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I just got back from Vancouver, and had an experience that reminded me of Titus Wong's query about cooking ong choy--back on the favorite chinese veggies thread. Titus said his ong choy was always tougher than what he remembered, and a bunch of us shared our cooking tips. Well...

As many of you know, Vancouver is considered one of the best places for Chinese food in North America and you can easily find Chinese food stuffs there that are still unusual in the U.S.

So, we were at an upscale Hong Kong style seafood restaurant and ordered ong choy. When it came, the stems were yellower than I was used to, plus they were flatter. My mom perked up and told me that it was "water" ong, not the usual ong choy I've always eaten. I pressed my mom and my dad for more info. They said that the "water" ong is actually grown in water, unlike the ong choy I get in the Bay Area, which is of a species grown in soil. I was very puzzled, since I always thought that all ong choy was grown in water, but they insisted that that was the case. The "water" ong choy is thus more crisp instead of crunchy (does that make any sense?), and indeed was the case. It was a subtle difference, but the choy was definitely less fibrous and more delicate and giving.

So, Titus, now I'm wondering if what you were talking about had nothing to do with cooking techniques at all but everything to do with the kind of ong choy you were comparing your efforts to?

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Hest88,

"Kangkung (Ipomea) is grown throughout South-East Asia (including Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia and South China), in Australia and certain parts of Africa.

Kangkung has several common names - swamp cabbage, water convolvulus and water spinach. There are two common types of kangkung - one that grows on land (kangkung darat), and one that grows in water in padi fields and ponds (kangkung air). Kangkung darat becomes unhealthy when grown in water, and kangkung air will rot if grown on land.

There is a marked difference in the colour of the flowers and in the shape and colour of the leaves. Kangkung darat has long leaves with narrow, pointed ends. The leaf is a mixture of white and green, and the flower is white. Kangkung air has long, murky-green coloured leaves with blunt ends, and white and yellow or pinkish-red flowers.

Kangkung darat reproduces using the seed or the stem, whereas kangkung air reproduces only by the stem."

From the "Wetlands Library".

The Scientific/Latin/Botanical Name of this plant should be used for reference because this will refer to the exact same plant no matter where you are in the world. The name is Ipomoea aquatica.

You may be interested in browsing the following for additional information:

Water SpinachÑChinatown's Tasty Morning Glory

Growing and Eating Ipomoea aquatica: Several threads of discussion

:smile:

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Yes, and kangkong/kangkung has the toughest hollow stems known to man!

I remember going to slightly shonky chines restaurants as a kid and having my dad yell at the chef for giving us a dish of elderly kangkong - so tough that the whole tangled mass lifted off the plate with a single tentative pull of the chopsticks.

Mind you, my brother had an unfortunate experience with this vegetable once in Thailand..... We were dining in a darker corner of an open-air or garden restaurant, and he grabbed a chopstickbiteful of kangkong, only to find that tangled up in the leaves and stems were tiny green birdseye chillies.

Which are frankly incendiary.

The rest of us made sure to throughly shake each bite of kangkong before inserting in mouth. :laugh:

" ..Is simplicity the best

Or simply the easiest

The narrowest path

Is always the holiest.. "

--Depeche Mode - Judas

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Thanks Mudbug! I never paid much attention to the specifics of vegetables. Until I was well into adulthood I never realized that the horrible, bitter vegetables my parents grew in the back yard and loved to eat blanched was the same thing as the chives I used as herbs!

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Sorry, sorry, sorry! I just returned from a weeklong trip to the Canadian Rockies with my family, wending our way amongst the glacier-capped peaks in an entourage of three minivans. I did spy this thread while on vacation, but the unrelenting task of cajoling six hyperactive children forebore an earlier reply. I had a great time and got to share cooking tips with my mom and sisters-in-law.

My ong choy cooking techniques have improved vastly now that I chop off the bottom third of the plant, but I think my efforts are still too over-seasoned for my tastes. I have been using the Filipino shrimp paste I purchased (in an effort to get rid of it), garlic, fish sauce, soy sauce, sherry, and a dash of sugar. In addition, I've blanched the vegetable prior to stir-frying it.

This, I have become convinced, is overkill.

Ong choy has a delicate flavor (tastes like tea to my unsophisticated palate) that is easily overwhelmed. I have resolved to return to the basic technique of sauteeing with a bit of garlic and a splash of sherry. In the future I might succumb to mashing up a cube of spicy fermented tofu just to investigate the results. Similarly, I'll want to check out the shrimp paste on it's own (Ong choy+shrimp paste+garlic+sherry) and later, with the Tra Chang (sp?) brand of Thai shrimp paste that Trillium recommended.

