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Pak Choi (Brasica rapa var chinensis), a leafy vegetable often served as a basic dish in the Chinese banquet or meal. It is stir-fried or steamed, with both leaves and stems cooked and consumed.
Records of the cultivation of pak choi in south China date as far back as the 5th century AD. With the Chinese diaspora moving into Asia, pak choi plantations were found in Japan and south Malaya by the early 19th century. Pak choi was introduced to Europe by the mid-18th century. In 1751, Osbeck, a friend of the famed Swede, Linnaeus, brought seeds of the vegetable to Europe just as Jesuit missionaries handed similar strains to German scientists working in Russia. Popular in Britain until the 1800s, it came to America only in the early 1900s. In early Malaya, the vegetable was priced beyond the reach of the poor. As it is easily crossbred, strains of it abound and today there is a wide variety of pak choi in variant shapes and in multiple greens.
Although lettuce-like in appearance, the pak choi is related to the mustard family, Brassicaceae, to which cabbage, mustard, broccoli, kohlrabi and turnips belong. This biennial is fully edible, including its stalk, leaves and its flowering shoots. It is favoured for its white crisp stalks or petioles and the main leaf veins. The white stalks join jade green leaves which are broad and spoon-shaped. Its shallow roots allow the plant to grow fast.
The vegetable is prepared by first cutting the leaves at the central stem. Tender young stalks are preferred as they are crisper. The leaves and stems are prepared in various ways, often stir-fried or steamed with garlic and some soy sauce to add taste. The leaves are sometimes preserved by salting or are dried to be used in soups. In pre-refrigeration days, the leaves were pickled in brine, keeping for as long as 10 months. Dried pak choi leaves were used in French Indochina and served as a drink to stave off the effects of dysentery. Pak choi seeds were crushed to release oils, a highly valued "colza" oil.
Scientific name: Brasica rapa var chinensis.
English names: Chinese celery cabbage, Chinese white cabbage, mustard cabbage.
Malay name: Sawi Putih.
Mandarin name: Bai cai ("White vegetable"); qing cai ("green vegetable"); xiao bai cai ("little white cabbage"); pe-tsai.
Cantonese name: Pak choi, pak choy, bok choy.
Japanese name: Chingensai.
Tagalog name: Pechay, pechai, pitsay, petsay.
Bonny Muliani Tan
Hutton, W. (1996). Tropical vegetables of Malaysia and Singapore (p. 14). Hong Kong: Periplus Editions.
(Call no.: SING 635 HUT).
Larkcom, J. (1991). Oriental vegetables the complete guide for garden and kitchen (p. 22). London: John Murray.
Parker, M. (1999, January 31). Bok choi adds texture, flavor to Chinese dishes. Courier. Retrieved December 5, 2002, from www.wcfcourier.com/col/parker/990131bok.html
Wegman's (n.d.). Wegman's vegetable encyclopeadia. Retrieved December 5, 2002, from
The information in this article is valid as at 2002 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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