Green Queen Living: Wet Markets Series Part 1 – Guide to Chinese Leafy Greens (Choy)

6 Mins Read

We are extremely excited to launch our new seven part series all about the local Hong Kong Wet Markets. There is nothing more green than connecting with your local community and enjoying the local produce but sometimes, the language barrier can make things difficult to navigate. Green Queen has done all the homework for you and created these mini Guides to local vegetables, fruits, roots and more! This week, we tackle Chinese leafy greens, also known collectively as Choy. Enjoy!


Chinese Red Amaranth – Hung Jin Coi


Chinese red amaranth is fairly common on Cantonese menus. Hung Jin Choy is distinguished by its red and green leaves. It has a fresh taste with mild sweetness. And if you see your dish turning red while cooking, don’t worry, it is perfectly normal!


High Season: February – July


How To Eat: Remove the ends of the stems as they are too hard and rough for eating. Chinese red amaranth works great in recipes where you would otherwise use spinach. Both Hung Jin Coi and spinach become soft when cooked and both are good matches for creamy sauces.


What To Look For: Choose those with firm and short stems, and bright green and red leaves.


Storage: Eat as soon as possible. Can last for 2-3 days in the fridge.



Chinese Bok Choy(Baak Coi)


Chinese Broccoli -Bok Choy /Baak Coi


This vegetable with white stems and deep-green leaves is a very common sight at a Cantonese family’s dining table. The stems are sweet and the leaves are slightly bitter. That’s why together, they create a harmonious taste.


High Season: April – October


How To Eat: Cut it into small pieces before you cook. Bok Choy is a great substitute for wherever broccoli is called for.  


What To Look For: Choose the ones with thick, white stems and deep green leaves. Avoid the ones with yellowish stems and leaves.


Storage: It can last for a week if stored in the fridge but it is best to eat it as soon as possible.



 Chinese Flowering Cabbage(Coi Sam)


Chinese Flowering Cabbage – Choy Sum/Coi Sam


A favourite amongst Cantonese people of all ages ever. It is very popular in family recipes and also in restaurant menus. This vegetable is also very pleasant to look at with its green leaves and stems, and the tiny yellow flowers. Chinese cabbage is remarkably sweet, especially its stems.


High Season: October – April


How To Eat: Trim a slice off the end of the stems as it is usually too hard for eating. You could choose to keep the flowers or not and with them you can enjoy an extra flavour. Use wherever you would use rapini or brocollini. All have a rather similar appearance and they are both flowering vegetables.


What To Look For: Choose those with a bright green colour and those that are dry- avoid sticky/humid ones. The good ones have stems as thick as your forefinger.


Storage: Keep it dry and store it in the fridge. With fridge storage, it can last for about one week.



Chinese Kale(Gai Lan) 


Chinese Kale – Gai Lan/Kai Lan


Gai Lan looks quite similar to Coi Sam at first, but upon closer inspection, one finds that the leaves are coarser and of a more grayish green hue. Also, Gai Lan does not have the yellow flowers but white ones. Because of its slight bitterness, it is not as popular in Chinese families with kids as the little ones don’t usually take to it! Even in adults, it inspires a love-hate kind of response, some swear by it while others don’t eat it at all.


High Season: October – April


How To Eat: Keep the stems when cooking but most will trim the tougher bottom part. You can decide whether to pick the flowers or keep them as it makes little difference. Gai Lan works well wherever you would use Swiss Chard. Despite its name, it is not that similar to curly kale though it can be used in recipes where Tuscan/Dino kale is called for. All have a mild bitter tast and a crunchy texture.


What To Look For: Choose those with firm color and are not yellowish. Avoid those with thick stems as they would be too old to eat.


Storage: Store it in the fridge and eat it within 3 days.



 Chinese Spinach(Ung Coi)


Chinese Spinach/Water Spinach – Ung Coi/Tung Coi


This leafy, grass like vegetable with yellowish hollow stems and pointy green leaves is a popular offering on summer menus. Its leaves become very soft when cooking and the stems are crisp. It has a unique taste with sweetness and bitterness.


High Season: April – September


How To Eat: Remove the ends of the stems as they are too hard for eating. Tung Coi can be used to replace spinach but it is most popular sauteed with chilli slices and fish sauce a la Thai style. 


What To Look For: Pick those with bright yellowish green stems and pointed leaves. 


Storage: Eat as soon as possible. Can last for 3 days in the shade and one week in the fridge.


Chinese Cabbage(Wong Ngaa Baak) 


Peking Cabbage/Chinese Cabbage – Wong Ngaa Baak


This large vegetable with layers of white-green leaves is a regular contender in the Cantonese diet. It is sweet in taste and more solid than other vegetables so it lends itself to many different cooking methods. Simply boiling it with salt and pork gives you a gentler and fresher flavour while braising it with beef and shitake mushrooms creates a richer, thicker flavour ideal for an autumn or winter dish.


High Season: November – February


How To Eat: Cut it into small pieces. Use Peking cabbage wherever you would Savoy cabbage. The large leaf layers are also great for using as wraps (great for Paleo/Low GI diets). 


What To Look For: Check that the leaves are not damaged and they are yellowish white and clean.


Storage: In summer, it can last for a week with storage in the fridge. In winter, it can even last for 15 days. 


Also in this Series:  

Green Queen Living: Wet Market Series Part 3 – Guide to Chinese Roots & Tubers (Gan)

Green Queen Living: Wet Market Series Part 2 – Guide to Chinese Melons & Gourds (Gwaa)


  • Sonalie Figueiras

    2021 Women of Power, 2019 GEN T Honoree, V Label Global Hero, 2 x TEDx Speaker: Serial social entrepreneur & trends forecaster Sonalie Figueiras is a sustainability expert, food futurist and eco-powerhouse who has been inspiring global audiences for over a decade with practical steps on how to fight climate change. Known as the Green Queen of Asia, she is the founder and Editor in Chief of the award-winning Green Queen - the region’s first impact media platform that educates millions of readers on the connection between health, sustainability and the environment and showcases future solutions. She is also the co-founder and CEO of organic sourcing platform Ekowarehouse and climate tech SaaS Source Green, which helps consumer brands quit plastic packaging thanks to proprietary plastic reduction software. In addition, Sonalie is a global keynote speaker and an advisor to multiple mission-driven startups and NGOs, and a venture partner to several VC funds.

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