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Why do Chinese restaurants usually not cut up Kai-Lan?

99% of the time when I order kai-lan/Chinese broccoli, it comes uncut, which makes it a test of skill when eating with chopsticks

Recently I was out with a business colleague and we got a side dish of it, and it was both delicious and cut into chopstick-friendly sizes.

Is there a deeper reason why often it is not cut up?

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  1. Mostly for looks and presentation. Also the restaurant wants to show that you are getting the beautiful inner stems which is the prize part and not just lots of leaves and broken parts.

    1. Good question and one possible good answer already.

      I do notice that the better Cantonese restaurants that serve gai lan, if they cut diagonally a little bit from the bottom so the base looks like a spear, it makes for a better chewing experience. I do this at home as well. Smaller piece cuts are easier to eat, and this applies to all sorts of Chinese veg for the most part. Most Cantonese restaurants otherwise don't cut them up, whether the veg is part of a noodle soup or just plain stir fry.

      1. i just pick up the stalk end with my chop sticks, put it between my lips then do a lip-incisor shuffle to pull it as much as i want then bite down and let the rest drop into my rice bowl/plate. i use the chop sticks to steady the protruding part and prevent it from making a mess.

        1. It depends on how it was cooked. If it was stir-fried, it will always be cut up in order to facilitate the cooking. If it was steamed or boiled, it will usually be served whole. An alternative approach would be to cut it but still present it as they were whole.

          1. Really? My experience with this at dim sum places is that it's always cut up.

            1. Presentation and good luck.

              1. The best quality gailan has fat stems that aren't fibrous and don't require paring away the outside (think of old asparagus). By leaving the stalks whole, the restaurant is showing off the quality of their produce. The stuff that needs trimming can be hidden in stir fries.

                And what looks better, a pile of cut up pieces or a plate of uniform stalks with the stems aligned in one direction?

                4 Replies
                1. re: PorkButt

                  Many dim sum places will simply cut up the gai lan without tossing them, so they look like they haven't been cut up. Sort of like deboning a bird and then making it look like a whole again.

                  1. re: ipsedixit


                    I have seen that, but I will say that is rare in my experience. Probably less than 10% of the Gai Lan I had was served this way, but I have certainly tried it as well. What about you? Is your experience closer to 50:50?

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Usually served whole, unless we request it cut.

                      At dim sum, if it's cart-style the ladies just whip about these big kitchen shears and cut them up for you. Quite a show sometimes!

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        :) Thanks. Yes, I remember those big kitchen full metal shears. It is certainly popular for cutting spring rolls.

                2. Is it that difficult to eat? For one Kai-Lan is not stir-fried, so there is no reason to cut it up. It is also for presentation as well. I think Pork Butt is correct. Think asparagus.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    True, gailan is blanched crisp but is then finished off in a wok with oil and salt. It's a good way of prepping the veg ahead of time too.

                    1. re: PorkButt


                      :) I have had it both way. The way you described it which account for majority of them, but my very favorest Dim Sum restaurant in Milbrae, CA does it in pure blanch. The server basically push her cart around with fresh trimmered Gai Lan. When you order the Gai Lan, the server will tell you to wait and she will put the fresh Gai Lan into the boiling water in her cart and when the time is up, she use a strainer to take the Gai Lan out and pour some oyster sauce and put it on our table. Fresh blanch Gai Lan. Really nice too -- I swear. :) Well, it is often way too hot, so I have to wait for the blanching and then wait for it to cool down, but it is great stuff -- in my opinion.

                      P.S.: Pork Butt is a very good cut for Chao Siu Bao.

                  2. I'm glad you asked this, I was unfamiliar with gai lan until we started going to dim sum. I was both surprised that it was one of the more expensive plates and also that it tasted fairly bitter, with none of the usually lovely taste that the cruciferous vegetables have when they're cooked perfectly. Is this the norm? I did find it at an Asian grocery store, and noticed that it was far more pricey than most of the greens there, which acounts for the price, I guess, but if anybody can give me a brief rundown on gai lan in general, I hope it won't be considered a threadjacking.

                    49 Replies
                    1. re: EWSflash

                      That's always mystified us too. Veggie dishes are always priced "Large" or "Kitchen" while the veggies are usually ~$1.00/lb at the stores... that's alot of dow miu!

                      1. re: Sarah

                        While regular pea shoots can be as low as $1/lb in peak season, it still takes a few pounds to make up a plate because it cooks down to nearly nothing. And it's labor intensive to pick through.

