiǔ guǐ huā shēng; Cant: zau2 gwai2 faa1 sang1) or sometimes 啤酒花生 (Mand: pí jiǔ huā shēng; Cant: be1 zau2 faa1 sang1 which translate as “drunkard’s peanuts” or “beer peanuts”, these are right up my street. Basically they are what I consider to be regular roasted and salted peanuts, but they come in two varieties – plain but salted and salted and spicy. I tend to buy a bag of each and mix them 50:50. They are available in every supermarket and corner shop. It isn't obligatory to drink beer with them, but heartily recommended.




As well as being eaten with beer or as snacks, peanuts feature in a number of confectionery items and in cooked dishes, such as stir fries and  most famously the Sichuan favourite, 宫保鸡丁/宮保雞丁 (Mand: gōng bǎo jī dīng; Cant: gung1 bou2 gai1 ding1), known in the west as ‘Kungpo Chicken’. They also turn up in many soupy noodle dishes.


Less well known is that peanuts can be sprouted just like any other bean and served as a vegetable, which is my justification for posting this here.






Stir fried.


Back to more regular vegetation, tomorrow.



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Solanum melongena


Here is another that I never associated with China until coming here. Again it turns out that China grows most of the world's supply - 62% in 2016.


I am talking aubergine or eggplant. Being British/French , I default to 'aubergine' from the French, but here I will force myself to use 'eggplant'. not out of deference to sensitive members, but because it is shorter and I'm going to have to type it a lot. 😄


In Chinese, it's 茄子 (Mand: qié zi; Cant: ke4*2 zi2).


Technically it's a fruit or berry, but always treated as a vegetable, so here it is.


China being in Asia, we usually get the long slim Asian variety.






That said, other varieties do turn up on occasion. My local supermarket had three, today - the ones above and these round ones...




and these




Sadly we do not get the white variety, 白茄子 (Mand: bái qié zi; Cant: baak6 ke4*2 zi2) here, although I've seen them in Hong Kong. Nor do we get the mini Thai eggplants which I love so much, 迷你茄子 (Mand: mí nǐ qié zi; Cant: mai4 nei5 ke4*2 zi).  You will notice that the Chinese name includes a Chinese phonetic equivalent if the English 'mini".


Eggplants are used in many dishes, but there are two dishes which are well known throughout China. The first, eggplant with minced/ground pork is either 茄子肉末  (Mand: qié zi ròu mò; Cant: ke4*2 zi2 juk6 mut6) or 肉末茄子 (Mand: ròu mò qié zi; Cant: juk6 mut6 ke4*2 zi2). The names indicate which ingredient is predominant. The first indicates that the dish has more egg plant than minced pork, the second the reverse. Some restaurants have both on their menus.




The second is 鱼香茄子/魚香茄子 (Mand: yú xiāng qié zi; Cant:  jyu4*2 hoeng1 ke4*2 zi2), which translates as 'fish-flavour eggplant'. It  contains no fish. In fact, it's vegan in its traditional form. The moniker just means that it is cooked with the flavourings usually used with fish.


Many online recipes for these two dishes conflate them into one, but they are from two distinct Chinese cuisines and have very different flavours. The first is from eastern China, especially Hangzhou near Shanghai; the second is from Sichuan.


In Yunnan province , the Dai ethnic minority often roast eggplants. Delicious.


Eggplant leaves and flowers are not edible and even handling them can cause nasty skin reactions. Eaten in large quantities the leaves are poisonous.



Edited by liuzhou added image (log)
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Fascinating.  Thank you for taking the time to post this.  The peanut sprouts are interesting...do they taste like peanut?

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Talking of sprouts, we also, of course, get beansprouts.


In Chinese, 豆芽 (Mand: dòu yá; Cant: dau6*2 ngaa4). These come in two varieties: 'yellow' and 'green'.


The 'yellow' one' are sprouted soy beans (Glycine max ). They are 黄豆芽 (Mand: huáng dòu yá; Cant: wong4 dau6 ngaa4), literally 'yellow bean sprout' or 大豆芽 (Mand: dà dòu yá; Cant: daai6 dau6*2 ngaa4), literally 'big bean sprout.




