kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
[personal profile] kake
Coarsely-chopped spring onions, red chillies, and green chillies are piled on a plate, intermixed with stems of fresh green coriander.  A few other vegetable dishes are just visible in the background.

I've mentioned Chinese cold dishes (涼菜/liáng cài) before, in my post on 涼拌黃瓜/liáng bàn huáng guā/cucumber salads, but since I love them so much I wanted to talk more about them.

As noted in the post mentioned above, most of the Chinese-language menus I've seen here in London have separate cold dish sections. These might be listed simply under the heading of 涼菜, which translates very literally as "cold dishes", or as 涼菜類 (liáng cài lèi), which means something along the lines of "cold dish category". Sometimes they're also labelled in English as "starters", which I feel is a bit misleading — it's by no means mandatory to have them strictly at the beginning of your meal, and as is usual in Chinese dining, they're shared between the party rather than being ordered individually.

There are quite a few vegetable salads in the Chinese cold dish repertoire — as well as the cucumber salads linked above, I also rather like 老虎菜 (lǎo hǔ cài), or tiger salad, which is a very spicy mixture of shredded chillies, fresh coriander, spring onions, and sometimes other things like green bell peppers, cucumber, dry tofu strips, and so on. A rather chunky (albeit nice and colourful) version of this is pictured above. EatingAsia has a good post on the subject of raw vegetables in Chinese cuisine, including details of a really intriguing-sounding fresh mint salad from Yunnan province. Another good one is three-shred salad, which I've seen listed as 紅油三絲 (hóng yóu sān sī) — the three shredded things are usually something like carrot, kelp, and bean thread noodles.

涼菜 aren't restricted to vegetarian options, though. Finely-sliced pig's ear in chilli oil (紅油豬耳/hóng yóu zhū ěr), sliced pork with mashed garlic (蒜泥白肉/suàn ní bái ròu), and man-and-wife offal slices (夫妻肺片/fū qī fèi piàn) are some of my favourites. Jellyfish (海蜇/hǎi zhé) is a common ingredient, often combined with other ingredients such as shredded chicken (海蜇拌雞絲/hǎi zhé bàn jī sī) or cucumber (海蜇黃瓜/hǎi zhé huáng guā), or simply dressed with Chinese vinegar (老醋海蜇/lǎo cù hǎi zhé).

Here's a list of the cold dishes I've posted about. And here are some photos of cold dish menus, all from restaurants in London: Golden Day, Le Wei Xiang, and Sanxia Renjia. If you want to see some more photos of the actual food, check out my 涼菜 tag on Flickr!

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
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