Food translations: basil varieties, and choy sum

Main question: what kind of basil is the 九層塔 (jiǔcéngtǎ) that’s readily available here? I’ve got some Thai cookbooks that talk about Thai basil, holy basil, and opal basil - I guess it’s one of these, but I’m not sure which one.

Additionally, are the other kinds of basil available in Taiwan?

(If I’ve got this right, the “normal” basil in Italian food is 羅勒 (luólè), which is available fresh in Jason’s and Breeze and perhaps Carrefour, but not in a typical Taiwanese supermarket.)

And what is choy sum called in Taiwan? The Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks refer to it all the time, but they describe it as having little yellow flowers, and nothing seems to match that here. Wikipedia just directs me to a massive article on “Chinese cabbage” that seems to include every plant in the produce aisle. Google image search also directs me to… every plant in a Taiwanese produce aisle.

I get the impression that leafy vegetables names vary widely across the Chinese-speaking world, and that makes English translations even more unreliable than usual.

A final question utterly different in nature: does anyone have any tips for how to trim the ugly tails off bean sprouts? Those long stringy bits at the end? It takes me so friggin’ long to cut them off, two or three at a time, and there must be a better way that I’m missing.

Jiucengta is an odd beast. You won’t even find it in Da Loo and they’ve never heard of “jiucengta”, so Lord only knows what it is in English.

Isn’t Choi Sam 菜心?



I think if you asked for 菜心 here you’d get 高麗菜心… or cabbage hearts in other words…

I’m going to make a mad guess that Canto Choi Sam is in fact Taiwanese Jie Lan Cai 芥蘭菜

Taiwanese Jie Lan Cai:


with picture…

Dunno. What I know is that you get local basil in the markets. Its an Asian variety and rougher and more pungent than the stuff you get in Europe. I also know that you can go to pretty much any garden center or flower market and buy the European-style basil in pots. Just cut and use. It’s very very cheap. Sometimes the local stuff just isn’t right for certain dishes, for sure. I bought about five large pots last summer and I’m still using it, although I need some more sharpish.

I have a basil patch in my garden. I have:

  1. Chinese basil - The one you see in the market, with rounded leaves, used in Hakka food. You can see a pic here:
    The site lists ways you can cook with it Hakka-style. Taiwanese-style cooking traditionally never used basil and you could only eat it in the Haaka communities.
    Taste is sweeter and less pungent than

  2. Thai basil - I bought plants at the flower market. Pic here:
    This wikipedia entry talks about different Thai basil.

3, South African basil - large leaves, lighter green than (4) strong taste

  1. Another basil, what I consider “Italian cooking” basil, I was given it by a lady at the flower market and I don’t know what the “proper” basil name is yet

Now, the Chinese name for all these is 九層塔 , then they add something in front, like “南非” (South Africa). I only know this from buying random plants, so maybe textbooks will tell you differently.

Hope that helps some.