BTW, glad to see that Hest888 was in Canada relatively soon before I got there. For the most part, my family confined our eating adventures to family restaurants. On the last full day of the trip, we visited the West Edmonton mall, supposedly the largest in the world (a claim I'm not sure I would be proud to voice myself). Despite that, the developers have modeled one wing of the mall into a Chinatown of sorts with a few Asian merchants and a massive, Costco-sized Asian grocery called T&T Supermarket.

Visiting T&T Supermarket was an eye-opener for me if only for the sheer size of the place. I have visited a similar megamarket in the Chicagoland suburbs named Diho, but this place is simply on a larger scale of magnitude. It encompasses a sushi bar, a dim sum counter, a counter featuring Vietnamese sandwiches and baked goods, a Chinese bakery, a well-stocked seafood counter with numerous live specimens, and all the other typical accoutrements of a supermarket. I was duly impressed. So were my family who purchased packages of sushi, dim sum, styrofoam cups of congee and soy milk, Asian drinks and juices, and chowed down to their hearts content. My folks were particularly enamored of the boneless (*boneless* mark ye!) spicy chicken feet, the boneless spicy duck feet, spicy sliced pig ears, and spicy marinated conch.

I felt my eyes going around and around as I took it all in. It was enough to tempt me to immigate to Canada.

Edited by titus wong (log)
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Titus,

"It's important to know how to "pinch" the leaves. We don't use knife to cut this vegetable, we use fingers "pinch" from the top to the root. Pinch top leaves with 1 1/2 to 2 inches stem (down to next leaf), pinch one leaf with the same length of stem, then another... repeat this process until it's hard to pinch the stem. Then you know you should stop, because if it's hard to pinch, it's not tender enough to eat."

I highly recommend simply sauteeing with Chinese 'chili preserved bean curd'. We prefer the M.T.T. brand. Stick with the Sichun/Sze Chuan types. It's the only seasoning you need with the ong choy, sets off the natural flavors of the ong choy....

You'll find it's one of the most common and treasured methods of preparing ong choy if you click on the link for "Growing and Eating Ipomoea aquatica" posted above.

:smile:

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Titus,

"It's important to know how to "pinch" the leaves. We don't use knife to cut this vegetable, we use fingers "pinch" from the top to the root. Pinch top leaves with 1 1/2 to 2 inches stem (down to next leaf), pinch one leaf with the same length of stem, then another... repeat this process until it's hard to pinch the stem. Then you know you should stop, because if it's hard to pinch, it's not tender enough to eat."

I highly recommend simply sauteeing with Chinese 'chili preserved bean curd'. We prefer the M.T.T. brand. Stick with the Sichun/Sze Chuan types. It's the only seasoning you need with the ong choy, sets off the natural flavors of the ong choy....

Thanks for the hard info, mudbug! I did try wading through those threads earlier, but I didn't get to ChicoGirl's informative post until today.

I didn't see the M.T.T. brand you specified in the website/link you posted (am I mistaken). I think I recognize the brand anyway as my granny used it. It has a green label, right? So all you do is oil+spicy bean curd+ong choy? Any salt, garlic?

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Titus, good to see you back. Vancouver is an incredible place for Chinese food. I hate the "malling" effect--which we have here in the South Bay as well--but oh I love having access to all that authentic Chinese food and goods.

I really only use the fermented tofu now as well. And, truth be told, I haven't used cooking spirits in years. I've just gotten too lazy and it doesn't make a big enough difference for my tastes to bother. I will use garlic, but what I've found makes a huge difference to me is to chop up a jalapeno and throw it in.

So, my lazy method is to heat up oil, throw in garlic, jalapeno, two cubes of the spicy, fermented tofu, and then throw in the blanched ong choy. Really the most time consuming part is "pinching" it. If I'm stir-frying just enough ong choy for myself as a snack, I'll even skip the blanching.

Edited by Hest88 (log)
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Kangkung has several common names - swamp cabbage, water convolvulus and water spinach.

. . .

The Scientific/Latin/Botanical Name of this plant should be used for reference because this will refer to the exact same plant no matter where you are in the world. The name is Ipomoea aquatica.

