Shanghainese or Indian?! – Ma Lan Tou and Tofu Salad 涼伴馬蘭頭

Happy Meatless Monday! It’s hot and humid in Hong Kong I think I would start to share some cold recipes. I have talked about salads a few days ago so I thought today I would share a recipe on one of my favourite cold appetiser.

I hold a lot of guest dinners at home. I found the easiest way to stick to a healthy diet when you need to entertain is to invite them to your house and cook for them. I am hoping to share some healthy gourmet or interesting dishes with everyone so you can share your healthy cooking with your guests.

This is a very popular cold appetizer in Shanghainese restaurants and one of my favourite cold dishes. Ma Lan Tou (馬蘭頭)is a very common wild vegetable that matures in spring. It’s called “Kalimeris Indica” or “Indian Aster”. Ma Lan Tou is a plant under the sunflower family and it grows on the sidewalk and therefore it’s also called the “sidewalk chrysanthenum”. Due to the wild nature of this vegetable, it gives a very unique, almost fragrant taste, making this appetizer a healthy yet flavorful dish without having to add much condiments or sauces.

Rich in Vitamin A and C, from a TCM (Traditional Chinese Herb) perspective Ma Lan Tou is a “mild cold” herb that helps to dispel pathogenic heat, promote urination, detoxify and relieve inflammation. It’s also known to control blood pressure.

Ma Lan Tou (Indian Aster) and Tofu Salad  


  • 250g of Kalimaris Indica (or half a catty) or replace with leafy vegetables
  • 2 pieces of dried tofu beancurd or firm tofu
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Chinese black vinegar or rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil


  1. Wash Kalimeris Indica and let it boil for 2 minutes. Drain with water and let it dry and cool down. You want to remove most of the water from the vegetable.
  2. Finely chop the Ma Lan Tou after cooling.
  3. Cut Dried tofu in small pieces. If you use firm tofu, you can crumble it. Make sure you drain all the water.
  4. Prepare the dressing. Mix the salt, rice vinegar and sesame oil together.
  5. Mix the Kalimaris Indica and tofu together and add the dressing and toss it well.
  6. Let it sit for 15 minutes before serving. This dish should be served at room temperature.


Kalimaris Indica must be well drained, cooled down and dried before chopping.
For a healthier version of this dish , I blanch the vegetables in chicken broth or vegetable broth and completely skip the salt. It still works. However since the salt helps to bring out the water from the vegetable if you use broth make sure your vegetable is well drained and dried before chopping. You can also replace the salt with light soy sauce.

Sometimes I like to add a twist to the dish by adding fine chopped cilantro or Chinese celery stalks into the dish.

Kalimaris Indica can be found in local Shanghainese grocery stores. If you cannot find it you can replace with “Tong Hou” (唐萵) or spinach which you can find in supermarkets.

Normally if you visit the restaurants you get 5 bites of this for HKD80. To make it yourself this dish costed me HKD 20 to make an appetiser for 10 people at a guest dinner.

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