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Chinese Vegetables

Chinese Vegetables

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One thing I love about Chinese food is the variety of Chinese vegetables. It’s really one of the reasons I visit the Chinese and Asian super markets – you can’t find a lot of the veggies at your average stores. I’m going to introduce to you some of my favorite Chinese vegetables that I cook often on rotation!

Bok Choy

shanghai bok choy

Bok choy (aka pak choi or pok choi) is a type of Chinese cabbage but unlike regular cabbages, they do not form heads and have leafy greens with bulbs at the bottoms. Some describe the flavor as somewhere between spinach and water chestnuts with a slight hint of sweet and peppery undertone.

Usually, this healthy veggie (which is packed with Vitamin A and C) is stir fried in traditional Chinese dishes and makes a great side dish. Here’s how we make it at my house – making it the perfect amount of doneness, and flavorful!

If you’re looking for more bok choy recipes – check out these:

Chinese broccoli / Gai Lan

If you’ve never had Gai Lan, it’s also known as Chinese Broccoli or Chinese Kale! In Chinese, there’s also several dialects or spellings – so it’s also known as Jie-Lan and Kai-Lan too.

Whatever it is called, it’s a very delicious leafy green veggie and pretty common in Chinese food.

Fun fact! Broccolini is actually a hybrid between broccoli and gai lan.

If you love this veggie or want to try making it at home – check out my Chinese Broccoli recipes:

Sweet Potato Leaves / Greens

There is a lot of confusion between yam leaves and sweet potato leaves. This recipe is on sweet potato leaves which are edible, and not all yam leaves are edible.

Something interesting about this vegetable is that back in the day people refused to eat it (some may still refuse) because people used to grow sweet potatoes for eating and then fed the leaves to the pigs. My late grandpa used to hate it and referred to it as ‘Pig’s food’.

However, more and more people eat it now as it is actually one of the most nutritious veggies, so actually people should’ve been eating it all along.

These veggies contain niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, fiber, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K. They also contain sodium, potassium, calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.

Also, if I haven’t already mentioned, it is also delicious – one of my favorite vegetables ever! Try this Stir Fry Sweet Potato Leaves Recipe!

Yu Choy / Choy Sum

Yu Choy Stir Fry with Ginger

Yu choy is also known as Choy Sum. It is a very common Chinese green leafy vegetable in China and Taiwan. It’s name in Chinese (油菜) directly translates to “oil vegetable” in English. It is named this because this vegetable is closely related to rapeseed, which is what is used to make canola oil.

Yu choy has a similar taste to baby spinach, but it is a lot more of a crunchy texture. It also actually can also have a subtle bitter and peppery taste.

This vegetable is a great source of folate and also vitamin B6. It also contains beta-carotene which is an antioxidant that gets converted to vitamin A after yout eat it. It’s also packed with fiber, calcium, and iron!

I enjoy cooking it in my Yu Choy Stir Fry with Ginger. Another way I cook Yu Choy is with smashed garlic. Both are delicious. In this recipe – I’m going to show you how to stir fry yu choy with sliced ginger.

Han Choy / Red Amaranth

Have you ever had Red Amaranth before? When I was little I was always excited about eating Red Amaranth because the veggie turned the dish’s juice red (and I was easily amused, I guess).

Actually, I still am amused! But I also get excited just because this Chinese Red Amaranth Stir Fry with Garlic is a delicious veggie side dish, and a super easy stir fry to make as a side dish to go with any Asian entrée!

In my household, we’ve always called Red Amaranth as Han Cai (漢菜) but it actually is know by many Chinese names – Xian Cai (莧菜) and Hong Cai (红菜) to name a few. Funnily, Hong = Red, and Cai = Vegetable, so that nick name is literally just “Red Vegetable”.

Nutrition wise, this vegetable is packed with thiamine, niacin, calcium, potassium, iron, manganese, zinc, and copper. Also, Amaranth leaves are a good source of vitamins A and C and folate.

Pea Shoots / Snow Pea Shoots

What are Pea Shoots? Pea shoots are actually the leaves of the pea plant! It’s usually the snow peas or sugar peas variety.

Peas actually take a whole summer to grow, but the leaves for the peas can be harvested about 2 to 4 weeks in, and when harvested they are about 2-6 inches.

The most common, easy, and delicious way? is to Stir Fry Pea Shoots, and I recommend with smashed garlic! Stir Fry Pea Shoots aka 炒豆苗 Chao Dou Miao brings out it’s delicious flavor along with the garlic and takes only a few mins to make!

Malabar Spinach

Malabar spinach’s official name is Basella alba and is native to the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and New Guinea. It can now also be found in other countries such as China, Africa, Brazil, Philippines, Columbia and more.