Thanks for the great info, Mudbug. However, one part confused me a little. Ipomoea and Convolvulus are two separate genus names for different types of morning glory (Convolvulaceae). I believe that Ipomoea spp. usually are the climbing kind (such as the sweet potato, Ipomoea Batatas) and Convolvulus spp. usually the prostate kind, but I'm not certain. Since Kangkung / Ong Choi is not really a climber, "water convolvulus" makes sense. But then why is the botanical name Ipomoea aquatica?

Regarding how to cook old ong choi. I usually try the asparagus technique - stems on the bottom and leaves on the top sticking out of the water. You need a lot of ong choi bound together loosely, otherwise it tips over. The stems usually end up tough anyway, so I cut them off and let the kids use them for straws. By then I'm too frustrated to add anything but plain yellow bean sauce or oyster sauce and sesame oil.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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Titus,

My pleasure. The M.T.T. brand is a red label, gold trim, black type - have some in the fridge right now... If you browse the Asian groceries, you'll likely find it. You are correct in that it is not at that web page. If anyone else has specific brand recommendations, please post. I specified because we got a brand which had a terrible taste and was a great disappointment and it looked like the Hwang Ryh Shiang jars (check the bean curd link). Bleh! If you can find the same brand your granny used, then by all means, go with what you know and like.

All we do is add a tiny bit of oil to a hot (not smoking) wok or pan. At this point you can add garlic and stir fry half a minute. Add fresh water spinach and stir fry one minute our until leaves go limp. Add one cube preserved bean curd per half pound water spinach. (You can add a tiny pinch of salt and sugar at this point.) Break up the cube as you stir fry and mix it up into the spinach for about three to four minutes. Ummmmm... making myself hungry!

Hest88,

"...never paid much attention to the specifics of vegetables. Until I was well into adulthood...

Isn't it fascinating? I became intrigued by it from discussion at the Asian Vegetable Forum and started growing it this season. So looking forward to trying something new, once I had a bit to harvest, we cooked it I describe above and my first exclaimation was, "I've had this before!" And then I went on to agree with everyone else that it really is good.

I'll have to try the jalapeno idea. Although we like flavor of serranos even better so I look forward to trying each.

skchai,

LOL, sounds to me like you should have your kids pinch off the tender parts.

There are many more common (English) names for Ipomoea aquatica syn Ipomoea reptans. The key word being common and not necessarily scientifically accurate and it would be very difficult to compile a complete listing from all countries and dialects. Swamp morning glory, Swamp Cabbage, Tropical spinach, (Chinese) Water Spinach, aquatic morning glory, bamboo leaf, Ung Choi, Ong Choy, Kang Kong, Kang Kung, Kankon, Weng Cai, Ngung Choi, Ung Tsoi, Kong Xin Cai, Tong Sin Tsai, Toongsintsai, Hung sam choi, Ong tung tso, Ungtsai, Tung Choy, Rau Muong, etc.

Now keep in mind I am not a botanist! But I hope this helps for clarification purposes...

Ipomoea and Convolvulus are each a different Genus within the same Family of 'Convolvulaceae' (the Morning-glory family).

Kingdom: Plantae Ð Plants

ÊÊÊÊÊÊ Subkingdom :Tracheobionta Ð Vascular plants

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Superdivision: Spermatophyta Ð Seed plants

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Division: Magnoliophyta Ð Flowering plants

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Class: Magnoliopsida Ð Dicotyledons

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Subclass: Asteridae Ð

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Order: Solanales Ð

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Family: Convolvulaceae Ð Morning-glory family

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Genus: Ipomoea L. Ð morning-glory

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Species: Ipomoea aquatica Forsk. Ð swamp morning-glory

GenusÊÊConvolvulus L. -- bindweed

GenusÊÊIpomoea L. -- morning-glory

Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam. -- sweet potato batatas is the species

From the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

:rolleyes:

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skchai,

LOL, sounds to me like you should have your kids pinch off the tender parts.

There are many more common (English) names for Ipomoea aquatica syn Ipomoea reptans. The key word being common and not necessarily scientifically accurate and it would be very difficult to compile a complete listing from all countries and dialects. Swamp morning glory, Swamp Cabbage, Tropical spinach,  (Chinese) Water Spinach, aquatic morning glory, bamboo leaf, Ung Choi, Ong Choy, Kang Kong, Kang Kung, Kankon, Weng Cai, Ngung Choi, Ung Tsoi, Kong Xin Cai, Tong Sin Tsai, Toongsintsai, Hung sam choi, Ong tung tso, Ungtsai, Tung Choy, Rau Muong, etc.

