Vegetables are one of the most important items used to make any Asian dish. You will rarely find a place that serves any type of Asian food without using some sort of vegetables in it. You can use them in many different ways and they help provide a nice color contrast as well.
But if you were to actually go to any Asian supermarket, you’ll notice that there are hundreds of different vegetables out there for you to choose from. How are you suppose to know which ones to buy? Is it going to work with whatever you are deciding to make?
That is where this page comes in handy.
Although we can’t list out every single vegetable out there as that would be impossible, what we can do is list out the most common and popular types that most families would use in their day to day lives.
We’ll try our best to tell you exactly what these vegetables do as well as what they are normally used for.
So if you are ready, lets get started!
Full disclosure: In this glossary page, some of the posts will contain affiliate links, which means that if you do buy something as a result from following one of our links, you will be supporting our site “Cooking Sensei”. Prices are the same regardless if you use our link or not, so there is no harm!
AA Choy which is also called Taiwanese Lettuce, is a leafy vegetable that is highly popular in Taiwan and China. The leaves of the AA Choy is similar to romaine in taste while the stalk tastes a bit like cucumber. Although it does have a tiny bitterness to the taste. It is usually used in stir frying with other ingredients or also just served as is while topped with some kind of sauce.
Bok Choy which is also known as Chinese Cabbage is a leafy vegetable that comes in many sizes. The texture can be explained as being really tender and crisp, while the stalks have a crunchy yet firm feel to it. When eaten, the flavor is similar to that of a cabbage while also being on the milder side of things. It is a versatile ingredient that can be cooked in many different ways. It can also be eaten raw like in a salad.
Chinese Broccoli which shares the same name as the broccoli you known and love, looks nothing like it in appearance. It is very leafy with long thick stems that tastes like a broccoli except that it is slightly more bitter. These days you can find it in almost every single supermarket. When choosing this vegetable to buy, you should always look for ones that are vibrantly green. Never choose ones that have turned yellow or has open flowers as it will usually be a sign that the broccoli is too old. Typically you can find this vegetable being blanched or steamed and served with oyster sauce, or you can find it in some stir frys.
Note: When you are preparing Chinese Broccoli, you’ll want to cut off the thick stems as it is similar to asparagus. It will be tough and chewy, so it’ll be better to just cut it off instead.
Chinese Celery is an aromatic and grassy type of vegetable that has a flavor much stronger than your average celery. It is also much longer and thinner in appearance than regular celery’s. And just like regular celery, you primarily use the stalks of this vegetable for cooking. Not only that but you can also use the leafy part as well, though not as common. This vegetable is usually used for soups or stir fry but mainly for its flavor rather than texture.
Chinese Choy Sum/Yu Choy
Chinese Choy Sum or Yu Choy or Oil Vegetable, however you want to call it is a leafy green vegetable that is popular among Chinese cuisines. It looks similar to that of Chinese Broccoli but it is not the same. The flavor of this vegetable is much sweeter and tender than that of Chinese Broccoli. It is also a very versatile ingredient that can be used in many different recipes, and can be a great replacement for recipes that call for bok choy.
Chinese Water Spinach
Nobody really knows where Chinese Water Spinach originated from. However what we do know is that it is quite tasty once cooked and has a ton of flavor. It is a long and leafy green vegetable that is usually grown in water or damp soils. It sort of reminds me of spinach when cooked as the leaves become extremely tender while the stems remain a bit crunchy. It is also a very versatile ingredient as you can cook it in many ways. Whether you stir fry it, put it in soup, or even salads, it will always be delicious.
Chinese spinach is a leafy green vegetable that can come in either green or with purple colored leaves. The taste is similar to that of spinach and can be used in a variety of ways, with the most popular way being stir frying. You can find them in almost any Asian supermarket. Just make sure when you pick out a bunch to not get the ones with a flower budding on them as it will usually be a sign that the spinach is too old.
