A twist on Classic Shanghai

I never used to like the traditional Shanghai dish Ma Lan Tou (马兰头), a salad made of tofu, a light dressing of sesame oil, and Indian aster., a tough green weed. I always found that at Ma Lan Tou had a bizarre flavor that I couldn’t put my finger on. Maybe it was too much fragrant sesame oil, maybe it was a bad balance of tofu to Indian aster, but who knows?  I just did not like it. All this changed after trying the dish at Suhang Restaurant in Richmond.

Their version of the dish is light and refreshing, without a hint of that strange flavor. Furthermore, the balance between the amount of tofu and the Indian aster is perfect.

Since discovering my new found love of the traditional Shanghai-nese dish, my mom and I have been trying to recreate it. The only problem is, Indian aster is nowhere to be found in our supermarkets and grocery stores. Thus began our journey to hunt down a prefect stand-in. Using Google as our main detective device, we discovered that kale was a great substitute.


Kale. Of course it had to be kale. This “superfood” that has been hyped up about its nutritional benefits. Health, shmealth, who cares about that? All I know is that kale is delicious! Its a hearty and fibrous green, perfect as a replacement for Indian aster.


My mom and I spent a good hour blanching and hacking away at our bundle of kale and squares of tofu until they became piles of white and green confetti. Since we do not own a food processor, all had to be done by hand. After all that chopping, we mixed both together with a good drizzle of sesame oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. At last, it was time to taste.


Mmmm… Nutty and refreshing, just like at Suhang Restaurant. We eagerly got my dad (Shanghai-nese born and raised) to taste our dish without him knowing that we had used kale. It was the moment of truth. “Wow, this is really good! But where did you get the Indian aster?” he said.



Mom and I laughed out loud as we turned towards each other and winked. It was our secret. Our own twist on classic Shanghai.


Well, now it can be your family secret too! Share the recipe with your friends and family and see if they can tell the difference.

Kale Ma Lan Tou (马兰头)


  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1/2 package of firm tofu
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 2tbsp of sesame oil


  1. Blanch the tofu and the kale.
  2. If, like us, you do not own a food processor, begin chopping your kale and tofu into tiny pieces. If you do have a food processor, save yourself some time and blitz them up.
  3. Combine kale and tofu in a bowl. Drizzle in the sesame oil and the salt and pepper to taste.
  4. If you want to present it nicely, pack the salad down in a small custard cup or bowl and turn it our onto a plate. Tadaa! There you have it, a kale Ma Lan Tou.


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