Now keep in mind I am not a botanist! But I hope this helps for clarification purposes...

Ipomoea and Convolvulus are each a different Genus within the same Family of 'Convolvulaceae' (the Morning-glory family).

Kingdom: Plantae Ð Plants

ÊÊÊÊÊÊ Subkingdom :Tracheobionta Ð Vascular plants

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Superdivision: Spermatophyta Ð Seed plants

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Division: Magnoliophyta Ð Flowering plants

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Class: Magnoliopsida Ð Dicotyledons

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Subclass: Asteridae Ð

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Order: Solanales Ð

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Family: Convolvulaceae Ð Morning-glory family

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Genus: Ipomoea L. Ð morning-glory

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Species: Ipomoea aquatica Forsk. Ð swamp morning-glory

GenusÊÊConvolvulus L. -- bindweed

GenusÊÊIpomoea L. -- morning-glory

Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam. -- sweet potato    batatas is the species

From the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

:rolleyes:

Thanks a lot! That's a lot of "ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ"s!

Regarding the kids, seriously, it might just work. They would probably be pretty motivated to pinch the leaves off so that they can get to the "good" part - i.e. the "toy" stem.

The reason for my strange interest in the Ipomoea / Convolvulus distinction is that I once had a traumatic experience with planting ornamental Ground Morning Glory (Convoluvus Maruticum). The rabbits (we lived in Tucson then) kept eating it down to the nub. I thought that convolvulus was supposed to be the inedible genus in the family! Seriously, I considered eating it myself since it seemed much more easily chewable than ong choi.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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skchai,

My pleasure. I have an avid interest in Asian vegetables and sleuthing from common names to the scientific names so the rest of us can enjoy them too. It's fascinating to find out how different countries prepare the same plant.

Good. Get your kids involved in the food prep. They'll be occupied for a few minutes, appreciate the food more, and carry on their knowledge into adulthood. It's terrible to think of "grandma's cooking" as lost forever because the children never learned for whatever reasons.

"Maruticum"? Are you sure? Here is a link to the Convolvulus Species. I don't see the Maruticum or anything similar in that or a google search.

:huh:

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  • 2 weeks later...
"Maruticum"? Are you sure? Here is a link to the Convolvulus Species. I don't see the Maruticum or anything similar in that or a google search.

:huh:

Mudbug, sorry to take so long to respond. I've been out of town and just got back - wasn't checking my email.

You're right, I messed up the species name - it's Convolvulus Mauritanicus, not "Maruticum". Aka Convolvulus Sabatius ssp. Mauritanicus

Not sure how I came up with that - probably scribbled it off the tag. Anyway, I guess it must originate in Mauritania?

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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Hi skchai,

Convolvulus Mauritanicus appears to have originated in Northwestern Africa. As for edibility... I don't know. It's funny though. I was just talking with a gardener acquaintance about heirloom tomatoes. (Heirloom vegetables are those whose lineage can be traced back 50 years or more and have not been genetically modified or hybridized for mass production purposes which means flavor has not been sacrificed.) And she was saying how she'd planted a couple of heirloom tomato plants but her husband wouldn't have anything to do with eating them because he was afraid of them. And here you are thinking... if the rabbits can eat it, maybe I can too...!

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One secret of keeping Pak-boong (in Thai) or On Choy (in Cantonese) from turning chewy is super hot wok.

You must let your wok heat until super hot, then throw in the veggie with seasonings, the a couple of turns and immdediately off the heat.

I never cook On Choy stir fry at home because I don't think I could ever get the wok to be hot enough in my kitchen. And chewy on choy is yucky in my opinion.

chez pim

not an arbiter of taste

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  • 6 months later...
I never cook On Choy stir fry at home because I don't think I could ever get the wok to be hot enough in my kitchen. And chewy on choy is yucky in my opinion.

Pim,

I think different people eat different parts of the plant and cook them in different ways according to how they were exposed to them during childhood, etc.

I'm just thankful when I can find it fresh at all! Love it with spicy bean curd which seems to be the most commonly preferred method of preparation above.

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Titus,

My pleasure. The M.T.T. brand is a red label, gold trim, black type - have some in the fridge right now... If you browse the Asian groceries, you'll likely find it. You are correct in that it is not at that web page. If anyone else has specific brand recommendations, please post. I specified because we got a brand which had a terrible taste and was a great disappointment and it looked like the Hwang Ryh Shiang jars (check the bean curd link). Bleh! If you can find the same brand your granny used, then by all means, go with what you know and like.