                        The large pea sprouts (dai dou miu) are always much more expensive and I've seen it go for as much as $4/lb.

                        1. re: PorkButt

                          Thank you -- that I can understand!

                      2. re: EWSflash

                        Gai Lan is slightly bitter and depending who you talk to, their responses will range from "bitter" to "not bitter at all" <-- me.

                        No. Gai Lan is more expensive than most other greens, but it isn't like 5X more.

                        What do yo mean by a rundown on Gai Lan?

                        Sarah. Dow Miu is cheap if you buy it. It is not that cheap if you order it as a dish in a restaurant, ranging from $6-10 a plate. Cabbage is also cheap to until someone chop it up to you and serve it as salad.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Ck - tell me! Thes diff between the cost of dow miu and what they charge for it is what boggles me -- why the big markup was my question! To be honest, I don't recall ever having a $6-10 serving of cole slaw...

                          1. re: Sarah

                            Cole Slaw is cole slaw. You make Cole Slaw in batches and batches and then you can stick them into refrigators. Don't you know that?

                            If you have never ever had $15 Caeser Salad, then that is that.

                            It isn't dim sum place. Any Chinese restaurant (which does not have to serve Dim Sum) will charge you about $6-12 for a plate of Dow Miu and that is still much cheaper than any typical Italian restaurant which will charge you $5-10 for a very tiny plate of green salad and about $10-20 for bigger salad.

                            KC Prime charge you its basic appetizer (tiny size) salad for $7. You get heck a lot more vegetable and pay much less money for Gai Lan.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              Actually, I've never had a caesar salad with cabbage... and usually the $$$ salads are loaded, whereas the dow miu is simply dow miu (and garlic) -- and when cooked properly, worth every dollar, I'll admit.

                              1. re: Sarah

                                Fine, Caeser Salad has no cabbage, but lettuce is not that expensive is it? The main point still stands.

                                Go to most restaurants and look at their most basic salad, and they will charge you about $5-7 for very very very very simple ingredients. Look here for KC Prime:

                                Look at the KC Prime Wedge:

                            2. re: Sarah

                              Like all places, the markup is for the service and other costs associated with running a restaurant. There have been times where I paid $15 for 6 oz of grilled king salmon, which works out to be $40/lb, and I bought the same type of fish for $8/lb retail.

                              I've seen garden salads at restaurants go for $6-$10, which is comparable to gai lan (except gai lan is cooked).

                              1. re: raytamsgv

                                Yes, I understand there are costs in running a restaurant. I am addressing the dim sum question -- the dow miu costs as much as the duck or stuffed eggplant or any number of other dishes priced as Large or Kitchen...

                                1. re: Sarah

                                  So what if dou miow (or Chinese pea shoots) are comparable in price to the duck or stuffed eggplant?

                                  Ever go to McDonald's? Their salads (crappy little things in creepy plastic boxes) are more expensive than the Big Mac. Yeah, that makes about as much sense as, say, charging more for dou miow as for half a roast duck.

                                  1. re: Sarah

                                    For one thing, it takes a lot of dou maio to actually have enough to eat, because the volume decreases by about 80-90%. Also, like many other veggie dishes during dim sum, it must be cooked to order whereas most other dishes are prepared (though not always cooked) in advance. This is why it is charged as a Large item or a special item, and this is also why it takes some time for such a simple dish to get out to you. During dim sum, the kitchen staff is concentrating mainly on dim sum, not the special dishes.

                                    You have the same pricing issues if you order a simple dish like fried rice or chow mein.

                                    1. re: raytamsgv


                                      Agree. That is why these Dou Miu and Gailan are marked as special (特) item or chef's (廚) item. These special items are low throughout, whereas other dim sum items are high throughout. Making one serving of Har Gow (shrimp dumplings) by itself is more time consuming than one dish of Dou Miu, but making 100 servings of Har Gow is faster than 100 servings of Dou Miu.

                                      I have also seen basic appetizer salad sold for $5-7 in many typical restaurants like KC Prime. As for your fish example, we may also think about sashimi. One can easily pay about $5-7 for 3 tiny pieces of uncooked salmon. For that money, we can certainly buy 0.5-1.0 pound of salmon.

