Most of the Chinese meals are served hot, no matter it is breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Coming to the Western world, the very first thing to adjust is eating cold foods and raw vegetables called “salad”. It took a while for my stomach to get used to it. 20 years ago, it would be unimaginable that I will eat salad regularly, one big plate of it, every single morning.
Smashed Cucumber is a northern dish. The character “拍”, means “smash”, having a rugged, unrestrained personality that well fits the northerners in China. In the south, they have a similar cold dish made of cucumbers that helps to fend off the heat in the summer, but the cucumbers will be cut carefully into even slices or even fine shreds. Most of the times, southern dishes are more elaborated and northern ones are more casually prepared in China.
In the late 80s, foreigners were rare in China. I met two groups of them on trains, not the modern bullet trains that are everywhere in China nowadays but the old-fashioned green ones that burned coals. All of them were young students came to China to study or travel for fun. They were very adventurous.
They rode with ordinary Chinese people in sometimes very crowded train, squatting down or sat on the floor waiting to have a seat. The first time, it was two young guys, they even dressed in very traditional Chinese male shirts attracting lots of attention. They impressed everyone including me with their fluent Chinese, eating an apple without washing it and peeling the skin off, just a quick rub on their shirt as a “cleaning“ act. Most importantly, they touched everyone’s heart by genuinely and frequently helping some old peasants out, carrying their heavy load of produce in a dirty burlap bag to get off the train at stations that the train only stopped for 1 or 2 minutes. We had small talks. When people asked about their age, a typical question from Chinese, not a rude one, they asked me, a teenage girl then, to guess. From their beard faces, I hesitated and eventually said shyly in a low voice: around 50? They smiled, and told the curious people around they were 25. My face turned to a bloody red one.
The second time, it was a girl asking the service guy at the dining cart that grabbed attention to her. She asked in a voice with a hint of foreign accent if they had “拍黄瓜”(Smashed Cucumber). Of course, they didn’t serve that cheap, homey dish on the train. They wanted to make money off people traveling. But the passengers around were very surprised that this foreign girl knew this dish, their murmuring sounds were quite loud.
So, here you are, a homey, simple Chinese salad for the summer, a salute to all the adventurous souls who traveled in China.
1. Smash the cucumber
2. Sprinkle salt on them, sit for 10 minutes, drain the juice
3. Smash a clove of garlic, cut them into fine grains
4. Mix cucumber with garlic, one teaspoon of sesame oil, one tablespoon of soy sauce, half teaspoon of vinegar.
5. Serve and enjoy
In the pictures, I showed the kitchen knife most Chinese use, you use the side to smash cucumbers or garlic or anything you have the feeling to smash on😜. You don’t need to buy a Chinese style kitchen knife to smash things, a pestle will do the same job.