In Hong Kong, local markets offer some of the freshest produce everyday starting from 6 am. There can be an insane variety of vegetables to choose from however. Here is a list of healthy vegetables loved in Chinese kitchens - and what they are called in Cantonese!
1. Chinese Kale 芥蘭 [Gai-lan]
Rich in vitamins A and C, calcium, and fiber, this vegetable is very nutritious and is available all year round. It is known for its densely knit fibre dark green plant nutrients, and is commonly prepared by being steaming, or fried up with some garlic or ginger. As it is quite dense it can be on the tougher side than other stalk breed vegetables so it needs to be cooked slightly longer. Another good trick is to chop it up really finely and add it to your fried rice.
2. Sweet potato greens 蕃薯苗 [Faan shue miu]
Sweet potato vine leaves are a great vegetable commonly found in local homes. This vegetable is actually the shoot or stalk of the sweet potato plant. It doesn't taste like sweet potato, and is a great source of vitamin A and C as well as a vast range of nutrients including niacin, magnesium, thiamine, folic acid and iron. Sweet potato greens are commonly fried up in bean curd paste (fermented tofu) or boiled in soups or in hotpot.
3. Lotus Root 蓮藕 [Lin ngau]
This is the root section of a lotus plant. It is harvested from soil that’s submerged in water where lotuses are grown. The root section of the lotus plant is a starchy, crunchy vegetable and can be eaten raw or cooked, similarly to other root vegetables such as potatoes. Lotus roots are also very versatile. In comparison to potatoes, the lotus root is more fibrous and contains more complex carbohydrates that take longer to digest. This means that it gives a slower release of energy compared to simple starches, which lessens the spike in blood sugar levels.
4. Balsam Pear 苦瓜 [Fu gwa]
The literal translation is ‘bitter gourd’, this fruit is known for having a particularly sharp, grassy flavour and bumpy appearance. It is rich in vitamin B1, very high in vitamin C, and contains a compound called polypeptide-p. Polypeptide-p has been found to resemble the hormone insulin, this compound is said to help those with type-1 diabetes to better regulate their blood sugar levels. It is also packed full of antioxidants which are great for the skin and is the key ingredient of a very popular plant-based tea drink in Taiwan.
5. White gourd 冬瓜 [Dung gwa]
This is a staple ingredient for refreshing soups during the summer months. In Chinese holistic practices, it is believed that white gourd is good for cooling the body and helps to hydrate the body and replenish the fluids lost during the hotter seasons. White gourd can be chopped up and boiled with some meat in soups, or can be fried up in dishes once the hard outer rind has been removed.
6. Big root (daikon) 白蘿蔔 [Baak loh baak]
Also called ‘white radish’, this is another vegetable that is ideal for cooling down. As it is rich in vitamin B6, calcium, iron, and dietary fiber many compare it to the carrot. Indeed, the Chinese name literally translates to 'white carrot'. This vegetable is also commonly used for soups in Hong Kong, or meat stews. You may also commonly find it in Japanese cuisine, better referred to as ‘daikon’ and used as an accompanying condiment.
7. Pea Sprouts 豆苗 [Dau miu]
These are the shoots of the pea plant, and they are usually more of a tender, leafy vegetable. High in polyphenols which are great antioxidants, they are also packed full of calcium, vitamin B and carotene which are a great source of fiber and carry many health benefits. As pea sprouts have quite a distinctive fragrance to them, they are more commonly prepared in simpler recipes; just tossed in a stir fry with some garlic or ginger and served on their own.
8. Yam 淮山 [Waai saan]
This is another starchy root vegetable you may have seen around. Often mistaken for potatoes, this vegetable is an ingredient that is often used in Chinese medicine; apparently, it is great for the spleen and helps with functions of the lymphatic system. The high fiber content but mellow flavour makes it a wonderful substitute for potatoes. You can eat them in many different ways like as a snack or in the form of fries. It can help improve digestion and also reduce sugar spikes that can sometimes occur when eating starchy foods.
We hope you enjoyed this resource. Next time you go to your local market or order veggies for home delivery, try these out!
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This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.