Mar. 11th, 2011

kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
A pile of cooked white cabbage leaves, glistening with a light sauce.  The cabbage has been cooked just enough to lose its full crispness, but not enough to make it soggy.  A few bits of dried red chilli are visible among the leaves.

Hand-torn cabbage (手撕包菜/shǒu sī bāo cài) is, as far as I know a Hunan dish (please correct me in comments if I'm wrong). I've seen it on the menu of two Chinese restaurants in London, both of which specialise in Hunan food (Golden Day in Chinatown and Local Friends in Golders Green), and there's a recipe for it in Fuchsia Dunlop's Hunan cookbook, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook.

As I mentioned on Wednesday, 手 (shǒu) means "hand". 撕 (sī) means to rip or to tear, so 手撕 is translated as "hand-torn". 包菜 translates as "wrapped vegetable"; it's similar to the white cabbage that people from the UK might be more familiar with, though according to the abovementioned Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, its leaves are wrapped slightly more loosely. (I actually wonder if pointed cabbage/hispi might be a better analog than white cabbage.)

TravelChinaGuide has a plausible-looking recipe for 手撕包菜, in which the cabbage is first blanched in boiling water and then stirfried with garlic, spring onion, fresh red chillies, chicken stock, vinegar, and soy sauce, before being finished with a little cornflour thickener. Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe is somewhat simpler; she skips the initial blanching, uses dried red chillies instead of fresh ones, omits the garlic, spring onion, stock, soy sauce, and cornstarch, and triples the quantity of vinegar.

TravelChinaGuide explains that one reason for tearing the cabbage instead of cutting it is that this is believed to better preserve the vitamin C in the vegetable; and also states that the dish is usually served late in a meal, after the meat dishes.

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.

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