Tuesday, 3 March 2009


BUK CHOY (Brassica rapa subsp. Chinensis) is also known as Chinese chard, Chinese white cabbage, mustard cabbage, bai cai, and bok choy. BUK CHOY literally means “white vegetable” in Cantonese. There are hundreds of varieties of these vegetables. Some have short stems with large dark green leaves, others have longer, more slender stems with almost circular leaves.

What we call BABY BUK CHOY is not really an immature BUK CHOY, but a dwarfed variety which usually grows no more than 20cm tall. This is sometimes called “Moon buk” or “Gong moon buk choy”.

Varieties of Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis with green stems are called PAK CHOY in Australia; BUK CHOY is only used to refer to white stemmed types. BUK CHOY should also not be confused with “tatsoi” (Brassica rapa subsp. narinosa), which is distinguished by its small, round leaves and flattened rosette shape.

BUK CHOY is almost like two vegetables in one, the thick, juicy stems adding an interesting texture to a dish while the dark green leaves add a different consistency and flavour. BUK CHOY is commonly steamed, stir fried or boiled in soup. When cooking BUK CHOY, it is best to add the stems first as they take longer to cook. Slicing them diagonally helps to expose the inner surfaces which will soak up the sauces and flavours in the surrounding dish.

BUK CHOY has been cultivated for over six thousand years in China. Brassica rapa seeds have been found in jars in the excavated New Stone Age settlement of Banpo. They were a common part of the diet in southern China by the 5th century.

They were introduced to Korea, where it became the staple vegetable for making kimchi. In the early 20th century, it was taken to Japan by returning soldiers who had fought in China during the Russo-Japanese War. At present, BUK CHOY (and PAK CHOY) is quite commonly found in markets throughout the world.

PAK CHOY is really a green stemmed variety of BUK CHOY. However, it is quite different in texture and flavour; the stems are more flattened and less juicy than BUK CHOY, the leaves are more tender and the whole vegetable has a milder flavour. It is also known as SHANGAI BUK CHOY and BABY BUK CHOY.

PAK CHOY prefers warm climates but can grow under many different environmental conditions. It is increasingly common for commercial farmers to grow it hydroponically, which ensures that the stem bases are soil-free. They are naturally shallow rooted, fast growing, and need to be kept well watered.

Fresh PAK CHOY will store for up to a week in the fridge if it is kept in a plastic bag and the temperature is less than 5°C.

PAK CHOY is one of the best vegetables to include in a stir fry. Simply roughly chop the whole plant and add it to the dish near the end of cooking. Alternatively, it can be added to soup, curry or casserole. PAK CHOY plants can also be simply sliced in half and steamed, while smaller plants can be cooked whole. Drizzled with a little soy sauce and sesame oil or butter the steamed plants make a spectacular side dish to go with any meal.

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