Kangkong vs. Kale


As I’ve demonstrated a few times within this space, the Filipino cooking method of Adobo is quite versatile. So far I’ve made duck adobo, pork ribs adobo, squid adobo, and two kinds of chicken adobo. While all of these adobos have leaned towards the protein side of the meal, all manner of vegetable adobos can be prepared as well.

Yup, you can pretty much adobo-ize anything so long as you braise it in a mixture of vinegar, salt and/or soy, black peppercorns, and bay leaves.

One very common vegetable adobo is Adobong Kangkong. Kangkong, also known as rau muong in Vietnam or ong choy in China, is a leafy green vegetable eaten all over Asia. Kangkong have long hollow stems, and long, narrow, pointy leaves. Both the stems and leaves are edible.


I’m not sure what kind of conditions kangkong is grown, but based on its aquatic-sounding aliases (AKA water spinach or swamp leaves) I imagine the greens are grown in shallow swamps or marshes? So if I’m ever being chased by the cops, a swarm of killer bees, or legions of screaming teenaged girls (this blog is HUGE amongst the tweener set), I know I can dive into a kangkong bog and hide beneath the surface of the water whilst easily breathing through a hollow kangkong stem–thereby evading any crazed pursuers.

Wherever or however kangkong is cultivated, it can be easily procured from most Asian markets. To make Adobong Kangkong, just pick the leaves from the stems, cut the stems into small pieces, and then saute everything with onions, garlic and a bay leaf, add some soy, vinegar, and water to the pot, and simmer until the veggies are soft.

If for some reason you don’t like kangkong (it more or less tastes like spinach), or if you can’t find kangkong in your neck of the woods, there are suitable substitutes. Who on earth wouldn’t like kangkong you ask? Well, it seems as if one Mr. Denzel Washington is picky when it comes to his Adobo:

Relax, Denzel. Relax.

Ah, Training Day. It’s a classic. And yes, I know he’s referring to a giant ape in that scene, but it makes me giggle to think he’s talking about water spinach (I’m easily amused).

Anyhizzle, I actually stumbled across a great recipe that uses bacon and kale instead of kangkong. Yes, a Bacon and Kale Adobo if you will.


Bacon and Kale Adobo

I found the Bacon and Kale Adobo recipe in the October issue of Sunset Magazine of all places. Even cooler is that the recipe was provided to Sunset courtesy of Fil-Am chef Tim Luym of the Poleng Lounge restaurant in San Francisco (I absolutely love it when Filipino food gets mainstream coverage!). Sunset also happens to be the same magazine from where I got my go-to chicken adobo recipe. Needless to say, the Bacon and Kale Adobo is as good as it sounds.

I actually made a version of Kangkong Adobo based on the recipe for Bacon and Kale Adobo just to see if the Sunset recipe could translate to the more traditional Filipino vegetable–and it did. The only major difference I found between cooking kangkong and kale is that kangkong cooks much more quickly (lickety-split) and needs less water to do so. I also left the bacon out of the kangkong version just to have an all veggie dish (and because I ran out of bacon).

In the Adobong Kangong, the crunchy stems provide a nice difference in texture to the soft leaves. In the case of the Bacon and Kale Adobo, it’s the crispy bacon that provides this textural difference, as well as porky goodness.

After making both dishes, I’d have to say I prefer the more westernized Bacon and Kale adobo (egads!) just because I’ve always liked the flavor and heartiness of kale, and I’ve never really liked kangkong stems.

Truth be told though, I’ll probably make an Adobong Kangkong with bacon in the future (Kangkong ain’t got sh*t on me!!!).

Adobong Kangkong (Water Spinach Adobo)

Adapted from Bacon and Kale Adobo recipe in Sunset, October 2008

Makes about 4 servings

1 pound of Kangkong (water spinach can be found in Asian markets)
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 to 3 tablespoons coconut or palm vinegar
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes, to taste

Wash the kangkong, then pick the leaves from the stems. Chop the stems into 2-inch pieces and set aside in a separate pile from the leaves.

