Adobong Kang Kong / Kang Kung / Water Spinach


Adobong kang kong is such a staple in our home that when I checked my archives and realized I had never done a post on it, I was really rather surprised. We eat it so often that it passed below my normally attentive radar screen. As a kid, my folks were bizarre about some things and kang kong was one of them. My dad led one of the country’s largest efforts to get the average citizen to start and maintain backyard vegetable gardens to improve their nutritional intake in the 1970’s and he was a true advocate of healthy local fruits and vegetables. However, both he and my mom held this belief that since kang kong grew in swampy, watery areas, that meant the chances that they were exposed to raw fecal matter which they “sucked up” their hollow stems and lay in wait to make some unsuspecting diner totally sick was extremely high! Ergo, we didn’t eat much kang kong until we started a 1,000 square meter vegetable garden beside our home in Manila, and grew it ourselves. Not a big fan of greens in my teens, I was only re-introduced to this vegetable in a big way when I moved to Singapore and Indonesia for work in the early 1990’s.

Kang kong (Ipomoea aquatica or reptans) has two main varieties, one with larger leaves and stems and one with narrower leaves and stems…the latter sometimes referred to in local markets as “Chinese Kang kong.” Also known as “water spinach” – why, one wonders as it is not related to “spinach” but kang2rather more closely related to sweet potatoes… A native to tropical India, it has spread to Southeast Asia where it thrives and has become a cheap and nutritious part of the diet. I got used to eating kang kong frequently in Singapore and Indonesia (where it is stirfried with chillis!) and when we moved back to the Philippines I have eaten it at least once a week if not more often. To make adobong kang kong in our house, we simple prep the leaves, heat up a large pan, add some oil some whole garlic cloves, the kang kong and some soy sauce and vinegar and pepper. Alternatively, the cook uses patis (fish sauce). Chop up a red pepper or two if you want some spice. Yum. I have noticed that restaurant versions are often much more soupy and more “adobo-ey” than our home version but regardless of slight variations on a theme, it is delicious. I love the crunch of the stems and the mouthfeel of the leaves. A house favorite and judging by the comments on my Pinoy Top 10 Foods post, lots of readers feel the same way!


19 Responses

  1. Mr.MM

    this is also my favorite adobong kangkong…yummy!!! sometimes i tried also cooking it with oyster sauce or hoisin sauce, it is also nice. Just like the thai baby kailan….

  2. hi, MM, haven’t been here in a while but you’ve whet up my appetite again just featuring this very typical Pinoy dish. wish i was having it for lunch, with pritong isda on the side, and some rice. nakakagutom tuloy…

  3. Everybody feels the same way as your dad. There was a duhat tree that grew next to our poso negro once and it bore the sweetest and meatiest fruits that we simply did not touch and only left for the birds during the day and for the bats at night. It follows the same nitrogen cycle we all do, you would say, but we all get squeamish when it gets short-circuited in such an obvious way.

  4. the markets these days are full of what the vendors call “upland kangkong”, which means they’re grown on dry land. they generally look cleaner and brighter, or is it just my imagination?

  5. Apicio,

    I’m a big fan of your style in writing and knowledge in food. Keep it up!

  6. 5 to 10 years ago, kang kong was never found readily here in the states. Sure, Vietnamese farmers grew them in empty lots but was consumed by thier own families. Nowadays, one turns the corner and BOOM there’s an asian market that sells that stuff. Kang Kong is one of my favorite veggies. Thanks MM for the recipe.

  7. Marketman, have you tried crispy fried kankong? I tried this dish at Lantawan in Cebu Plaza. It’s kankong leaves fried (after being dried,i think) with tempura-like batter and then served with mayo.

  8. Was never a fan of adobong kang kong growing up in Manila. Here in CA, I was reintroduced to kang kong by my Malaysian roommate, who had me try “belachan kang kung”. YUM! I can’t get enough of it. Kang kung is highly seasonal in availability here in CA, so I don’t get it all the time.

  9. shirley, yes, those variations work well with kangkong as well… bay leaf, a perfect match with fried fish. Apicio, I would eat those duhat in a flash! Millet, a lot of the kangkong today is actually farm raised so they all seem to look better but I agree that in general the leaves seem less battered or eaten up and the stems seem more consistent… perkycinderalla I have to concur with your comment… Jean, this is the easiest of recipes though cooking it may make your kitchen a bit pungent… Shoppaholique, yes, I have tried fried kangkong…there was a period when fried greens were very in and you had them with a rich mayonnaise that was flavored. They tasted good but I can just imagine the fat content! fried-neurons, I think you were eating the malay equivalent of kankung with bagoong Malaysian style…with a couple of chillis that dish is really good.

  10. crispy kangkong is very easy, no drying required. just dip them in thin a slurry of cornstarch with water, salt and pepper, then deep fry in hot oil till crisp, and drain on paper towels. a healthier dip would be vinegar with chopped garlic. i like to think the vinegar dissolves whatever oil is left on the cruchy yummies :->

  11. Marketman,
    Did you try that vegetable called “bayam” while in Indonesia? The Chinese liked to cook it “tumis” which seemed to be stir-fried with garlic. I’m not sure now if it’s spinach…but it was really good.

  12. Hi MM,
    Yes kangkong is one of our favorite veggie. We love it in sinigang, in pakbet or just plain kangkong with garlic and oyster sauce. Have you tried acharang kangkong (sweet sour kangkong). It is good combination with grilled or fried seafood, chicken, pork and/or beef. Another leafy and fibrous vegetable that I began to like is chayote tops. Check it out, it’s good. You can cook it same way with kangkong or you can try other variations.

  13. hi MM, have you had sambal kangkong? any idea how to make it? i love that stuff too…

  14. mita, trader joe is right, bayam is Chinese Spinach or in English, Amaranth. In the Philippines, better known as kulitis. There are several kinds, the most common are the red and green amaranth. Luwee, yes, kangkong is good and versatile… mojitodrinker, sambal kangkung couldn’t be easier. Buy some good bottled sambal (malaysian or indonesian, its essentially chillies, tomatoes, shrimp paste, etc) and heat up a pan, add oil sambal and kangkung. Yum, it’s a favorite of mine.

  15. hey!! its yummy! try this, fried meehoon and add with kang kung (just pickles the kang kung leaves do not chop it!) its my mom secret recepies!

    meehoon=rice vermicelli its easy to find it in Malaysia! im not sure its easy or not to find it in other country.. sorry!

  16. I LOVE this stuff! I could eat a whole bunch, or more. It’s so good, so easy and just plain yummy! We just heat oil, add garlic and onion, kangkung, then soy sauce and steam for a minute, and enjoy!

  17. of late, research show that kangkong is a great toxic absorber. so if the source is dubious, we’d rather not take the risk of enjoying it. CHAYOTE TOPS on the other hand (thanks to the lady who travels weekly to baguio and brings back bundles of them), is an alternative to our kangkong cravings and tastier too!

  18. I was doing a sort of research on kang kung when I came across this note. I am from Sri Lanka. We eat it here quite often. Thank you a lot for this information



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