Hi everyone. I've learned a lot form this forum, so thanks to all of you. I was just about to post a general question about fermented bean curd but saw the subject come up in this thread so I thought I'd post it here. Since I'm new to the ingredient I'd appreciate some help in understanding it. The first jar I bought was so overhwheming that I eventually determined that it must have spoiled. The liquid was quite "fizzy" and the cubes of bean curd had a clear slime sticking to them and were very mushy, with about as much structure as room temperature butter. Is this normal? I decided I needed some other samples for comparison so I purhcased two diffferent brands from two different stores. These seemed more normal to my untrained eye and palate. Intense yes, but edible. The tofu, though soft, was firm enough to be picked up with chopsticks. No slime, little fizz. What do you think? Do you think the first sample was spoiled or are those common characteristics? What should I look for an ideal sample of fermented bean curd? Or does one jar vary greatly from the next?

-michael

"Tis no man. Tis a remorseless eating machine."

-Captain McAllister of The Frying Dutchmen, on Homer Simpson

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Michael,

Others may have more experience with different brands but the M.T.T. brand we prefer is consistent with everything you said above without the fizz.

I don't think they should be necessarily slimy, but different brands may be in a slightly thicker liquid which my be interpreted as such. The cubes should be solid enough to pick up with chopsticks while at the same time easily mushable with a fork.

Trust your nose. The smell should be intense but if it's repulsive, I don't think I'd try it.

Exactly which brands did you try? Would it be possible for you to post photos?

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Yes, fizziness is not desirable. I don't know about the MTT brand, but the jars of the ones I get often do not look very airtight, so I imagine it would be very possible to get a jar that was contaminated. It should last a hugely long time, though, so if you determine that the jar is okay you shouldn't have problems storing it in the frig for your next use.

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Yes, fizziness is not desirable. I don't know about the MTT brand, but the jars of the ones I get often do not look very airtight, so I imagine it would be very possible to get a jar that was contaminated.

Thanks for the info. I'm now pretty sure it was contaminated.

Mudbug, thanks as well. I think I've learned what to expect now. I threw out the first jar so unfortunately I don't have any pictures to share. Just picture chili-flecked sludge with clear slime sauce. Will track down MTT brand to do a final comparison.

"Tis no man. Tis a remorseless eating machine."

-Captain McAllister of The Frying Dutchmen, on Homer Simpson

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  • 4 months later...

Ong Choy leaves take much less time to cook than stems. When you cook them (leaves and stems) together, usually the leaves get overcooked and become too soft.

Here is a trick I often use: separate the leaves of Ong Choy from stems. For the stems, blanch them, but not leaves.

To cook Ong Choy, I only do one of the 2 styles:

1. Oil, garlic, 2 - 3 tsp of Chinese shrimp paste, 1/2 jalapeno (sliced)

2. Oil, garlic, 2 - 3 cubes of fermented tofu (Foo Yu), 1/2 jalapeno (sliced)

When the oil is hot, throw in the garlic, shrimp paste (or Foo Yu), jalapeno, stir for a few seconds, then put in the blanched stems and fresh leaves. The leaves will cook very quickly.

No extra salt needed because both shrimp paste and Foo Yu are very salty by themselves. The jalapeno (or chili peppers) really makes a big difference in cooking Ong Choy. It's just not the same without them.

Edited by hzrt8w (log)
W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Good info, hrtz8w. I finish off the the dish with a liile cornstarch thickening. This serves two purposes; to prevent, or at least delay the leaching of a lot of liquid from the veggies, and it gives a smoother mouth feel to the dish.

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  • 1 year later...

I spent the past few days in Toronto suffering through a heat wave from hell. NO COOKING anywhere by anybody of my family, so we spent a few evenings lingering over excellent Chinese meals in air-conditioned comfort.

Both my kids love fu yu like a cat loves catnip, so for three suppers we had pea shoots, ong choy and even amaranth cooked with garlic and fu yu. Even my kids' caucasian SOs grew to love the stuff.

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The best tasting "Ong Choy" that I enjoyed for many years was grown in Shatin in the then "New Territories" are of Hong Kong in semi-stagnant water in artificial ponds. It tasted much better, was consistent by being grown year round in the ponds.

It was always throughly washed with a special detergent used often with Vegetables called "Wonderful" that advertised being anti-bacterial.