                              2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                Interesting. I'm usually not one who tastes a lot of bitterness, and I usually like what I do have that's considered bitter, I'm more inclined to taste it as tart, which I like very much. Gai lan made me think of not-the-best broccoli.
                                And Sarah, it was over $2/lb at the Asian market. Made me realize why it was so pricey on the dim sum menu, but I'm still not sure why.
                                CK- by rundown, I'm curious about the following- is it difficult to grow? A regular dish at the kings' court? Honestly, I don't see why it's so expensive, either at the store or restaurant. I don't understand, because I don't see why it's so pricey is all, I'm not trying to slam anybody who thinks it's the food of the gods.

                                1. re: EWSflash


                                  I think raytamsgv, ipsedixit, porkbutt have pretty much explained the reasons. You cannot judge a dish from your own angle. You have to see it from the seller's angle. It take time to cook it. The true cost of a dish is not solely the price of purchasing it. It is the price to produce it and serve it. Think of it this way: let's say Gai Lan is $2 per pound (50cents per quarter pound) and I ask you to cook me a quarter pound of Gai Lan and serve me every lunch time, and in exchange I will pay you $1 everyday. Would you do it? I am paying you twice the cost of Gai Lan, yet you would not do it. What about $2? That will be four times the cost of Gai Lan. No, I don't think you will do it. Can you now see it from the sellers' point of view?

                                  Think about it, the appetizer (small) salad at KC Prime is $7. Three piece of salmon sahimi in a sushi restaurant is $5. You can buy half pound to one pound of salmon with that money.

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    "Three piece of salmon sahimi in a sushi restaurant is $5."


                                    Whoa! Where do you get sake at those prices? Show me the way ... :-)

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      Next time you are up in Vancouver....

                                      1. re: fmed

                                        ... I will definitely let you know!


                                      2. re: ipsedixit


                                        :) You are right. $5 for a 3 piece tuna (Saki) sashimi is slightly inexpensive, but not impossible. This is one example I found online:


                                        Now, I don't think we can find much cheaper than that. It will be very difficult to find a 3 piece tuna sashimi for $3, for example.

                                        As such, Gai Lan served in Chinese restaurant is not really outrageously expensive -- not by comparison. Green salad, sashimi, bottle water are much more expensive compare to its raw material. Seriously, $1-2 for a bottle of water is fine?

                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          No, not outrageously expensive to be sure, but it was in the third or fourth tier down pricewise.
                                          Honestly, I don't want to make a big deal out of this, I just thought it was odd that a low-flavored, bitter vegetable was on the tray with half a duck and several large-for-dim-sum noodle w/meat dishes and some other specialties. It wasn't my favorite and I guess it either wasn't to my liking or it wasn't a good example of that dish. No problems, there's so much more to enjoy at dim sum.
                                          tiers down meaning they start inexpensive at the top and the more deluxe the further down the page they stamp it.

                                          1. re: EWSflash


                                            I know. I am just saying the cost is not just the purchase price of the food. If you think about it, typical steak houses charge you maybe $15-$30 per entree of steak with sides. At the same time, the small size plain salad is usually $5-7. You may ask why would a small plate of uncooked lettuce and tomatoe costs just as much as 1/2 to 1/4 of usda prime cut beef with sides.

                                            I think partially this has to do you the fact you don't like Gai Lan. If you like something, you think it worths every cent. If you dislike something, then you want your money back.

                                            Many things are like that. Think of cutlery/kitchen knives. Some people think $30 for a Chef's knife is a lot. Other think $800 for a yanagi-ba is a steal. Best wishes.

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              "If you like something, you think it worths every cent. If you dislike something, then you want your money back. "

                                              Exactly, CK, I wasn't demanding to know why something I didn't care for was expensive. Please don't be condescending. I have a $180 rice cooker that I may not use enought to justify the cost, but I wouldn't trade it for anything, and I also have a whole bunch of pricey knives and cookware.
                                              I'm not copping an attitude, what I've been trying to find out is whether the vegetable was less than optimal, or if it was something I just didn't care that much for. And I still haven't gotten an answer that explains the vegetable and what it is and isn't supposd to be.

                                              1. re: EWSflash

                                                I always figured it was priced higher because it was so popular. In general, dim sum is a lot of carbs and meat, so the lone leafy green might be especially attractive to diners. For me, no meal of dim sum would be complete without it.

                                                1. re: soypower

                                                  During dim sum, you can order off the regular menu. So the gai-lan on those carts aren't really the lone leafy green option.

                                                  1. re: ipsedixit


                                                    True, but they are still one of the fewer options. :) Best.