The 'green' are mung bean sprouts. Vigna radiata. 绿豆芽/綠豆芽 (Mand: lǜ dòu yá; Cant: luk6 dau6 ngaa4), literally 'green bean sprout'.




Both types of bean sprouts are used in stir fries, with fried noodles, in soups, hot pots, spring rolls etc. They are always cooked.


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potato I have


                - James Joyce in Ulysses.


Solanum tuberosum, the humble potato, spud, tattie, tater. China also has. In fact China is the leading producer of potatoes, with 26% of the supply (2016).


There are many different names in Chinese for the tuber of the potato plant, but the most common are 马铃薯 (Mand: mǎ líng shǔ; Cant: maa5 ling4 syu4*2), literally 'horse bell potato'), 土豆 (Mand: tǔ dòu; Cant: tou2 dau6*2), literally 'earth bean', and 洋芋 (Mand: yáng yù; Cant:  joeng4 wu6), literally 'foreign tuber'.




I am frustrated by Chinese potatoes. They only have one unidentified variety. In fact, many of my otherwise knowledgeable Chinese friends find my telling them that there  are hundreds somewhat ridiculous.


We get them both as regular sized spuds and as baby potatoes.




Those we get are a waxy variety - the least useful in my opinion. However, there is no incentive for them to experiment with other varieties. Potatoes have long been considered 'peasant food' and beneath the dignity of the aspiring classes. That has changed ever so slightly since the introduction of fries through KFC and McDonald's etc, although those companies grow their own potatoes which are not sold directly to the public. One of my abiding memories of my first few months in China is serving chips/fries to some new Chinese friends and before I could stop them they sprinkled sugar all over them!


There is however, one Chinese potato dish which I do like.  酸辣土豆丝/酸辣土豆絲 (Mand:suān là tǔ dòu sī; Cant: syun1 laat6 tou2 dau6*2 si1), 'hot and sour potato slivers'. Originally from Sichuan, but available all over China.


Potatoes and carrots are finely slivered and stir fried with chilli, then dressed in white wine vinegar. Markets and some supermarkets sell the vegetables pre-cut, just for this dish. It is the only one most people know.



Pre-wrapped potato and carrot slivers


Then there is the wonderful Muslim dish from China's troubled Xinjiang Province, 大盘鸡/大盤雞 (Mand: dà pán jī; Cant: daai6 pun4 gai1). This is a stew of chicken and potatoes served over noodles. Wonderful.




In addition the potato is an important product for the manufacture of potato starch - 马铃薯淀粉/馬鈴薯澱粉(Mand: mǎ líng shǔ diàn fěn; Cant: maa5 ling4 syu4*2 din6 fan2), used as a thickening agent in many parts of China, particularly Sichuan.



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For the first 15 years I lived in China, I never saw asparagus once. Then about 5 or 6 years ago it began to appear sporadically. Now it is everywhere and China has become, by far, the world's largest producer.




Other names in English include sparrowgrass and sprue, although the latter is usually only used for inferior straggly stalks. My son, as a child, called it 'sparrow juice', which remains a family tradition. In Chinese, it's 芦笋 (Mand: lú sǔn; Cant: lou4 seon2), literally 'reed' bamboo'. This causes all sorts of confusion. Most Chinese friends are convinced it's a type of bamboo, despite it being totally unrelated.


I've only ever seen it being stir fried in Chinese cuisine.


Being from the UK, I know that the best asparagus (and my 100% favourite vegetable)  is English asparagus, only available  from April 23rd until mid-summer's day. End of argument.


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Colocasia esculenta


Despite the indifference to the potato in China, there is one root vegetable they have taken to in a big way. Taro.




In Chinese, 芋头/芋頭 (Mand: yù tóu; Cant: wu6 tau4*2).


This is boiled, steamed (sometimes with sugar), braised or fried. It also appears in hot pots and soups.


There are also a number of desserts which feature taro in the form of cakes and pies, often served as dim sum. McDonald's China also sell taro pies.


A favourite local use is in a dish called 扣肉 (Mand: kòu ròu; Cant:  kau3 juk6), literally 'upside down bowl meat), in which slices of taro are interleaved with slices of fatty pork belly, placed in a bowl and steamed. The bowl is then inverted onto a serving plate.