In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the kangkong stems, onions, garlic, and bay leaves to the pan and cook until the onions become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the kangkong leaves and continue cooking and stirring until the leaves are wilted, about 1 minute.

Add the water, 2 tablespoons each of the soy and vinegar, the black pepper, and the red pepper flakes. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover and steam for 5-10 minutes, or until the liquid reduces to your liking. Remove the cover and stir to combine. Add more soy and vinegar to taste.


Adobong Kangkong

  • foodhoe October 19, 2008, 6:02 pm

    I was just looking at that magazine today! Poleng is an awesome restaurant with interesting twists on traditional dishes. I liked your comparison and am glad you liked the bacon and kale version cuz I went shopping this afternoon to get coconut vinegar and kale!

  • Manggy October 19, 2008, 6:21 pm

    Bwaaah! It took me 2 seconds (which is 2 seconds longer than I should have) to get the movie clip. You are too insane. Hella funny, though :) Marsh/shallow pond is right. As a Biology major I should really know how a swamp is different, but my Magic Card roots are taking precedence and I keep thinking of Swamps as they are there, and how the power of one can cause a Marsh Gas to appear and give -2/-0 to all creatures till the end of turn. Or how they give rise to putrid zombies and such. But if you’re hiding you should really carry around a bamboo pipe. The high negative pressure caused by your deep breaths would cause the kangkong to collapse, rendering it ineffective.
    Anyway, I’ve never mixed influences w/r/t these greens so I don’t know if I’d consider one better than the other– but I have no complaints about kangkong. Stems have a lovely crunch and leaves are just right– not too bitter, not hard to chew, and the whole thing fits into your mouth when it’s wilted (ew). Spinach: I’ve never had it not chopped up. Kale: never had it at all. But I’ll take a look into adobong kangkong with bacon :) It is a perfect side dish!

  • Jay P October 19, 2008, 7:22 pm

    yup marsh or shallow pond. funny you should mention the idea of hiding there. Thats actually where people hide dead bodies. you sort of hear remarks such as: “Nahanap nalang siya sa kangkungan” which translates to: “they eventually found him in a kangkong field”

  • Mila October 19, 2008, 10:37 pm

    There was a anti-kangkong movement from local organic foodies a few years back, due to questions about the cleanliness of where it was cultivated. I’m not a big fan of it myself, but I like spinach and kale and other leafy green vegies (chinese broccoli and snow pea shoots are fantastic ala adobo).

  • Julie October 20, 2008, 8:02 am

    Filipino collared greens! Looks great, Marvin!

  • Caroline October 20, 2008, 2:01 pm

    I like reading your posts, it’s guaranteed laugh every time. King Kong, Kangkong, hahaha.
    Haven’t had kangkong in years. It looks delicious, you’re making me crave for them now.

  • Jude October 20, 2008, 4:21 pm

    Wouldn’t have expected to see adobo recipes at that magazine you linked. Bacon adobo sounds good as hell.

  • joey October 21, 2008, 8:47 am

    I love kang kong (sorry Denzel — hilarious btw!)! Yes, even the stems…and as odd as this may sound, have been thinking of kang kong stems for a while now, trying to think up a dish that uses only the stems…I know, weird.
    Bacon in anything sounds good to me!!!

  • elmomonster October 21, 2008, 10:21 am

    I love kang-kung. It actually grows anywhere. Back in Indonesia, we used to pee in this little patch of dirt where we also happened to stick the woody stems of the kang-kung into the ground. In a few days, the kangkung grew and sprouted. It tasted extra juicy.