It was then spun dry in large plastic tubs and sorted for size. The Larger Fibrous Leafs were reserved for staff meals after being blanched. The ones that passed the tenderness test were always cooked to order as per the customers request.

Generally after quickly sautéing in a hot wok with Peanut Oil the greens were put to the side of the Wok and some Diced Garlic and Ginger was placed into the oil for several seconds when some Clear Pork/Chicken Broth was added brought to a boil then the Ong Choy was returned stirred with some Cornstarch mixed with Cold Broth was added till it thickened slightly then served.

The most popular addition was some "Pearl River Oyster Sauce" the one with the older gentleman's smiling face on the Label and a little very hot oil.

The other often ordered variations were with Shrimp Paste, Fermented Spicy Bean Cake, and Fresh Chillies.

What we later learned is that the reason, "Ong Choy" in Hong Kong was the very best was due to the fact that it was always grown in Water utilizing "Night Soil" as fertilizer. This was applicable to almost all veggies grown in the then Colony where there were always woman who were hired by the government as collectors. I don't know if this is still the custom under Chinese Government since they occupied Hong Kong. Everyone made sure to Cook all Vegetables except the ones purchased vacuum sealed from importers even though there were those who trusted washing in "Wonderful".

Hope this wasn't more then you wanted to know.

Irwin

I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

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      So what is the "authentic" Chinese food? Well, like any question about China, there are several answers. It is not surprising that a country larger than western Europe should have more than one typical culinary style. Then, we must distinguish between what you may be served in a large hotel dining room, a small local restaurant, a street market stall or in a Chinese family's home.

      That said, in this topic, I want to attempt to debunk some of the more prevalent myths. Not trying to start World War III.

      When I moved to China from the UK 25 years ago, I had my preconceptions. They were all wrong. Sweet and sour pork with egg fried rice was reported to be the second favourite dish in Britain, and had, of course, to be preceded by a plate of prawn/shrimp crackers. All washed down with a lager or three.

      Yet, in that quarter of a century, I've seldom seen a prawn cracker. And egg fried rice is usually eaten as a quick dish on its own, not usually as an accompaniment to main courses. Every menu featured a starter of prawn/shrimp toast which I have never seen in mainland China - just once in Hong Kong.

      But first, one myth needs to be dispelled. The starving Chinese! When I was a child I was encouraged to eat the particularly nasty bits on the plate by being told that the starving Chinese would lap them up. My suggestion that we could post it to them never went down too well. At that time (the late fifties) there was indeed a terrible famine in China (almost entirely manmade (Maomade)).

      When I first arrived in China, it was after having lived in Soviet Russia and I expected to see the same long lines of people queuing up to buy nothing very much in particular. Instead, on my first visit to a market (in Hunan Province), I was confronted with a wider range of vegetables, seafood, meat and assorted unidentified frying objects than I have ever seen anywhere else. And it was so cheap I couldn't convert to UK pounds or any other useful currency.
       
      I'm going to start with some of the simpler issues - later it may get ugly!

      1. Chinese people eat everything with chopsticks.
       

       
      No, they don't! Most things, yes, but spoons are also commonly used in informal situations. I recently had lunch in a university canteen. It has various stations selling different items. I found myself by the fried rice stall and ordered some Yangzhou fried rice. Nearly all the students and faculty sitting near me were having the same.

      I was using my chopsticks to shovel the food in, when I noticed that I was the only one doing so. Everyone else was using spoons. On investigating, I was told that the lunch break is so short at only two-and-a-half hours that everyone wants to eat quickly and rush off for their compulsory siesta.
       
      I've also seen claims that people eat soup with chopsticks. Nonsense. While people use chopsticks to pick out choice morsels from the broth, they will drink the soup by lifting their bowl to their mouths like cups. They ain't dumb!

      Anyway, with that very mild beginning, I'll head off and think which on my long list will be next.

      Thanks to @KennethT for advice re American-Chinese food.
       
       
    • By liuzhou
      Wowotou buns ( 窝窝头 wō wō tóu), also known more simply as wō tóu are originally from northern China. The name means "nest" and they come in many forms. These are the ones I use. As you can see, they are usually stuffed with whatever the cook decides. These are stuffed with spicy pork and pickled greens, but I've also served them with a seafood stuffing.
       

       
      This is the recipe I usually use.
       