In mandarin Chinese, it is also known as “royal palace vegetable” (huang gong cai 皇宮菜) because legend has it a long time ago Thai king designated it as a “royal dish”. It’s also known as mu’er cai 木耳菜, vine spinach, ceylon spinach, indian spinach.

While it has the word ‘spinach’ in its name, Malabar spinach is not really a spinach but a distant cousin of spinach.

This vegetable is a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and manganese. It also contains B vitamins – which makes it a pretty healthy and nutritious veggie to eat!

The most unique pat about this vegetable is that it has a slippery texture when cooked, similar to okra!

You can eat malabar spinach raw or cooked! If you are eating it raw, it has thick leaves that are very juicy and crispy.

If you are cooking it, you will find that it has similar ‘slimey’ feel similar to okra. There are several ways to cook this vegetable.

For example, in Sri Lanka, malabar spinach is often used to make curry. In the Phillippines, it is often made in a vegetable soup called Sinabawang gulay or Utan. The leaves are deep fried in Gujarat.

In Chinese cuisine, it is often used in soups and stir fries. I will show you how to stir fry malabar spinach in this recipe.

Napa Cabbage

Napa Cabbage is one type of cabbage, and is also known as Chinese cabbage. It is oblong shaped, and it’s leaves are more tender than your normal green cabbage.

It is more closer to lettuce in texture, which one time confused the cashier that was trying to ring my Napa Cabbage up. He was convinced it was Lettuce, but I had to explain that it was actually Napa Cabbage!

Fun fact: Napa cabbage is the type of veggie most commonly made in to Kimchi (a fermented dish originating from Korea).

If you’re looking for a napa cabbage recipe – check out my Stir Fry Napa Cabbage with Dried Shrimp recipe!

Chinese Mustard Greens

Also known as: Gai choy, Chinese mustard, Indian mustard, leaf mustard.

Chinese mustard greens is a species of the mustard plant. There are also actually several different types (or subspecies) of mustard greens, and today we are cooking with Gai Choy 芥菜 (aka Head Mustard).

Gai Choy grows about 12 inches in length and has a large bulb or stem with leafy greens at the top.

What do Chinese mustard greens taste like? Chinese mustard greens, or gai choy tastes bitter, with hints of pepper. If you like bitter tasting veggies (bitter melon anyone?) you may enjoy this vegetable.

I would say that it’s definitely an acquired taste – and if you’ve acquired a taste for it this is a simple recipe on how you can make it at home! If you haven’t had it before, and would like to try it – this is your chance to try my Chinese Mustard Greens Stir Fry!

Taiwanese Cabbage

The Taiwanese cabbage or flat cabbage has a large flat head. In comparison to regular green cabbage, Taiwanese cabbage is more sweet and tender. This is the type of cabbage most often used in Asian cuisine.

If you can’t find any Taiwanese cabbage around, you can usually just substitute with regular green cabbage. However, cooking times may vary slightly – and this also depends on how tender you like your veggies. Green cabbage takes a little longer to cook than Taiwanese cabbage in order to achieve the same level of ‘softness’.

If you’re looking for a recipe for this veggie – check out my Cabbage Stir Fry with Dried Shrimp recipe!

Watercress

Watercress in Chinese is Xi Yang Cai or 西洋菜. Which actually directly translates to “Western Vegetable” (mandarin Chinese).

Why? Because around the 1930s, a Chinese man visited Portugal to do business, when he came back to his home in Guangzhou, he brought some watercress seeds with him. It became popular, often stir fried or cooked in soups. Since it was from a western country, everyone called it “western vegetable”. There’s also some crazy legend about how that Chinese business man actually fell super ill and nothing cured him until he started eating this veggie… I don’t know how much of that is true…

TL;DR version: Because it came from the Western world.

How can you cook this veggie? Check out my Chinese Watercress With Garlic Stir Fry 西洋菜 recipe!

Bitter Melon / Bitter Gourd

Bitter Melon

Bitter melon, aka bitter gourd, is part of the gourd family – closely related to zucchini, squash, and cucumber.

Many Asian cuisine uses bitter melon as an ingredient, including Chinese, Indian, Burmese, Indonesian, Thai, and more.

This gourd is known for its bitter tasty and bumpy appearance. It can definitely be known for its acquired taste, but some still like to eat it due to its health benefits.

Bitter melons is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, fiber, and Iron. It can also help reduce blood sugar, decrease cholesterol, and may have cancer fighting properties!

Now for the Interesting fact of the day: These babies have also been used as the bittering agent instead of hops in some Chinese beers!

If you’d like to check out this veggie, I recommend this Bitter Melon Lamb Stir fry recipe!

Mushrooms

Different Types of Mushrooms (and Recipes!)

There are so many delicious mushrooms in Asian cuisine! Shiitake mushrooms, king oyster mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, and more! So many that I wrote an entire article about it – check out all the different types of mushrooms here!

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