  • ahnjel October 21, 2008, 11:41 am

    wow… kale? what more with bacony goodness? thats a first for me. maybe ill try it sometime… by the way marvin, have you tried adobo-ing fishes? tilapia for example, also bangus… oh and adobong boiled egg! its a pickling procedure for the egg though, i remember making it in primary school home ec. but i like adding the boiled egg in my chicken and/or pork adobo since hubby likes it…
    but that kangkong looked mighty tasty…

  • Burnt Lumpia October 22, 2008, 12:31 pm

    Hi foodhoe, I just searched for your review on Poleng and it sounds like a great place. The bacon and kale adobo is really good, and I think it’s worth it to try.
    Geez manggy, even I’ve forgotten all that detail to Magic! And thanks for the tip on the ineffectiveness of the kangkong stem, but perhaps a bundle of them in my mouth would be a sufficient breathing apparatus?
    Yikes, Jay P! Dead bodies?!! Creepy!
    Hi Mila. Besides dead bodies, I can only imagine what else is left in kankong swamps. Ick.
    Thanks Julie!
    I’m glad you’re laughing, Caroline. Thanks.
    Hey there, Jude. Yeah, I thought the same thing at first, but I’m liking Sunset more and more these days.
    That’s not weird at all joey! It’d be interesting to see what you come up with for just stems.
    Ok, deadbodies and now piss elmo? Note to self, stay away from kangkong from now on! ;P
    Hi Anhjel, adobo-ing fish is on the to-do list for me. Hopefully sometime soon.

  • Annie October 23, 2008, 9:12 pm

    You have my vote on kangkong and bacon adobo! When you make it, please let me know so I can come over and eat some of it!

  • greasemonkey October 24, 2008, 1:58 am

    kangkong, especially fried in a light batter, with a thousand island-ish dipping sauce, reminds me of college and all the debuts i had to attend. hehe.. i guess it was the trendy dish for caterers around the mid 90s. i would have preferred this adobo with bacon instead! another food combo hit out of the park! haha! hmm.. i wonder how a kangkong ravioli would fare?

  • Lorena October 24, 2008, 4:16 pm

    As a vegetarian, I’m glad to hear you’ve jumped on the vegetable adobo bandwagon! You can also do fried eggplant, mushroom or green bean adobo (or a combo of all three). My grandma even told me I should try it with fried tofu, which I admit would be awesome.
    And I had no idea that water spinach (one of my favorite veggies growing up) was called “kangkong” — you learn something new everyday. :)

  • White On Rice Couple October 26, 2008, 1:08 pm

    Seeing all the water spinach grown in swamps give me a better appreciation for the green. The ones that I saw in VN were so tender, with thinner stems. I could totally see you plucking them and eating them straight from the swamp, BUT hiding in there…um…..not sure if the stems would give you enough air! I would love to see a vid of you demonstrating something like that though!

  • [eatingclub] vancouver || js October 27, 2008, 9:08 pm

    LOL re Denzel.
    Bacon in adobo? Heck, why not, eh? I love adobong kangkong, but am really curious now about the adobong kale. I have kale in the fridge now. . .should I?

  • Pat October 28, 2008, 11:51 am

    kangkong, bacon and adobo are three magic words. put together … mmm … this is definitely on the menu this week!

  • Burnt Lumpia October 29, 2008, 2:36 pm

    Haha, thanks Annie. I’ll be sure to make some soon.
    Hi Greasemonky. I actually had kangkong stuffed into wonton wrappers and deep-fried before–so that’s sort of like ravioli. But great idea nontheless.
    I will definitely be experimenting more w/ veggie adobos down the road Lorena. But it’s tough being Filipino and trying to find all vegetarian dishes:)
    Hi WORC, it must’ve been pretty cool to see actual swamps in Vietnam that were growing water spinach.
    Yes you should, js! It’s definitely good eats.
    Give it a try, Pat. It’s a dish that I will be making again and again in the future.

  • manju December 6, 2008, 3:02 pm

    A favorite veggie dish in our house too!

  • hammy December 10, 2011, 6:00 pm

    hello there! what’s the filipino term for kale? i’m not really familiar with vegetable names..

  • marjore pagas mabolis August 6, 2012, 7:16 am

    what do we get from eating kangkong?


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