       窝窝头
       
      350 grams all-purpose/plain flour
      150 grams black soya bean flour
      3 grams instant yeast
      260 grams  milk
       
      Mix the flours well, dissolve the yeast in the milk and stir into the flour until a dough forms. Knead the dough until smooth. Cover with plastic
      wrap and leave in a warm place until double in size.
       
      Sprinkle flour on the chopping board, knead the dough, adding more flour if too wet. until all air is expelled and the dough has a smooth surface.
       
      Form the dough into six even-sized balls and rub between the palms until smooth and round. Flatten slightly, then use your thumb to press the dough into a nest shape.
       
      Steam covered for 30-35 minutes.
       
      Note: The flours used vary a lot. Corn or sorghum flours are very popular, but I don't like corn and sorghum isn't the easiest to find here in southern China. Use what you like, but the overall quantity for this recipe should be 500 grams. It has been suggested that pure corn flour is too sticky, so probably best to mix it with regular wheat flour.
       
      They freeze well.
       
      Recipe adapted from 念念不忘的面食  by 刘哲菲 (Unforgettable Wheat Foods by Liu Zhefei). This isn't a direct translation, but retelling of the gist. Any errors are mine. Not Ms. Liu's.
    • By liuzhou
      Stir-fried Squid with Snow Peas - 荷兰豆鱿鱼
       

       
      Another popular restaurant dish that can easily be made at home. The only difficult part (and it's really not that difficult) is preparing the squid. However, your seafood purveyor should be able to do that for you. I have given details below.

      Ingredients

      Fresh squid. I tend to prefer the smaller squid in which case I allow one or two squid per person, depending on what other dishes I'm serving. You could use whole frozen squid if fresh is unavailable. Certainly not dried squid.

      Snow peas aka Mange Tout. Sugar snap peas can also be used. The final dish should be around 50% squid and 50% peas, so an amount roughly equivalent to the squid in bulk is what you are looking for. De-string if necessary and cut in half width-wise.

      Cooking oil. I use rice bran oil, but any vegetable cooking oil is fine. Not olive oil, though.

      Garlic.  I prefer this dish to be rather garlicky so I use one clove or more per squid. Adjust to your preference.

      Ginger. An amount equivalent to that of garlic.

      Red Chile. One or two small hot red chiles.

      Shaoxing wine. See method. Note: Unlike elsewhere, Shaoxing wine sold in N. America is salted. So, cut back on adding salt if using American sourced Shaoxing.

      Oyster sauce

      Sesame oil (optional)

      Salt

      Preparing the squid

      The squid should be cleaned and the tentacles and innards pulled out and set aside while you deal with the tubular body. Remove the internal cartilage / bone along with any remaining innards. With a sharp knife remove the "wings" then slit open the tube by sliding your knife inside and cutting down one side. Open out the now butterflied body. Remove the reddish skin (It is edible, but removing it makes for a nicer presentation. It peels off easily.) Again, using the sharp knife cut score marks on the inside at 1/8th of an inch intervals being careful not to cut all the way through. Then repeat at right angles to the original scoring, to give a cross-hatch effect. Do the same to the squid wings. Cut the body into rectangles roughly the size of a large postage stamp.
       

       
      Separate the tentacles from the innards by feeling for the beak, a hard growth just above the tentacles and at the start of the animal's digestive tract. Dispose of all but the tentacles. If they are long, half them.

      Wash all the squid meat again.

      Method

      There are only two ways to cook squid and have it remain edible. Long slow cooking (an hour or more) or very rapid (a few seconds) then served immediately. Anything else and you'll be chewing on rubber. So that is why I am stir frying it. Few restaurants get this right, so I mainly eat it at home.

      Heat your wok and add oil. Have a cup of water to the side. Add the garlic, ginger and chile. Should you think it's about to burn, throw in a little of that water. It will evaporate almost immediately but slow down some of the heat.
       
      As soon as you can smell the fragrance of the garlic and ginger, add the peas and salt and toss until the peas are nearly cooked (Try a piece to see!). Almost finally, add the squid with a tablespoon of the Shaoxing and about the same of oyster sauce. Do not attempt to add the oyster sauce straight from the bottle. The chances of the whole bottle emptying into your dinner is high! Believe me. I've been there!

      The squid will curl up and turn opaque in seconds. It's cooked. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of so of sesame oil (if used) and serve immediately!
       
