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By Yannie Chan | February 17th, 2020

A Hong Kong wet market guide.

What to buy right now at the wet market? We’ll be featuring a different seasonal ingredient and recipe in each of our Market Watch columns. Without further ado:

Chinese Lettuce 生菜

Crunchy, sweet, and so, so versatile

The most versatile vegetable and beloved by all, Chinese lettuce 唐生菜 tawng4 sahng1 choy3 is crunchy, refreshing and can be cooked in so many ways — steamed, stir-fried, boiled, or eaten raw. It’s a crucial vegetable to have in your culinary arsenal. Compared to the western iceberg lettuce, Chinese lettuce has loosely bunched leaves, tastes sweeter, and is more sensitive to heat. 

It’s easy to find Chinese lettuce grown locally, especially from November to May when it’s in season. Just ask for 新界生菜 sun1 gigh3 sahng1 choy3 (“New Territories lettuce”) at your wet market. It’s also wildly affordable. A local vendor at Tai Wo Hau sells a catty at only roughly $10. Our favorite thing about the Chinese lettuce, however, is how easy it is to wash. Its big and loose leaves don’t trap a lot of dirt, and all it needs is a quick rinse.

Hong Kong homes feature the Chinese lettuce in so many dishes. The most classic has got to be: “Glass Lettuce” 玻璃生菜 baw1 lay4 sahng1 choy4. Boil a pot of water, add a touch of oil, put in the lettuce once the water boils, and quickly remove the vegetables after roughly 30 seconds. Voila: now you’ve got some crunchy, sweet, translucent veggies for your next meal. Add a dash of soy or oyster sauce to your liking. Or, you can shred the lettuce and add them to a fishball soup or congee before serving, for extra texture. 

Recipe idea: Jer Jer Lettuce Stew 

The Jer Jer Stew is the quintessential dai pai dong cooking style, which involves high-heat stir-frying with garlic, red chili pepper, ginger and shallot. The Jer Jer Lettuce Stew 啫啫生菜煲 jur1 jur1 sahng1 choy3 bo1 is a vegetarian version of that, but feel free to add in any seafood or meat. Because Chinese lettuce is classified as cooling in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the addition of ginger and red chili turns it into an appropriately warming dish for the spring and winter. 

What you’ll need

  • Chinese lettuce
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Shallot
  • Red Chili Pepper
  • Shrimp paste
  • Cooking oil
  • Sugar
  1. Rinse Chinese lettuce, separate into individual leaves, and let dry completely. 
  2. Slice ginger into strips, halve 3-5 pieces of shallots, and peel and crush 3-6 pieces of garlic. Slice red chili into long strips. 
  3. Heat your wok or pan on high heat. Add cooking oil. Add ginger, garlic and shallots. Once it turns fragrant, add red chili. Spoon in one tablespoon of shrimp paste and keep stir-frying. 
  4. Next, put in the Chinese lettuce and a small sprinkle of sugar. Stir-fry and mix in rapid motion. Once the lettuce softens, remove and plate. 

海來鮮菜 hoy loy sin choy “Hoy Loi Fresh Vegetables”
Stall 51, Tai Wo Hau Market, Tsuen Wan