Malabar Spinach which is a leafy vegetable can be commonly found all throughout East Asia, but is still pretty hard to find in the US. There are two main varieties, green and red. The flavor of Malabar Spinach is basically similar to spinach and is commonly used in many soup dishes or salads. Depending on where you live, some Asian supermarkets may have this type of vegetable in stock.
Another vegetable that has the spinach name is one called the Taiwanese Spinach. It is a dark green leafy vegetable that has long stems. But even though it has long stems, doesn’t mean they are bad. In fact, the stems of the Taiwanese Spinach are insanely tender and has tons of flavor and nutrients inside. The taste of this plant is similar to that of other spinach which you can find in your everyday supermarket but with a milder flavor. It is a great vegetable to use for soups or stir fry or anything else you use spinach for.
This is one vegetable where I am sure you have seen before. It is basically a large white colored vegetable with green leaves. The texture of it is firm and crunchy while the taste of it is delicate and somewhat on the sweeter side than your regular green cabbage. It is commonly used in a variety of dishes like kimchi, hot pot, stir fry, dumplings and more. And once cooked, the leaves become tender and juicy in which many people seems to enjoy. Nowadays you can find this vegetable being carried in many major supermarkets as it is a common vegetable to buy and use.
Another variety of cabbage you might see from time to time is something called a Taiwanese Cabbage. This cabbage is similar to the regular green cabbage except that it has a much lighter green color. It also isn’t exactly round as it has a flat head. They have a much sweeter taste and is a lot more crunchier than your average cabbage. You can use this type of cabbage in any cabbage recipe you have.
Another variety of cabbage you might see occasionally is one called a Savoy Cabbage. It is similar to the regular green cabbage except that it is much more better looking. It has a wrinkled pattern to the leaves which makes the unique to other kinds of cabbages. The taste is mild and earthy, which is a lot less harsh than your regular cabbage. Perfect for any dish that utilizes a cabbage.
Mustard Greens or sometimes called Indian mustard is a leafy vegetable that provides a lot of health benefits. The only downside to this vegetable is that the taste of it is very bitter. So it isn’t really used in a lot of dishes. But one thing it is good for is pickled vegetables.
Yam Leaves or sweet potato leaves can go by a whole lot of different names. For instance, some people call it the anti-cancer vegetable, longevity vegetable and more. But they all refer to the same vegetable. Yam leaves are basically the leaves grown from the sweet potato plant and looks like a big heart shape with long stems. It has a mild flavor and is usually eaten in stir fry or soups.
Pea shoots are the edible leaves of the traditional garden pea plant. The traditional pea plant takes the whole summer to grow in order to produce pea pods, but pea shoots are harvested within 2 to 4 weeks, creating super tender and flavorful roughage. You can find this type of vegetable in many restaurants and Chinese markets as it is a pretty popular food to eat.
As for the taste however, they are pretty delicious as they taste like fresh English peas. Refreshingly crisp and, somehow, both sweet and grassy.
Edible chrysanthemum is a common ingredient used in a variety of Chinese dishes. It comes in 2 main varieties as you can find it in either small size or large size. The small size is commonly used as a stir fry ingredient or added to soups. The larger variety is usually eaten raw or added in soups as well. The taste of it is a mix between tangy, bitter, herbal, and grassy. Basically if you love chrysanthemum tea, then you would like this vegetable as well.
Kalimeris Indica or Ma Lan Tou, is a flowering perennial plant that is extremely popular in East Asia. Young leaves and stems are collected in early spring time and cooked with other food items such as dried tofu (bean curd). It is considered a delicacy because of its special flavor. It is particularly popular south of Yangtze River in China where many people love to eat it. The taste of it is similar to that of the edible chrysanthemum leaves which is a mix between tangy, bitter, herbal, and grassy.
Watercress or Yellowcress is a species of aquatic flowering plant that is commonly used in Asian cuisines. It is one of the oldest known leaf vegetables that is consumed by humans. It is usually found thriving in cold waters and can be commonly found in the wild. When eating this vegetable, it has a mild taste that is somewhat peppery.