Bok Choy: Different Types & How to Cook it

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Bok choy (also sometimes spelled pak choy or pok choi) is one of the most commonly available and widely known Chinese vegetables in the United States (and outside of China generally). 

There are different varieties, which can cause confusion at the grocery store. This article will clearly explain the various types and how to cook them! 

What is Bok Choy?

Bok Choy is a Chinese leafy green vegetable in the cabbage and mustard (brassica) family. It comes in several different varieties, but is generally characterized by stalks attached at the base of the vegetable, like celery or napa cabbage. 

Bok choy is actually the Cantonese name of the vegetable (白菜 – báicài in Mandarin, or literally, “white vegetable”). Many early Chinese immigrants to the U.S. were Cantonese, which is why that name has stuck! Don’t confuse it with dà báicài (大白菜 – literally, “big white vegetable”), which is the Chinese word for napa cabbage. 

The stems are crisp and relatively thick, and can be white or pale green in color. The leaves can be ruffled or flat/paddle-shaped, ranging from green to dark green.

There is also a wide variety of sizes. Immature baby ones can fit in the palm of your hand, while larger specimens can be as big as a bunch of celery (and usually thicker/heavier)! 

It is most commonly stir-fried, but can also be blanched, roasted, or eaten raw in salads. 

DIFFERENT Sizes

Generally, there are three sizes: large, medium, and small. In non-Chinese grocery stores, you’ll sometimes find the gigantic ones with white stalks and large, dark green leaves.

These are older and a little bit tougher, but still quite tender as far as leafy greens go. Kaitlin likes chopping them up for salads, as they’re surprisingly sweet and mild.

For the majority of your Chinese dishes, however, you’ll want to go to a Chinese grocery to find the smaller, more tender vegetables. These plants are harvested younger, and have a more delicate flavor and texture. 

The type with fat, light green stems come in two sizes: medium and the small/baby size. The smaller of the two is quite common today and our preferred. You may see it referred to as “green bok choy” or “Shanghai baby bok choy.” 

You may also see another baby variety with white stems and ruffled dark green leaves. These are called, “dwarf bok choy.”

Smaller vegetables can be cooked whole or halved, while larger ones generally must have their leaves separated and chopped before cooking. 

Any variety can make a great stir-fry! 

Different Types of Bok Choy

Let’s do a quick recap of the different varieties you may come across. A well-stocked Chinese or Asian market should have many for you to choose from. You can even grow these at home if you like to garden!

Large Bok Choy

This is the type that you’ve likely seen at your local non-Chinese grocery store. They have firm, thick, milky white stems, with dark green, slightly curly leaves. They’re more stem than leaf. The stems are crunchy and sweet. While commonly available, this is one variety that we rarely use in our kitchen. 

Large Bok Choy

Check out our Basic Stir-Fried Bok Choy Recipe, which uses the large white bok choy variety.

A Basic Stir-Fried Bok Choy Recipe, by thewoksoflife.com

Shanghai Baby Bok Choy

Shanghai bok choy is what we find in restaurants more often than not, with their spoon-shaped flat leaves and light green stems. They tend to be sold in smaller sizes, as they’re more tender, but the larger size can still be found in most Asian markets. We love these smaller, tender vegetables for cooking at home. They make for a much nicer presentation. 

Shanghai baby bok choy

This variety is essential for dishes like Braised Chinese Mushrooms with Baby Bok Choy. Also, be sure to try our super-simple Garlic Baby Bok Choy recipe as a healthy side dish!

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