The full process is explained in great detail over here.




Baby taro is also available.




These are a bit bigger than we usually get. Wrong time of year.


Edited by liuzhou typos (log)
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When I happen to be near Chinatown, I like to get a couple of scoops of taro ice cream. Mott Street?



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This is going to be traumatic, but I guess I have to do it.


Zea mays


You can call it corn or maize or anything else you like. I don't care. I call it 'revolting'. It never darkens my door or abuses my palate. Wretched stuff. But for the sake of completeness...




In Chinese, 玉米 (Mand: yù mǐ; Cant: juk6/6*1 mai5) or, less often, 粟米 (Mand: sù mǐ; Cant: suk1 mai5). 


Two main varieties are sold. The regular yellow stuff as pictured above but also a white variety called 糯玉米 (Mand: nuò yù mǐ; Cant: no6 juk6/6*1 mai5), which means 'glutinous corn'.




This foul abomination does come in various colours, but the most prized, I'm told, is black. See! I told you! The work of the devil.




If you are too lazy to strip the ears from the cobs, worry not. You can also buy pre-stripped ears.




One problem the troubled people who actually buy this stuff have is that in supermarkets and markets it is usually shelved un-husked, so they have to stand there and strip it to see exactly which type of hell they are facing.




For the terminally lazy who can't be bothered to cook, evil street vendors littering every corner serve up cobs of vileness steamed over mobile stoves.




This pestilence turns up everywhere. Corn in stir-fries, soups, hot pots. Corn randomly appearing on your plate on internal and international flights.. Corn ice cream! I kid you not.


But most aggravatingly disgusting is that they throw corn kernels into all their pizzas. Even the friggin' wretched durian pizzas come with corn!


Perhaps the only sensible use they make of it is corn oil, a very suitable emollient with which to lubricate the chain of your bicycle etc, but apparently they cook with it!


corn oil.jpg


I need a lie down and some major therapy now.

Back soon with something edible.



Edited by liuzhou (log)
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4 hours ago, liuzhou said:

One problem the troubled people who actually buy this stuff have is that in supermarkets and markets it is usually shelved un-husked, so they have to stand there and strip it to see exactly which type of hell they are facing.

 It is no different here. Although you can buy corn that has been husked  and is wrapped in plastic, for the most part those of us who love corn prefer to buy it in the husk. Our supermarkets provide a large garbage can so that you can leave the husks behind if you so choose. 

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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34 minutes ago, Anna N said:

 It is no different here. Although you can buy corn that has been husked  and is wrapped in plastic, for the most part those of us who love corn prefer to buy it in the husk. Our supermarkets provide a large garbage can so that you can leave the husks behind if you so choose. 


Here people just chuck the husks on the floor. Yes, we also get the plastic wrapped stuff. When I say we, I mean them!

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On 10/31/2018 at 8:00 PM, IowaDee said:

How about popcorn?  


What is it with you guys? I've always been nice to you! Why are you doing this to me?


Popcorn? I'd rather eat deep fried bees! Oh! I have done! Available at a cinema not very near you!

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Nothing personal I promise.  After all I do live in Iowa, the state which grows more corn than any other state.  And that probably means you won't ever want to visit me either.  I'm surrounding by corn fields on three sides and soy beans on the other.  I do have friends who are bee keepers.  I could fry up a batch for you while I eat corn on the cob dripping with butter.  

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1 hour ago, liuzhou said:

Popcorn? I'd rather eat deep fried bees! 

 Well we can almost agree on something to do with corn.   Perhaps not deep fried bees but I’d choke down some green peppers before I’d eat any popcorn.