    • By liuzhou
      Big Plate Chicken - 大盘鸡
       

       
      This very filling dish of chicken and potato stew is from Xinjiang province in China's far west, although it is said to have been invented by a visitor from Sichuan. In recent years, it has become popular in cities across China, where it is made using a whole chicken which is chopped, with skin and on the bone, into small pieces suitable for easy chopstick handling. If you want to go that way, any Asian market should be able to chop the bird for you. Otherwise you may use boneless chicken thighs instead.

      Ingredients

      Boneless skinless chicken thighs  6

      Light soy sauce

      Dark soy sauce

      Shaoxing wine

      Cornstarch or similar. I use potato starch.

      Vegetable oil (not olive oil)

      Star anise, 4

      Cinnamon, 1 stick

      Bay leaves, 5 or 6

      Fresh ginger, 6 coin sized slices

      Garlic.  5 cloves, roughly chopped

      Sichuan peppercorns,  1 tablespoon

      Whole dried red chiles,   6 -10  (optional). If you can source the Sichuan chiles known as Facing Heaven Chiles, so much the better.

      Potatoes 2 or 3 medium sized. peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces

      Carrot. 1,  thinly sliced

      Dried wheat noodles.  8 oz. Traditionally, these would be a long, flat thick variety. I've use Italian tagliatelle successfully.    

      Red bell pepper. 1 cut into chunks

      Green bell pepper, 1 cut into chunks

      Salt

      Scallion, 2 sliced.
         
      Method

      First, cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and marinate in 1 1/2 teaspoons light soy sauce, 3 teaspoons of Shaoxing and 1 1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch. Set aside for about twenty minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

      Heat the wok and add three tablespoons cooking oil. Add the ginger, garlic, star anise, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, Sichuan peppercorns and chiles. Fry on a low heat for a  minute or so. If they look about to burn, splash a little water into your wok. This will lower the temperature slightly. Add the chicken and turn up the heat. Continue frying until the meat is nicely seared, then add the potatoes and carrots. Stir fry a minute more then add 2 teaspoons of the dark soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of the light soy sauce and 2 tablespoons of the Shaoxing wine along with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium. Cover and cook for around 15 minutes until the potatoes are done.

      While the main dish is cooking, cook the noodles separately according to the packet instructions.  Reserve  some of the noodle cooking water and drain.

      When the chicken and potatoes are done, you may add a little of the noodle water if the dish appears on the dry side. It should be saucy, but not soupy. Add the bell peppers and cook for three to four minutes more. Add scallions. Check seasoning and add some salt if it needs it. It may not due to the soy sauce and Shaoxing.

      Serve on a large plate for everyone to help themselves from. Plate the noodles first, then cover with the meat and potato. Enjoy.
       
    • By liuzhou
      Clam Soup with Mustard Greens - 车螺芥菜汤
       

       
      This is a popular, light but peppery soup available in most restaurants here (even if its not listed on the menu). Also, very easy to make at home.

      Ingredients

      Clams. (around 8 to 10 per person. Some restaurants are stingy with the clams, but I like to be more generous). Fresh live clams are always used in China, but if, not available, I suppose frozen clams could be used. Not canned. The most common clams here are relatively small. Littleneck clams may be a good substitute in terms of size.
       
      Stock. Chicken, fish or clam stock are preferable. Stock made from cubes or bouillon powder is acceptable, although fresh is always best.

      Mustard Greens. (There are various types of mustard green. Those used here are  芥菜 , Mandarin: jiè cài; Cantonese: gai choy). Use a good handful per person. Remove the thick stems, to be used in another dish.)

      Garlic. (to taste)

      Chile. (One or two fresh hot red chiles are optional).

      Salt.

      MSG (optional). If you have used a stock cube or bouillon powder for the stock, omit the MSG. The cubes and power already have enough.

      White pepper (freshly ground. I recommend adding what you consider to be slightly too much pepper, then adding half that again. The soup should be peppery, although of course everything is variable to taste.)

      Method

      Bring your stock to a boil. Add salt to taste along with MSG if using.

      Finely chop the garlic and chile if using. Add to stock and simmer for about five minutes.

      Make sure all the clams are tightly closed, discarding any which are open - they are dead and should not be eaten.

      The clams will begin to pop open fairly quickly. Remove the open ones as quickly as possible and keep to one side while the others catch up. One or two clams may never open. These should also be discarded. When you have all the clams fished out of the boiling stock, roughly the tear the mustard leaves in two and drop them into the stock. Simmer for one minute. Put all the clams back into the stock and when it comes back to the boil, take off the heat and serve.
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