Thursday, May 23, 2013

Beijing's savory cabbage and shrimp dish

Most evenings when we got off of work in Taipei, I would be way too tired to cook. Fortunately for us, the little mom-and-pop restaurants that dotted the city offered an amazing variety of foods from all over China. One of our favorites was a little place that served up northern-style dishes.
The dad there was from Shandong, and so jiaozi were always on the menu. But for dinner we usually wanted something more substantial, and we therefore would order one of the set meals. 

These were called 客飯 kèfàn, and this way we could pick and choose two or three entrees from a short list of cheap and good favorites. They would be served up with small bowls of the house soup, as well as some white rice. At the time, this would usually set us back about four dollars, which made eating out even more of a pleasure.
An inspired combination
 On the permanent column of that list was this simple dish, and it is one that we returned to again and again. It is little more than shredded napa cabbage flavored with chopped dried shrimps and some aromatics. 

I know, this does not sound at all exciting, but something marvelous happens when this gang of seasonings gets together, as it turns a boring pile of cabbage into a sensuous delight.

Napa cabbage with dried shrimp
Kāiyáng báicài 開洋白菜 
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons dried shrimp
Boiling filtered water
1 head napa cabbage (about 2 pounds)
4 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
4 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger
6 tablespoons fresh peanut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon regular soy sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar

1. Place the shrimps in a small, heatproof bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let them soak there until the water has cooled off. Strain the water into a small cup, and then clean the shrimps individually, removing any sandy veins or foreign matter. Chop them finely.

2. Rinse the cabbage, shake it dry, and cut it lengthwise in half. Finely shred the white bottom half of the leaves across the grain and discard the core. Then, shred the greener leaves; keep these two piles separate.
Kaiyang baicai
3. Heat a wok over high heat and add the oil when the wok begins to smoke. Toss in the chopped shrimp, green onions, and ginger. Fry these for about a minute until they are just beginning to brown, and then add the white parts of the cabbage leaves to the wok. Stir-fry the cabbage over high heat until it just begins to brown on the edges, and then scoot everything up the side of the wok. Add the greener parts of the leaves and toss these over high heat until they begin to wilt. Finally, mix everything together and pour the soy sauce and vinegar over the vegetables. Toss until the seasonings are well distributed. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot.


  1. This dish is still popular in Taichung. I've been to places where they'll take a scoop of the cabbage, add a ladle of pork broth and serve it as the house soup. Delicious.

    1. That sounds really good. I'm going to try it soon... thanks!

  2. Made this several times using the little dried shrimp and it is delicious. :) Still working on getting the heat right so the cabbage liquid dries up and the cabbage can brown before it overcooks, but I'll get there.