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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      For the sake of typing convenience I’m going to conflate 'vegetarians and vegan' into just 'vegetarian' except where strictly relevant.
      First a declaration of non-interest. I am very carnivorous, but I have known vegetarians who have passed through China, some staying only a few weeks, others staying for years. Being vegetarian in China is a complicated issue. In some ways, China is probably one of the best countries in which to be vegetarian. In other ways, it is one of the worst.
      I spent a couple of years in Gorbachev-era Russia and saw the empty supermarkets and markets. I saw people line up for hours to buy a bit of bread.  So, when I first came to China, I kind of expected the same. Instead, the first market I visited astounded me. The place was piled high with food, including around 30 different types of tofu, countless varieties of steamed buns and flat breads and scores of different vegetables, both fresh and preserved, most of which I didn't recognise. And so cheap I could hardly convert into any western currency. If you are able to self-cater then China is heaven for vegetarians. For short term visitors dependent on restaurants or street food, the story is very different.
      Despite the perception of a Buddhist tradition (not that strong, actually), very few Chinese are vegetarian and many just do not understand the concept. Explaining in a restaurant that you don't eat meat is no guarantee that you won't be served meat.
      Meat is seen in China as a status symbol. If you are rich, you eat more meat. And everyone knows all foreigners are rich, so of course they eat meat! Meat eating is very much on the rise as China gets more rich - even to the extent of worrying many economists, food scientists etc. who fear the demand is pushing up prices and is environmentally dangerous. But that's another issue. Obesity is also more and more of a problem.
      Banquet meals as served in large hotels and banquet dedicated restaurants will typically have a lot more meat dishes than a smaller family restaurant. Also, the amount of meat in any dish will be greater in the banquet style places.
      Traditional Chinese cooking is/was very vegetable orientated. I still see my neighbours come home from the market with their catch of greenery every morning. However, whereas meat wasn't the central component of dinner, it was used almost as a condiment or seasoning. Your stir fried tofu dish may come with a scattering of ground pork on top, for example. This will not usually be mentioned on the menu. Simple stir fried vegetables are often cooked in lard (pig fat) to 'improve' the flavour.
      Another problem is that the Chinese word for meat (肉), when used on its own refers to pork. Other meats are specified, eg (beef) is 牛肉, literally cattle meat. What this means is that when you say you don't eat meat, they often think you mean you don't eat pork (something they do understand from the Chinese Muslim community), so they rush off to the kitchen and cook you up some stir fried chicken! I've actually heard a waitress saying to someone that chicken isn't meat. Also, few Chinese wait staff or cooks seem to know that ham is pig meat. I have also had a waitress argue ferociously with me that the unasked for ham in a dish of egg fried rice wasn't meat.
      Also, Chinese restaurant dishes are often given have really flowery, poetic names which tell you nothing of the contents. Chinese speakers have to ask. One dish on my local restaurant menu reads “Maternal Grandmother's Fluttering Fragrance.” It is, of course, spicy pork ribs!
      Away from the tourist places, where you probably don't want to be eating anyway, very few restaurants will have translations of any sort. Even the best places' translations will be indecipherable. I have been in restaurants where they have supplied an “English menu”, but if I didn't know Chinese would have been unable to order anything. It was gibberish.
      To go back to Buddhism and Taoism, it is a mistake to assume that genuine followers of either (or more usually a mix of the two) are necessarily vegetarian. Many Chinese Buddhists are not. In fact, the Dalai Lama states in his autobiography that he is not vegetarian. It would be very difficult to survive in Tibet on a vegetarian diet.
      There are vegetarian restaurants in many places (although the ones around where I am never seem to last more than six months). In the larger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai they are more easily findable.
      Curiously, many of these restaurants make a point of emulating meat dishes. The menu reads like any meat using restaurant, but the “meat” is made from vegetable substitutes (often wheat gluten or konjac based).
      To be continued
    • By Chocolatemelter
      Hey everyone.
      So im looking for the most affordable chocolate shaking table that actually works.. does anyone have experience with the ones from AliBaba or china in general?
      i bought a $100 dental table from amazon but i guess its not the right hrtz cause it kinda works, but not well enough.
      im looking in the $500 range or under.. any advice? Thanks
    • By liuzhou
      I know a few people here know her already, but for those that don't, she is simply the best creator of Chinese food and rural life videos. It's not what you will find in your local Bamboo Hut! It's what Chinese people eat!
      Here is her latest, posted today. This is what all my neighbours are doing right now in preparation for Spring Festival (Chinese New Year to the Lantern Festival 15 days later), although few are doing it as elegantly as she does!
      Everything she posts is worth watching if you have any interest in food.
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