Strange things are eaten in China. You won't probably have eaten most these ten vegetables if you live in North or South America, Europe or in a lot of other countries, but once you try them, you might find they taste great and are good for you... or you might not like some of these at all.
Chinese eat some of these vegetables during meals for their medicinal and health improving effects, and you might want to use these to get more fit and healthier.
1. Seaweed (海带 hǎidài)
Many people, especially those who live inland areas and kids, might cringe when they first try to eat slippery, rubbery seaweed. Chinese love it and eat 20 or so varieties of seaweed. Some look quite weird, but they are a very good food.
These very healthy and nutritious vegetables are eaten all over China and are loved for improving people's health.
The raw seaweed is packed with antioxidants. Seaweed is high in iodine, helps prevent goiters and other diseases, and might also prevent cancer. It is rich in minerals, iodine to help with thyroid function, and antioxidants.
Seaweed can be boiled stir fired, or served raw. A favorite way to prepare it is to serve it raw with vinegar, red pepper, and pungent herbs such as ginger to flavor it. By itself, seaweed is usually bland to the taste.
2. Lotus Root (藕 ǒu)
What makes lotus root seem weird to most foreigners is that they've never seen a vegetable that looks like it. It is full of cylinders like the holes of a revolver pistol. It also has a unusual crunchy texture. It reminds one of eating somewhat raw potatoes.
Like white potatoes, it is delicately flavored, starchy, and is a root. It is low in calories. It is the root of the lotus plant. It is cylindrical root a hole through the center surrounded by eight to ten larger holes.
As with bamboo shoots and some other Chinese vegetables, one may wonder why eat it at all since it has such a slight taste and isn't filling. But it too has medicinal value. It is noted for helping to regenerate damaged body tissue.
3. Bitter Melon (苦瓜 kǔguā)
This green vegetable is reminiscent of a wrinkled old cucumber, but once you taste it, you'll find it distinctively bitter. But you can develop a taste for it.
Chinese love it for its healthful effects, and you might too. It is anti-malarial, anti-cancer, anti-viral, great for your heart, good for people with diabetes, and allegedly good for the slowing of Alzheimer’s.
Bitter melon is eaten throughout the country as a way to cool down the body, especially during hot summer months.
4. Bamboo (竹子 zhúzi)
Even if you don't have bamboo growing in your country, you probably know it is useful for fishing poles and as a building material. But Chinese eat them too!
Cooked, these are crisp and succulent. Bamboo stalks may also be eaten, but these make for somewhat drier fare. It is high in fiber though!
Nutritional value: It is high in protein, minerals, and fiber. It is low in sugar, and good for diabetics. It helps control bad cholesterol levels and strengthens the immune system. It also has cancer-fighting and anti-inflammatory properties.
5. Chinese Yams - Meter-Long Roots (淮山 or 山药 or 淮山药 huáishānyào)
This wonderful yam-like root is often served in Chinese restaurants. If you've eaten something in China you thought were sliced white yams or potatoes, it might have been this. It is a great food.
Though it tastes something like common yam, something in it makes it seem like it has healing or medicinal effects. Unlike common white potatoes or yams, it isn't something to be eaten every day just like you'd probably not want to eat bitter melon every day.
This very long, white, straight root looks like hairy sticks, and foreigners living here might call them "meter-long roots". It is almost unknown in the Americas and Europe.
The most common Chinese name shanyao means 'mountain medicine'. Chinese medicine books say that it acts on the lung, spleen, and kidney channels. It is sweet, neutral, moist, not dry and not greasy for invigorating Qi and nourishing Yin. It helps to heal asthma and kidney problems.
6. White Radish on Daikon (白萝卜 báiluóbo)
Most people from other countries find these to be unusual because they are very big, sometimes three feet long, and they look like huge white carrots.
It is a vegetable that most Westerners haven't eaten. These huge white radishes, or daikons, taste like the little round red radishes you've probably eaten, but they are milder.
You'll see them stacked in Chinese markets. They are rich in calcium and vitamin C and are used in stir-fries and added to soups.
7. Yard-Long String Beans (豆角 dòujiǎo)
For some reason, some Chinese vegetables grow much bigger than their Western equivalent. Chinese long string beans are another super-big vegetable.
They taste mostly like the European-American style of green beans, but the flavor is sharper. They are crunchier when cooked.
8. Soybean Sprouts (黄豆芽 huángdòuyá)
Soybean sprouts are simply sprouted soybean seeds. They are not a standard food item in most countries, but if you've eaten in Asian restaurants abroad, you've probably eaten them.
Chinese usually eat these in stir-fries and soups, but you can also eat them raw in salads. People buy them at a market or sprout them at home.
For the highest vitamin content, eat them raw. They are rich in vitamins A, B, and C.
9. Bok Choy (小白菜 xiǎobáicài)
Chinese love to eat green leafy things that also haven't traditionally been eaten in the colder latitudes of Europe and North America. But these are getting more and more common in Western supermarkets.
They aren't really comparable to cabbages or lettuce. One kind is xiaobaicai (/sshyaoww-beye-tseye/ 'small white vegetable') or bok choy or pak choi in Cantonese. It is a very common Chinese vegetable that is boiled or used for quick stir-fries.
It is a good source of vitamins such as A, C, and K to name a few.
It and close look-alike relatives such as yóucài (油菜 'oily vegetable') are some of the of the most frequently used kinds vegetables in the country.
10. Chinese Cabbage (大白菜 dàbáicài)
A variety of unusually large cabbage that is also very common in China, maybe more common than xiaobaicai, is dabaicai 'big white vegetable'.
It is also known as snow cabbage or napa cabbage, and it is sold in big piles in the markets and very commonly eaten in soups, hotpots, and stir-fried. It is more commonly pickled than xiaobaicai.
It has a pleasant, robust, and hearty taste and is good for you.
Discover Chinese Food with China Highlights
Do you want to enjoy authentic Chinese food on your trip? See our recommended Chinese food tours for inspiration:
- 12-Day Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Guilin, and Hong Kong Cuisine tour - explore the most popular destinations in China and savor local Chinese food in each city
- A Culinary Adventure - an 8-Day Beijing, Chengdu, and Guangzhou tour
Our tours can be customized. We can design a tour tailored for you.
For vegetarians/vegans: We will ensure that our tour guides order only the best vegetarian dishes for you during your holiday.