塔菜冬笋 Chinese Flat Cabbage with Bamboo
Pinyin: tǎ cài dōng sǔn
Cabbage is prevalent throughout all of China and is one of the most widely eaten vegetables. In fact China produces the most cabbage in the world at more than 36 million tons followed by India at only 5 million tons while the USA produces just a mere million tons of cabbage annually.
Cabbage is a plant in the Cruciferae family. This is a large family of plants that includes many vegetables. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and several Chinese vegetables including Chinese flat cabbage call Cruciferae their home.
Chinese flat cabbage also known as Chinese flat headed cabbage is a variety of cabbage that grows only a few inches high but spreads out flat like a plate and can be over a foot in diameter. It is mostly prevalent in Shanghai especially during the winter since it is able to withstand frost.
Not only is cabbage cheap and prevalent, it also provides you with a healthy dining option. It’s a great source of riboflavin (a B vitamin), vitamin C, and glutamine. Cabbage is also low in calories but high in fiber which makes it an excellent choice for dieting.
Chinese flat cabbage has a more prominent taste than regular cabbage. The leaves are also smaller and a bit tougher than a usual cabbage. The leaves near the center of the plant are the youngest, best tasting, and most delicate leaves on the plant.
Chinese flat cabbage with bamboo is a dish that is only available in Shanghai and surrounding areas. Both the cabbage and the bamboo are more prevalent in the winter months, so be aware that during warmer parts of the year this dish may be unavailable. This is one of the most typical ways to eat Chinese flat cabbage and it’s very simple to create, the cabbage and bamboo slices are stir-fried together with oil and salt, then served steaming hot.
This dish is an amazing example of the strong history in Chinese food and culture in making use of what’s available and providing balance. The crunchy bamboo contrasts the tougher leaves of the flat cabbage. The deep green color contrasts with the yellow/white color of the bamboo. The mild taste of the bamboo balances the stronger flavors of the flat cabbage. Even though this dish is basic, the balance makes it come alive.
I think anyone will be able to enjoy this dish, not just the culinary adventurists. Unfortunately this dish is something you are only likely to see in Shanghai. It would make a great vegetable selection at a “family style” meal, but it’s also a basic enough dish that you can make it at home if you are lucky enough to have access to fresh bamboo and Chinese flat cabbage. So go out there and give it a try, you’ve got no excuses now.