Friday, November 09, 2007

The Chinese Way to Build an Appetite

When our family would go out to dinners at a Chinese restaurant, one of our favorite dishes among the kids was called “shuen choy ngo yuk,” which in Cantonese translates to mean "sour vegetables and beef." “Shuen choy” or "pickled vegetables" is made of mustard greens, and when done right is this tasty, crunchy, sweet-and-sour goodness. Mustard greens are perfect for pickling because of their thick leaves.

Chinese moms would believe that feeding kids pickled mustard greens would increase their appetite just like how eating something sweet will make you feel full. So my mom would allow us to order this dish, which is sometimes considered a very common dish, in order to get us to eat the other dishes she ordered that night.

The key to the dish is getting the right pickled greens. My dad would sometimes make this fresh from scratch and refrigerate it, ready for my mom to make the dish at home. But of course, we'd often just sneak in (OK, mostly me) and just eat the pickled cabbage, leaving very little for dinner. I’ve never attempted to pickle the mustard greens myself, so often when I used to make this dish, I would go to a restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown that was famous for selling jars of really fresh and crunchy pickled mustard greens. Now that I'm in Oakland, I just go to a store in Chinatown and buy the packaged ones that are mostly imported from Thailand. Above is a photo of fresh pickled greens sold on the streets at a market in Vietnam when I visited earlier this year. It brought back lots of memory of this childhood dish. Enjoy!

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