10 Vegetables China Taught Me to Love
16 Jun 2009
I’ve always been good about eating my vegetables, but coming to China was a total game-changer for me, vegetable-wise. Here were veggies I’d long since written off as “nasty,” forcing me to reevaluate them in their new oriental guise. And reevaluate I did! In the end, I found myself growing to love the Chinese version of many of the vegetables I thought I didn’t like. (It’s probably more than just the effect of MSG.)
Of course, then there are also the ones I’d never heard of or seen before coming to China. One of them even made it all the way to #1 on my list. Definitely noteworthy!
The pictures below all come from Flickr, and each photo was taken by someone other than me. Please click through to see the photo on Flickr, and comment there if you would like to praise the photographers. Anyway, in reverse order, here are the top ten vegetables China taught me to love:
10. Cauliflower (花菜)
This one was always disgusting to me in the US, unless it was drowned in cheese. Good old Chinese MSG and spices seems to take care of the issue, though!
9. Leeks (大葱)
These are usually best cooked in other dishes, and go great with meat, especially. They’re pretty tasty by themselves when cooked, too.
8. Beansprouts (豆芽)
This one seems relegated to “health food nut” status in many parts of the USA, but in China it’s appreciated by the common man, in a wide range of dishes.
7. Pea Sprouts (豆苗)
I never had these in the States, but I can’t get enough in China. They just taste so fresh and delicious!
6. (Golden) Needle / Enoki Mushroom (金针菇)
I suspect the “wrapped in meat” trick probably comes from Japan, but you see this spunky fungus in all kinds of tasty Chinese dishes.
5. Lettuce (生菜)
OK, so I always liked lettuce (iceberg, romaine, whatever), but what China taught me is that, far from being exclusively a salad staple or hamburger topping, you can cook lettuce and it’s still good, which blew my poor, sheltered western mind at first. The dish which opened my eyes was 蚝油生菜 (lettuce in oyster sauce, below, large).
4. Dragon Beans (龙豆)
These are not terribly well-known, even in China. I couldn’t find a photo on Flickr, so I had to find one myself. I love to order 蒜泥龙豆 at 鹿港小镇 (AKA “Bellagio“) in Shanghai, which is where I first discovered the vegetable. I once had a waitress bring out a whole “dragon bean” so I could see what they look like; I can confirm that they look like this, and are quite large.
3. Bamboo Shoots (笋)
There are tons of different kinds of tasty bamboo shoots (in Chinese, even asparagus, or 芦笋, counts as one), but I’m not going to get into them all. Suffice it to say that they’re pretty much all awesome.
2. Eggplant (茄子)
I was never a fan of eggplant back in the States (even eggplant parmigiana), and I realized in China that it’s because of the texture the seeds give the eggplant. Then in Hangzhou I was introduced to the virtually seedless southern Chinese eggplant, and my love affair with eggplant began (in northern China the other inferior kind still dominates). I am repeatedly stunned by how amazing a good eggplant dish can be, usually served up in a spicy, salty sauce.
1. Celtuce (莴笋)
I had never seen this vegetable before, let alone heard its funky English name (“celtuce“?? really??). But I just love this stuff. Chopped or shredded, cold or hot, spicy or not, it’s just total crunchy goodness. (And the weird thing is, I think it tastes a little bit like Doritos somehow.)
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and that it inspires you to try a few of these vegetables in China. I’m dedicating this post to Matt, my “food pornographer” friend. The photos took such a ridiculously long time to do that I’m definitely not doing this again!