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Napa Cabbage, Chinese Cabbage

A Popular Ingredient In Thai Food  

When you talk of Thai food ingredients, there is an interesting scenario these days. Many of the traditional ingredients used in Thai food might have had their origin in nearby countries like, Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia. At the same time, many traditional Thai food ingredients have been adopted by cooks from other countries too. For example, we now hear names like fusion food in many Asian countries. In India fusion Indian food  often combines, flavoring agents and even main ingredients from countries like Thailand.

The Napa cabbage has many names, Chinese leaves and even Chinese cabbage and Celery Cabbage or some of these. The Thais refer to napa cabbage as 'phak khat khao' but, most supermarkets in Thailand have the name napa cabbage printed in English, the Thai name is generally printed in Thai language. In this report on Napa cabbage we will use the following names to mean the same vegetable:

Phak-Khat-Khao (local Thai) / Napa Cabbage (used in U.S) / Chinese Cabbage or Chinese Leaves / Celery Cabbage


chinese cabbage also called napa cabbage
Chinese cabbage or napa cabbage is a common ingredient in Thai food dishes. This variety of cabbage has many other names too - some of these names are mentioned in this report. Yellowish or brownish, spots or marks on napa cabbage do not mean that there is something wrong about the vegetable. Chinese or napa cabbage can be stored in the regrigrator for about 8 to 10 days.


The Thais use napa cabbage as an ingredient in many dishes including soups. When you talk about Thai vegetarian food dishes, Chinese leaves or Chinese cabbage is an almost mandatory ingredient in the sauteed vegetables dish. It is not uncommon for Thai food dishes related to noodles to have napa cabbage as an ingredient. Besides using Phak-Khat-Khao as an ingredient, the Thais also consume it raw along with many spicey dishes. There are three varieties of Celery leaves of Chinese cabbage. The difference is basically in the length of the vegetable and also in the tightness with which the leaves are wrapped together. Fortunately, the flavor and even the way to cook the different varieties of Chinese leaves remains the same.

You can get a faint aroma of cabbage when you eat cerely leaves raw but, once you cook them the cabbage flavor is generally not present. On their own napa cabbage has a sweet and gentle aroma, this remains the same across the leaves and the stalk. The white stalk that runs through (backbone) of each of the leaves is rather stiff and crunchy and it retains, this texture even after being cooked. The delicate flavor of the napa cabbage remains even after being cooked, it is a vegetable that maintains it's flavor no matter how it is cooked.

In Thai food dishes, Chinese cabbage is used as an ingredient in stir-fried dishes, soups, salads and stews. You will rarely find napa cabbage leaves cut into small pieces, the larger pieces probably retain vitamins and minerals better. The Thais generally do not wash the phak-khat-khao leaves, but it might be a good idea to do so if you plan to eat the leaves like, in the form of a salad. If you plan to cut the celery cabbage leaves into pieces, it is a good idea to finish the washing before cutting them. Dietary experts suggest that this method helps better retain the nutritional elements of the vegetable. If you order roasted meat or duck in Thailand, you might get a few braised napa cabbage leaves placed at the bottom of the dish. This is a truly diverse vegetable and has applications in a number of Thai food recipes.

Before you start using the Chinese cabbage, you will need to do some very basic preparatory work. First of all, slice off the root portion of the vegetable. It is a good idea to discard the first layer of leaves  the napa cabbage. If you do not plan to use the entire celery cabbage in one session, cut off only as much as you need. We did mention that if washing is to be done, doing it before the cutting process will ensure that substantial vitamin and mineral contents are not washed away.

Cook Chinese leaves with any other ingredient be it, fish, meat, vegetables, poultry or shellfish, the vegetable willingly absorbs the flavor of these other ingredients. At the same time, the typical gentle flavor of the napa cabbage is also retained to tickle your taste buds. Stir frying Chinese cabbage in heated oil often brings an interesting change to the leaves, you might notice dark scorch marks on the leaves. This is quite normal so do not, doubt your cooking skills. Professional restaurant cooks have an interesting secret but, we will reveal it right here. They first blanch the phak-khat-khao leaves in boiling stock and then do the frying process. This adds an interesting flavor to the vegetable. You can try this small trick when using fried napa cabbage leaves in your favorite dish.

Despite their delicate appearance, napa cabbages can be stored for as long as 10-12 days in the salad compartment of your refrigerator. And it is perfectly okay if they develop some blackish spots after a few days. In many Thai homes, stored Chinese cabbage is used for dishes that require the vegetable to be quicked, salads are generally made with fresher Chinese cabbage. You might keep this in mind if you want to cook your Thai food like a real pro!


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