By Li Min/China Daily
A type of "cabbage de terroir" now selling for 59 yuan ($8.97) a head in East China's Qingdao city has quickly become a sought-after ingredient for home chefs.
As a staple in East China, nappa cabbage, or Chinese cabbage, usually equals inexpensive food, hence the expression, "as cheap as a cabbage".
But the Jiaozhou nappa cabbage, with a long history of cultural significance, and grown by modern farmers with improved technology and elaborate care, is winning fans as a gourmet vegetable.
Farmers in Jiaozhou, a county 50 kilometers northwest of downtown Qingdao, have grown the cabbage for hundreds of years. Many Chinese writers and artists have praised Jiaozhou cabbage in their work. Lu Xun, a Chinese writer and thinker active in the early 20th century, wrote in his famous prose.
It is also a favored vegetable of many politicians.
Yuan Shikai, the first formal president of the Republic of China in the 1910s, was said to crave Jiaozhou cabbage. Mao Zedong, founding father of the People's Republic of China, presented 2,500 kilograms of Jiaozhou cabbage as part of birthday gifts to Soviet Union leader Josef Stalin in 1949.
Although nappa cabbage is now widely grown in China, the Jiaozhou cabbage remains a distinctive regional product and is often exported to Japan and South Korea as an upscale ingredient.
Sun Haitao, a local chef, said there are more than 50 recipes involving Jiaozhou vegetables in the Shandong cuisine. "Its crispy texture and fruit-like taste make it great for cold salad," Sun said. "When cooked, an umami taste is generated."
Growing attention to food quality and safety also has helped the Jiaozhou cabbage gain popularity and a good price in the domestic market, said Zhang Jubo, chairman of the Jiaozhou Cabbage Association.
"We grow it strictly in accordance with organic standards, with soybean cake and chicken manure instead of chemical fertilizers, and we never use pesticides," Zhang said.
In addition, Jiaozhou farmers play classical music at the farm fields, which the growers insist helps the vegetables to grow "in a happy mood".
Zhang also cites the level of selenium, a mineral with antioxidant properties, in Jiaozhou cabbage, saying it is helpful in preventing diseases of the heart and prostate.
Apart from cabbage, Jiaozhou also boasts an award-winning pig species: the Licha black pig.
"Stir-fried Jiaozhou cabbage with Licha pork as well as bean starch vermicelli could be a real delicacy," Zhang said.