As a little child growing up in southern China in the early 70s, our family was considered very fortunate to have relatives and friends overseas. Every few years a small group of the oversea relatives would visit, bringing with them pre-loved clothes, food, small gifts and special foreign exchanged yuan to shout us a feast in a ‘wine house’ restaurant’ – no food coupons required! In my little eyes, the oversea visitors were beautiful people – they dressed well, smelt so nice and they were always very kind to me.
Out of the pre-loved clothes that were given to me by our visitors, the most memorable was my little red jumper with a plastic print of happy reindeers – all jolly and bright. The jumper was thin, so I wore the jumper on top of multiple layers of clothes. I wore the jumper nearly every day during many winters as it was the only jumper I had. When it was too short for me and did not extend past my belly button, I passed it to my sister who was 4 years younger than me. My sister used it for many years after that.
With our visitors, the ‘wine house’ restaurant that we most visited was the KwangChow Restaurant (also called the GuangZhou Restaurant in mandarine), one of the most celebrated restaurants in the city. It was only 4 blocks away from our house. Downstairs of the restaurant was the common dining room – plain and simple. The dining area upstairs was so grand that it looked like a palace! How I enjoyed the aroma of food, tea and wine lingering through the tastefully decorated dining rooms – carved wooden partitions, classic rosewood furniture and traditional paintings on the walls. My favorite dishes were the little side dishes served at arrival – cucumber salad, roasted peanuts and salted vegetables. These little dishes made me so hungry and so looking forward to the special feast.
Many years later in Australia I spoke with one of our visitors about his impression of China in the 70s – ‘awful,’ he said,’ except for that restaurant, the food was really nice.’
I hope you enjoy my version of a cucumber salad with a little modern twist.
Recipe is as follows:
(Serve 2, as a side dish to share)
- 2 medium-size cucumbers, cut lengthwise thinly (I use a mandolin)^
- 2 tsp of sesame oil
- 1 tsp of soy sauce (for a gluten free option, use a gluten free soy sauce)
- 1 tsp of sugar
- 1 fresh chili, sliced (optional)
- 1 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
Rub cucumber slices with salt, leave it aside for 15 minutes; then rinse under water thoroughly; squeeze out any excess liquid, if any.
In a mixing bowl, mix soy sauce, sugar and chopped chili until sugar is dissolved; add cucumber & sesame oil, mix well. Place the cucumber on a serving plate; garnish with sesame seeds.
^ Note – one medium-sized cucumber is approximate 1/2 cup of peeled, sliced or chopped cucumber