You are here

Pao Cai

Pao cai is a Chinese fresh pickle made from vegetables, most commonly cabbage. Vinegar, chili, salt, sugar and Sichuan peppercorns are commonly used for preparing it. Pao cai varies in terms of taste and method of production in different regions of China. The dish is common in north and west China. A form of pao cai called Suan cai is popular in Northeast China. Pao cai has a crunchy texture and tangy taste. This fresh Chinese pickle can be consumed in a greater quantity as compared to other traditional saltier condiments. It is served as an appetizer or side dish in Chinese restaurants.

Ingredients and Preparation

Ingredients required to make Pao Cai are vegetables (mostly Chinese cabbage, though carrots, radish, turnips or cucumbers can also be used), ginger, hot red peppers, Szechwan peppercorns, vinegar, sugar, pickling salt and water. Cabbage is cut into strips, ginger is peeled and coined and

To make the pickle, Chinese cabbage or Napa cabbage is cut into strips of about 1/8 inches or so. The various other ingredients are mixed together to make a pickling solution. Cabbage is filled into a jar and pickling solution poured over it. It is allowed to stand for a couple of hours and then refrigerated. The cabbage shrivels down with time in the pickling solution, and keeps well for several weeks. One can alter the ratio of pickling solution ingredients as per taste. For example, people preferring a less spicy version may use lesser quantity of hot peppers.


Pao cai is served as a palate freshener or a side dish with dishes such as Chinese dumplings. It sweet, sour and spicy taste complements the food it is eaten with.

Pao cai is served in inexpensive eating joints across China. It is amongst the condiments placed at the eating table which are not charged for separately.

Related Dish

  • Kimchi: This is a Korean pickle resembling Chinese pao cai in terms of ingredients and mode of preparation. It is served with congee for breakfast. It is different from the Chinese version in taste, which is sweet and sour rather than spicy.

  • Suan Cai: This translates to 'sour vegetable' and is a traditional Chinese pickled cabbage dish having various culinary uses. It shows marked resemblance with the western pickle ' sauerkraut'. It is made by treating cabbage with salt and allowing it to ferment. It may be served as an appetizer, or a topping for noodle soup, or as an ingredient in soups and stir fry dishes. Ginger and chilies are also included in some regional versions of the dish. It is different from pao cai in flavor and texture- it has darker cabbage shreds that give the appearance of longer preserving time, and is milder in taste. The method of production differs from pao cai as suan cai is made by compressing the cabbage, often by placing a larger stone on it, a process not used for making pao cai.