Chinese Cucumber Salad (拍黄瓜, pai huang gua) is a light and refreshing appetizer. The crisp cucumber is mixed with plenty of garlic, drizzled with an appetizing blend of soy sauce, vinegar and sugar, then finished with a few drops of sesame oil. The sauce is light, yet it has a distinct sour flavor with a hint of sweetness, enhanced by the strong aroma of garlic.
The cucumber salad is a dish I’ve been eating since childhood. It’s one of those easy dinner rotation dishes that my mom makes all the time, especially when it’s hot and humid outside and she doesn’t want to turn on the stove to cook stir fry.
This cucumber salad only takes 5 minutes to prepare. It’s refreshing and tasty. The salad goes very well with pretty much any Chinese dish. Stir-fry, braised meats, noodles, and deep-fried goodies. You name it! It even goes very well with some Western-style food, such as bread and cheese. I consider it one of the easiest side dishes to make on a busy weekday, to add color and nutrition to your dinner table.
The secret to making the best cucumber salad
1. Use English cucumbers
English cucumbers have a thinner skin and crispier texture. They work so much better in this salad than the dark-skinned American cucumbers. The smaller cucumbers (usually for making Japanese dishes and/or pickling) also work well.
I didn’t peel the cucumber skin, in order to give the dish a nice color. Plus, the skin adds more fiber to the meal. If the cucumber is fresh, the skin shouldn’t be too chewy or dry. You could choose to only remove the tough skin at the lower end of the cucumber. However, if you don’t like the skin, feel free to peel and discard it.
If you use the American cucumber that has waxy and thick skin, do peel the skin before making the salad.
2. Smash the cucumber before cutting
The secret to making delicious cucumber salad is to give the cucumber a coarse texture so it holds more sauce. Instead of chopping the cucumber, smash it with a cleaver first. Then tilt the cleaver to cut the cucumber into diamond-shaped pieces. This method will increase the surface area of the cucumber and create nooks and crannies, allowing it to absorb more sauce. If you do not own a cleaver, a meat pounder works just as well.
3. Use Chinkiang vinegar
Chinkiang vinegar (Zhenjiang vinegar, 镇江香醋) is a type of Chinese black vinegar. It is made from various grains and is aged until the color turns dark brown or inky black. It has a rich, pungent, and tart flavor, sometimes with a hint of sweetness. It has a fermented malty taste and woody character that distinguishes it from the light-colored and fruity rice vinegar.
It’s a key ingredient in this recipe that gives the sauce an extra tangy and rich taste.
4. A bit of chili oil goes a long way
I love to drizzle a bit of homemade chili oil onto my cucumber salad. It adds a nice smoky aroma to the dish and really enhances its taste.
If you happen to have a jar of Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp, that’s even better! It is a famous (and extremely popular) Chinese brand that sells their chili oil that’s filled with crispy onion, chili peppers, and garlic. It’s not the healthiest ingredient, but it will make your salad addictively tasty. If you’re hosting a dinner party, serve the cucumber salad with some Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp. Your side dish might be gone faster than your main dish!
More easy delicious Chinese veggie recipes
- Steamed Eggplant in Nutty Sauce
- Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic
- Spinach and Peanut Salad
- Traditional Chinese potato salad
- Stir-Fried Water Spinach – Two Ways
If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.
Easy Chinese Cucumber Salad (拍黄瓜)
- 1 English cucumbers (about 11 oz./300 g) , tough skin removed
- 3 cloves garlic , crushed and minced
- 1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar (or rice vinegar)
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce (or soy sauce)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons Homemade chili oil (or store-bought chili oil), or to taste (Optional)
- 1 tablespoon Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp , or to taste (Optional)
- Dry the cucumber with a paper towel. Place the cucumber on a large cutting board and carefully use a cleaver to crush it. If you don't own a cleaver, a meat pounder will work as well. Then cut it into bite-size pieces and place them into a bowl.
- Add the garlic on top of the cucumber.
- Combine the vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, salt and sesame oil in a small bowl and mix well.
- Right before serving, pour the sauce mixture over the cucumber and mix well. (Do not add the sauce beforehand. It will cause the cucumber to lose water, and the sauce will be diluted.
- (Optional) To give the salad an extra kick, you can drizzle some chili oil or add a spoonful of chili crisp. It makes the dish addictively good.
The recipe was published by Mar 15, 2014 and updated on Sep 1, 2019.
Questions and Reviews
this looks delicious!
This is my favorite Chinese cold dish! I’m looking forward to seeing more like it, such as tofu and celery, wood ear, peanuts, etc.
