Saturday, November 16, 2013's that "Chinese Cabbage" doing?

So, it's been a few weeks since my last update on the Chinese Cabbage. Here's an update.

In my last few posts you might remember I was confused over what AeroGrow meant when they said "Chinese Cabbage". The good news is that I've finally figured it out once and for all, now that I've seen it growing.

You might recall I was wondering if it meant Napa Cabbage or Bok Choy, the two most common varieties of cabbage that go under the name "Chinese Cabbage".

For reference, here's what Napa Cabbage (scientific name pekinensis) looks like:

DSC04382 (Photo credit: snekse)
And here's what Bok Choy (scientific name chinesis) looks like:

Baby bok choy
Baby bok choy (Photo credit: dollen)

Our cabbage has been growing exceptionally well (making up for the anemic growth of all but the basil plants in the other Aerogarden).

A few weeks ago Lisa harvested the first batch.

She then prepared it the classic way: by chopping up some garlic and very, very quickly stir frying it in a very hot pan with a little oil until the leaves are slightly wilted and the stems soft.

One taste and I knew the answer--it's neither Napa cabbage nor what we normally call "bok choy". It's actually a third kind of cabbage that's common in Chinese cooking, but which most Westerners have never seen nor tasted. In fact, it's so foreign to Western palates that even Wikipedia doesn't explain it very well.

I have a decidedly Western palate, but my Lisa is from Taiwan, so she explained it to me. She also has a master's degree in speech therapy and linguistics, so I look to her for the authoritative answer.

The first thing to understand is the Chinese word "bai tsai", which depending on who you ask may be romanized as "bai cai", "pei tsai", "petsay", "bok choy", "pak choi", "bok choi", or "pak choy". The reason for the radically different pronunciations is that some of them attempt to transliterate Mandarin pronunciations, while others attempt to translate Cantonese ones. But all of them are the word "白菜", which literally means "white vegetable".

Making matters more confusing is that Westerners refer to chinesis as "bok choy" and refer to pekinensis interchangeably as "Chinese Cabbage" or "Napa Cabbage. But that's not what they're called in Chinese.

What we call "Napa Cabbage" is called "da bai tsai" in Chinese, or literally "large white vegetable". This kind of cabbage is commonly used in dumplings, soups, or stir-fried with pork.

What we call "Bok Choy" is called "bai tsai" in Chinese. This kind of veggie is most commonly steamed or stir-fried. It has a distinctive shape.

And so what's this stuff growing out of the Aerogarden called? Well, it's commonly called "shiao bai tsai" in Chinese, or literally "small white vegetable". The Cantonese equivalent is "siow pek chye". As for the English name, it's so rare to find in American supermarkets that I can't see a name for it other than "Chinese Cabbage", which is probably the same dilemma the Aerogarden copywriters faced (which is why the first line in their product copy is "this is not your traditional cabbage").

What makes matters even more confusing is that even in Asian countries they can't decide on a name to call these plants, but these are the most common ones.

As for the taste, this kind of cabbage has generally a taste that's a little stronger than Napa cabbage but is more leafy and has a little less pronounced of a flavor than bok choy.

As for the quality of the Aerogarden cabbage, Lisa's first comment when tasting it was that it was really fresh, not surprising since she cooked it 30 seconds after cutting it from the live plant. If you look back at the archives, you'll see that I was a little ambivalent about my experience growing Aerogarden lettuce mainly because it became a bit of a pain trying to decide what, other than salad or sandwich, to use the lettuce for. But I foresee a lot of great meals with this cabbage, and of course I'll share them here.

By the way, there appear to be some good recipes on Google, but all along the same theme of stir-frying them in garlic and in some cases oyster sauce.

We're averaging a harvest that can accomodate a side dish for two about once every two weeks now. I have to say, after yielding rather anemic results with the tomatoes and lettuce, the Chinese Cabbage is turning into what I imagined Aerogarden should be--a sustainable and consistent way to enjoy fresh vegetables from my own indoor garden.
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1 comment:

Common Sense said...

Very informative - thanks for sharing. I'm growing this same 'Chinese cabbage' right now as my wife uses a lot of Chinese cabbage in her cooking and we often can;t find the real thing in our local supermarket. How have you been harvesting, i.e. same as other lettuce, or is there another trick to know about with this plant specifically.