                                                  2. re: soypower

                                                    No meal will be completed without it? :)

                                                    1. re: soypower

                                                      That's why it looked so good to me too, soypower.

                                    2. re: EWSflash

                                      The bitterness depends on the season and growing conditions. Seems to me that the bitterness increases when the weather is warm. I don't find the taste to be that much stronger than broccoli rabe.

                                      1. re: PorkButt

                                        In NorCal I only eat it during cold rainy weather like now. Here's more about how to select it.

                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                          Good thread to dig up. But I believe that while cold weather is good for these crops, the rain isn't. The cool seasons in temperate and sub-tropical Asia are typically dry periods. We'll have to wait see how the produce is like from the Fresno area farms in a week or two after this spell of wet weather.

                                          1. re: PorkButt

                                            I don't know the rainfall stats for Asia, but what's called a dry period is in contrast to their monsoon season and might actually be wetter than our local winters.

                                            1. re: Melanie Wong


                                              Monsoon is more India or Africa than China. I can tell you that from my experience living in Asia that the rain season is definitely in the summer.

                                              Moreover, winter monsoon is not the same as summer monsoon. Let me quote:

                                              "The East Asian monsoon affects large parts of Indo-China, Philippines, China, Korea and Japan. It is characterised by a warm, rainy summer monsoon and a cold, dry winter monsoon. "

                                              In other words, winter monsoons are dry monsoons and usually cause drought.

                                        2. re: PorkButt

                                          I agree, usually I don't find it bitter and I've never found it as bitter as broccoli rabe.

                                          1. re: Pincus

                                            It is slightly better if one is to cook it directly in a wok, but if it is blanched, then I could barely tell.

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              With enough Oyster Sauce ... it really don't matter how it tastes sometimes ...

                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                Also, the bitterness works well in the context of dim sum. It's a good contrast to the rest of the dishes which tend to be fatty and mild. As to why they don't cut it up - presentation, IMO - it just looks nicer. If you cut it up it'll look like a big mess of greens on a plate. (You can have it scissor-cut at the table as was mentioned earlier).

                                                As for the apparent high price...gai lan usually sits with the "Appetizer" section in the menu which, to me, signifies a range in price of $5-8 here in my city (depends on the price class of the restaurant of course).

                                                Nearly all the App dishes (it doesn't matter what the main ingredient, with exceptions made for certain ones) will sit in the (for example) $7 price point. To the restaurant (and the customer), it simplifies costing and it will all balance out in the end.

                                                1. re: ipsedixit


                                                  True, but if it is blanched, then I don't have to have a lot of oyster sauce :)

                                                  I went to Chinatown today. Guess what two vegetables I bought ?

                                                  That's right. Gai-Lan (Chinese broccoli) and pea sprout. Dont' be jealous Ha ha ha.

                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                    I am jealous, especially of the pea sprouts, I love them raw or cooked.

                                                    1. re: EWSflash


                                                      Are you thinking about bean sprouts? I know many people eat bean sprouts raw. Bean sprouts look like this:


                                                      What I bought are "pea sprouts", which look like this:


                                                      If you eat pea sprouts raw, then you are the first person I know to do this, which is cool, but a bit unusual.

                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                        Pea sprouts (or diou miou) are not that unusual eaten raw. I've seen people chop them up (the way you would with romaine lettuce) and mix them into a chopped salad.

                                                        Never seen a Chinese prep with raw pea sprouts, however.

                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                          Thanks. First for me. I have personally never seen it in salad, but I thought I ate a lot of salad back in Berkeley.

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                            I['m going to ask for pea sprouts cooked with garlic next time I'm in a dim sum place and see what happens.

                                                            1. re: Pincus

                                                              Pea Sprouts (dou miew/dou miao) with garlic stir fried is a very common vegetable dish. For a nice alternative prep, ask for pea sprouts with garlic in superior broth (sheung tong).

                                                              Ni Hao Kai-Lan?

                                                            2. re: ipsedixit

                                                              The only raw veggies I've ever seen in Chinese restaurants are green onions for some dishes and lettuce for that Hong Kong-style minced squab dish.

                                                              1. re: raytamsgv

                                                                I recall seeing raw veggies in the kitchen ...

                                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                      It takes a lot of skills to pull off a dry humor. Want me to teach you, maybe?

                                                    2. re: Chemicalkinetics


                                                      By the way, I mean it is slightly "bitter", not better, if cooked on a wok.