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My favorite Chinese restaurant for 30 years closed a few months ago. Back many years ago they had an appetizer that they served when you were seated that was excellent.

It was very simple, only fresh, crispy celery and cabbage. It usually came in a small bowl or in a small plate with a very small amount of clear liquid. Occasionally you might see a red pepper flake. It had a light, mostly savory flavor with just the slightest hint of sweetness and a little heat.

I'm usually pretty good at duplicating flavors but I have tried to nail this many times over the years but can't quite get there. There are no strong or identifying flavors I can grab onto. And it had no sweet, sour, or vinegar taste like pickled veggies have.

I asked many times for the recipe and each time I was told that it was not made at the restaurant but delivered by their distributor. I was never able to find out if it was a freshly prepared food or if it came in a jar or can.

Does anyone have any idea what this is called or how to make it? Or is it something that can be purchased? Any help or ideas would be very much appreciated.

  • Was this napa cabbage or some other cabbage? – jsanc623 Jul 30 '14 at 17:51
  • Good question! It appeared to be regular green cabbage although the peices served were the lighter greenish white color. I never saw any pieces of the darker leaves from the outside. – Cindy Jul 30 '14 at 17:57
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    Google "ban qincai". Is that getting close? – Jolenealaska Jul 30 '14 at 18:01
  • @Jolenealaska Thanks. I looked quite a bit but didn't see any pics that look like it and no recipes that sounded quite right. Most had soy sauce or vinegar or both. I'm confident that what I had didn't have either. – Cindy Jul 30 '14 at 19:45
  • It might be a form of kimchi, or at least related to it. Not all kimchi is hot, fermented or heavily sour. (and yes, I know, kimchi is Korean, not Chinese ... but the concept of preseving foods aren't limited to a single country) – Joe Jul 30 '14 at 20:13
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For those interested I googled images of the dishes Cindy mentioned and tried to match the description.

This is what I found: First Celery, Second Baby Cabbage.

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enter image description here

  • +1 Thanks so much! I really think these appetizers would be enjoyed by many if they tried them or were more familiar with them. – Cindy Aug 29 '14 at 23:54
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    @CindyAskew You made them sound really tasty in your original description, I felt these images was helpful in conveying that =) – Captain Giraffe Aug 29 '14 at 23:59
  • Thanks so much for the images and feedback. These are really good. I hope that many others will try and enjoy them. – Cindy Aug 30 '14 at 0:22
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With much searching, I'm pretty sure that I found the two appetizers. They are both cold dish. The names are Mountain Celery in Hot and Sour Sauce and Baby Cabbage in Sauce

Thanks to anyone who spent time looking. These are really great appetizers.

Update: We made both recipes last evening. Both are absolutely delicious and the flavors I remember. We did make a couple of adjustments: Since we couldn't locate any mature vinegar anywhere locally we substituted rice vinegar in both recipes. (We must have gone to at least 6 Asian/International markets in addition to many grocery stores.) Rice vinegar doesn't have the complexities of aged vinegar but it is subtle. Worked great!

Note - I did consider balsamic vinegar but didn't choose to use it. I may try that another time. Or maybe a light or white version.

Also, for the celery recipe, we doubled it and used both mountain celery and the regular variety we get at the supermarket. Both were delicious. It's great to know that, if you can't find mountain celery or don't particularly like it, regular celery is delicious in this recipe.

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