Q&A: Kutsay/Kuchay, Kintsay/Kinchay, Ayayay!

Lately we’ve been discussing over at the Pinoy Food Talk Forum the vegetables to which these terms refer.

It is downright confusing when the same items are called different names in different countries, and sometimes even within the same country!

Filipinos call the Chinese Leek kutsay (also spelled kutchay, or kuchay.) The Chinese call them jiu cai, but in Asian stores they are sold as Chinese Leeks OR Garlic Chives. There’s also confusion between those and regular chives. The Chinese garlic chives themselves are sold with or without buds — two different cultivars of the same species. A Google search will show you what I’m talking about. Here is also more information.

The ENGLISH Leek is also from the allium family, the 1-inch wide (looking like giant green onions) — and some people call them kutsay or sibuyas bisaya — so now you have the additional factor of, if a Visayan (Visayas is a region in the Philippines) wrote a recipe and specified “kutsay”, do they mean the English leek, or the Chinese leek? It *might* be safe to assume that the Visayan would mean the English leek, but as recipes get handed from person to person, there’s also a possibility that somewhere down the road, someone will interpret it as Chinese leek, or garlic chives. Have I muddied the waters enough yet?

We Filipinos are not the only ones confused: here’s a discussion on egullet on the same topic.

A Google image search is very helpful, UNTIL you’ve got other confused people posting pictures of what *they* think certain things are called LOL.

In the Philippines, the green onion is also called talbos ng sibuyas (English translation onion shoots), dahon ng sibuyas (onion leaves) and murang sibuyas (young onion).
Anyone scratching their head yet? If you’re a Filipino-hyphenated (meaning you have Filipino blood but were born and/or raised somewhere else) — how are you expected to learn to cook/eat the foods of your ancestors, unless your parent/grandparent was right there with you in the kitchen (and we all know how rare that is these days, right?)? If you’re referring to a Filipino cookbook written in Tagalog, how do you know you’re correctly interpreting it? Let’s not even go to the measurements of ganta and chupa, etc.

Another case in point: the kintsay or kinchay, of which Manong Ken of Tribo.org has a pic.

What we call kintsay/kinchay is leafier than the standard celery sold in supermarkets. What we usually mean is the Chinese celery, also known as CUTTING celery, which is actually grown for their LEAVES, rather than the stems/ribs/stalks. The stalky celery is apium graveolens var. DULCE.

Incidentally, if Chinese/cutting celery is not available in your area, what you can do is use the INNER ribs of regular celery, leaves and all. The flavor will not be as pronounced but they will do nicely. A Google image search, if you want to see the differences, will help as well.

Lastly, there’s sibuyas tagalog (Tagalog onion), which is actually the English shallot, or allium ascalonicum, also known as allium cepa aggregatum.

Adding to all this, the shallot has several cultivars, and if hobbyists and genetic engineers won’t stop, there will probably be a few more in the future. The most recent excitement about shallots was the “creation” of a cultivar that can be grown from seed (previously shallots can only be grown from sets — like some onions, which are now also propagated by both methods)

People criticize the Linnaean system saying it’s inadequate, and I agree. But, after 250 years, is there really a better way? Especially since it has been so ingrained in us and it’s the one thing we — foodies, scientists, hobbyists, gardeners, etc. == rely on the most…. how do you replace it?

If you’re interested in learning more about Asian vegetables and herbs, here are a couple of additional references:

This issue underlines one that I’ve been trying to teach my kids all along. We *need* to grow our own food. We need to know what we’re eating, what goes on our plates. We need to know how it got there. It’s one of the ways we connect with our heritage; it’s also how we connect with the earth that feeds and sustains us. Developing this firsthand knowledge helps us not only while we shop. It helps us form an opinion on things that concern our bodies, things that go on in what looks like the periphery: the environment, the government, scientific research, etc. I don’t enjoy politics in particular, and don’t really keep track of everything I should as a citizen, but I can’t vote either if I don’t have, at the very least, an opinion.

Okay, ’nuff said. Off my soapbox now. I’m sure someone out there will read this and say, “Hey, I just want to eat!” Don’t we all?

10 comments

  1. Karen says:

    I’m with you there! Like all systems, the Linnaean method has its limitations but unless something better comes up, we can’t do away with it. Some taxonomists just annotate to improve it.

    Let me not start on knowing what we eat, hehehe!

  2. rolando jeremillo jr. says:

    Confusing? Definitely! But heavenly. i just cooked some last night. I cut it in 1 1/2 inch length, then sauteed it real fast on a mixture of pork mushroom mustard paste, finely chopped garlic, rice wine topped with chopped pork mushroom balls and it was jus pure magic. enjoy!

Leave a Reply