Wok-Fried Chinese Water Spinach with Anchovies, How to Do it Easily | Hong Kong Food Blog with Recipes, Cooking Tips mostly of Chinese and Asian styles | Taste Hong Kong

Wok-Fried Chinese Water Spinach with Anchovies, How to Do it Easily

Anchovies and How to Wok Fry Water Spinach, Chinese Style

Every time I cook this, I will make sure the flame is turned to high. Yes, in my experience, water spinach needs to be cooked in a hot wok with enough oil. Although it doesn’t need to be cooked long but it has to be cooked fast.

When it’s done well, the vegetable will turn vibrantly green and attached with intense flavors from the aromatics it cooked with (its hollow stems may even absorb some of the sauce). If not, the water spinach will tell you right away by showing a brownish appearance.

There are different ways to add flavors to the dish, I have here a fairly simple ingredient yet an ‘effective aromatic’ in addition to the usual garlic and chilies.

It is this bottled anchovies packed in oil from Portugual (bought in a recent trip to Malaysia) that substitutes the Chinese shrimp paste in the original recipe; but they add seemingly the same flavors to the dish. Of course, when skip using the fish, it is also a nice and simple vegetarian dish.

Anchovies and How to Wok Fry Water Spinach, Chinese Style

Obviously, what you need for cooking this is simply a wok, but do choose one in a size that is large enough for flipping the vegetables (my veggie fill about 70% of the wok). And you don’t want dumping the water spinach in wok all in one pieces. Just pluck leaves off, cut stems into shorter sections, and fry one after another, then everything can be put together easily.

Anchovies and How to Wok Fry Water Spinach, Chinese Style

Anchovies and How to Wok Fry Water Spinach, Chinese Style

  • Ingredients
  • 300g green water spinach (tung choi ι€šθœ aka hollow vegetable)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 small anchovy fillets, mashed ~ 1 tbsp
  • ~ 2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 fresh bird eye chili, sliced
  • 1 tsp palm sugar or brown sugar
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • pinch of salt to taste

Note: No need to use a knife to cut the leaves from stems, just hold a batch of water spinach in one hand and pluck off their leaves with another. The picture below is simply for illustration.

Anchovies and How to Wok Fry Water Spinach, Chinese Style
Anchovies and How to Wok Fry Water Spinach, Chinese Style
Anchovies and How to Wok Fry Water Spinach, Chinese Style


Thoroughly wash water spinach. Drain, preferably no less than 10 minutes. Pluck off leaves from stems, separating the two. Working in batches, cut stems into about 4 cm sections.

Heat wok enough over high heat (you may sprinkle a few droplets of water in it to see if they dance like crazy and evaporate immediately). Add oil, distributing it over lower half of wok. Add garlic, chilies and anchovies, and stir them quickly until the garlic turn light brown (mash the anchovies with the back of turner if required). This shall take less than half a minute if your wok is hot enough.

Toss in stems of water spinach. Then immediately flip and spread out several times while they sizzle a lot (that is why the spinach need to be drained in colander after wash). As they are all coated with oil, add in leaves, fish sauce and sugar, again flipping and spreading them constantly, half to one minute.

As the leaves start to cook down, sprinkle in salt and stir well.

Immediately dish up after done and serve hot.

Anchovies and How to Wok Fry Water Spinach, Chinese Style


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  1. Helena

    One thing I love in Asian food is that the veggies are so greener, and turn even greener when cooked ! Yours look indeed cooked to perfection, their color is just fantastic.
    Too bad I didn’t found water spinach at the Asian grocery this week-end, I was just craving some too with the sunny weather !
    I’ve never thought of adding anchovies in oil to them, despite it is widely available here. I once made chayote shoots with dried anchovies but it didn’t turn out good. Preserved ones sound better, though I love the simple version with garlic and chilies too πŸ™‚

  2. kristy

    Wow…nice to have this with plain white rice or porridge. Slurppp…..

  3. Juliana

    I love this veggies, and always sautee with garlic and fish sauce…I love the idea of anchovies…and I will definitely try your recipe next time cooking this water spinach.
    Hope you are having a great week πŸ™‚

  4. Angie@Angie's Recipes

    ‘ι•¬ζ°”β€œεθΆ³γ€‚γ€‚γ€‚this is a perfect quick stir-fry. Dang, I miss those stir-fries my mom made. And water spinach..not even sure where I can find them here..I love it with lots of garlic and chillies..

  5. TasteHongKong

    I start seeing the water spinach in market from early April, but in relatively small quantities. Perhaps there is a shortage from our sources too – mostly mainland China, partly Thailand + local.

  6. tigerfish

    Great idea! I will try to use Western-style anchovies to flavor a Chinese veggie stir-fry next time.

  7. Helena

    Oh, I get it. Thanks for advising me, I didn’t even think of that. I would be more careful to the seasonality of Asian products from now !

  8. Lori

    I’m now going to have my eye out for this water spinach! I go to a Farmer’s Market here that is overflowing with Asian greens. I’m learning them a little at a time, but I have not seen this one yet. The dish sounds delicious!

  9. mycookinghut

    This is my favourite veg!

  10. Lokness @ The Missing Lokness

    I used to eat this a lot back in Hong Kong. Ever since I have moved to LA, I may just had it once or twice. I didn’t know you can substitute the shrimp paste with anchovies. I can’t wait to get some tung choi and make this!

  11. Christine's Recipes

    Yum yum vegie. My favourite dish in summer.

  12. lilly

    i grew up eating cantonese dishes at home (parents are from hong kong) so this dish was staples at my house. i love shrimp past, although not the healthiest, but a little bit goes a long way! yum yum

  13. Moon Choo

    This looks amazing! Check out one of our Thai-inspired recipes: http://www.yingandyangliving.com/food/thai-basil-leaves-shrimp/

  14. Lucy L

    Amazing! I like using anchovies in my cooking too, and have also substituted it for “Ham Yu” in salty fish fried rice.

  15. TasteHongKong

    @Lucy L,
    Hmmm, that’s flavorful! Sometimes I even use homemade salted fishes for fried rice.

  16. LucyL

    hmmmm that sounds tasty too, will get round to trying that sometime! πŸ™‚