Cold Chinese food
After what seemed like endless weeks of heavy rain and foggy (but by no means cold) weather, summer has finally hit Zhuhai. The past few days have seen a glorious streak of sunshine and heat, with temperatures ranging between 25°C and 30°C. It still rains from time to time but there’s no mistaking: summer is here and it’s only going to get hotter.
The InternChina staff and all the interns have, of course, taken advantage of the beautiful weather and are not wasting a second indoors. This weekend’s activities, for example, have included hiking, beach volleyball, sunbathing, swimming and biking. Sure, we might complain occasionally about the humidity and how it’s now impossible to stay dry, but all things considered, we are loving the summer and never want it to end.
One thing we hadn’t thought about, however, is the food. In western countries, the ultimate summer dish is the salad, and there are countless recipes for all tastes and pallets: vegetable salad, fruit salad, pasta salad, tuna salad… you name it. But the concept of salad as we know it does not apply here in China, and even though you can definitely find some yummy salads at western-style restaurants, they’re usually quite expensive and therefore not a viable option to eat on a regular basis.
So, what to eat then? As much as we love Chinese food – and we do – sometimes when it’s so hot that you break a sweat the minute you step outside the door, the last thing you want to eat is a scalding-hot noodle soup or a steaming plate of dumplings. If you’re new to China, you might start to despair, thinking “All Chinese food is hot! What am I going to eat now?” But having been here a few months – as most of us have – you begin to discover that no, all Chinese food is not hot and yes, there is quite a variety of delicious cold dishes (liang cai – 凉菜) that will freshen up your taste buds and keep you cool during the hot summer months.
Here are a couple of my favorites:
Cucumber with mashed garlic (suan ni huan gua – 蒜泥黃瓜)
I call this “cucumber salad”, and it’s really a very simple dish: chopped cucumber, garlic, hot chilli oil and Sichuan peppers. It can be quite spicy, but I’ve found they serve it at a few restaurants and the level of spiciness varies, plus you can add some black vinegar or soy sauce to tone it down.
Cold skin noodles (liang pi – 凉皮)
This is a dish that you simply must not miss while in China. These noodles (though the word “skin” is in the name, there is actually no meat) originate from Shaanxi province and, though there are many variations of the dish, most of them are served with hot chilli oil and black vinegar. My favorite version comes also with julienned cucumber, bean sprouts and peanuts on top.
Shredded potatoes (tu dou si – 土豆絲)
Many westerners love potatoes so this is the perfect dish for them. The potatoes are served with peppers and vinegar – tangy and fresh yet quite filling.