Chinese Cabbage

Brassica rapa, Pekinensis Group

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Also napa, celery cabbage, Chinese leaves; da bai cai, bok choy, wong bok, and numerous other variations (Chinese); hakusai (Japanese)

Of all the bewildering brassicas that cluster under the umbrella “Chinese cabbage,” those pictured are probably the types most readily recognized in the United States.

Oddly enough, for a vegetable with such a confused terminology, this really is a cabbage—although the word “cabbage” sounds heavy and rustic for a plant with a satin sheen and pastel tint. Also, Chinese cabbage really is Chinese. It “did indeed originate in China, the earliest record in Chinese literature being in the fifth century A.D. No wild Chinese cabbage has ever been found. It was probably a cross, which occurred naturally in cultivation, between the southern ‘pak choi’ and the northern turnip,” Joy Larkcom writes in Oriental Vegetables. She adds that contemporary varieties are primarily Japanese hybrids, although the vegetable didn’t reach Japan until the 1860s and breeding didn’t begin until the 1920s.

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