I like the idea of tofu recipe! I also know a good one by using celery and wood ear.
Will definitely make them soon. 🙂
I love cucumber side dishes! I’ve never thought to use garlic and sesame oil with cucumbers before, but it looks so delicious, I’m definitely going to have to give it a try!
Hi Dani, thanks for stopping by and commenting! 🙂
Garlic adds great flavor in a lot of salad dish and I love using a lot!
I just got back from China and this was one of my favorite dishes! It’s amazing to me that something as simple as cucumbers could be so good…definitely going to have to try making this!
Hi Danielle, thanks for stopping by and leaving a nice comment! I’m glad to hear that you like some of the Chinese food and would like to cook them at home.
Yes, a lot of Chinese dishes are very simple but taste good. Hope you enjoy the dish and let me know how it goes with the cooking! 🙂
So glad I stumbled upon your website! This reminds me of the cucumber salad my dad used to make all the time – definitely planning on making it myself as well 🙂
LOVE your pictures and easy to follow recipe!
Thanks for ALL you do!
Love this! Refreshing, healthy and tasty!
That photos looks so delicious..I’ll definite try this to pair with my pork barbeque..cheers!
It’s the simplest dish I’ve ever made, but full of flavor and texture!
Just had this delicious salad with pork neck chops, SOOOO GOOD!!!!
I’m so glad to hear you like this dish Vitaly! It’s so simple and has a plain looking, but yes it’s burst with flavors 🙂
This is just the best Chinese cold dish! So tasty and easy. I have seen it made with peanuts as well.
Yes peanuts work great in the dish! I love this one too because it’s so easy 🙂
Can this recipe be made to taste nice without sugar? We at trying to cut down on sugar to lose weight, and we love eating cucumber salad, so consuming that much sugar (I’m sure we’ll eat up to 6 cucumbers each) would have the opposite effect.
On the other hand, can black vinegar be used? The type we dip Xiao long baos into.
Hi Danielle, yes I’m pretty sure you can make this dish without sugar. The sugar will balance with the sourness and add a nice touch to the dish, but it wouldn’t cause a big problem to skip it. The other way to enjoy the cucumber salad is using chili oil instead of the sesame oil.
Yes, black vinegar works perfectly for this dish.
Happy cooking and let me know how the healthier version turns out 🙂
I agree that it goes well with some western food! I made a lot of this recipe this week, too much really, and the next morning put it on a toasted bagel with vegan cream cheese. (Trader Joe’s vegan cream cheese is very close to regular, so would be good with regular cream cheese too.) Cream cheese and cucumber is a classic tea sandwich, so I thought it would work well together, and I was right. 😉
Hi Zee, I really love the idea of topping this salad on a bagel! Sounds super yummy! Hmmm, now I start to wonder if there are any other Chinese food I can top on a bagel 🙂
Would love to try this out for my breakfast tomorrow. Sounds super yummy!
We currently live in Nanjing and my family has fallen in love with this cucumber dish in the Chinese restaurants here. Even my husband who does not like cukes, loves this dish. Are there specific ingredients I should look for in my local Suguo grocery store to make this dish most authentic?
Hi Robin, the most important ingredient is the Chinkiang vinegar. There are so many vinegars out there, espeically in China, that the cucumber salad will taste so different. I would get the type called “xiang cu”, literally means sweet vinegar. It is a type of Chinkiang vinegar that is slightly sweet and not too tart. Get that type if you can. Also, I think some of the restuarnts add a bit homemade chili oil too. The dish is rather forgiven, so I think you’ll make it work 🙂
This recipe is amazing as all of your recipes are! I look at your website every day for what to make next. Thank you so much for sharing.
Hi Maggie! Thank you for sharing your recipes. In South Africa, our favourite Chinese restaurant adds roughly chopped coriander (cilantro) which is really delicious.
Maggie, I used your recipe tonight and the cucumber salad turned out great. My husband loved it!! I will be making it again very soon. Thank you so much.
We’re very happy to hear that, Shan! As Maggie’s husband, I’ve eaten this dish at least a hundred times and it’s always delicious and refreshing 🙂 Take care and happy cooking.
I made half a portion and I ate it all by myself. So good 🙂
This is the way we make it in our house. FYI Chinkiang Vinegar is easily found in most Asian food stores. That vinegar is also great for steamed dumplings.
The restaurants in Shenyang would often have a small plate like this as an appetizer. Thanks for the recipe!
well, this is deceiving…you advertise a Chinese cucumber salad but it is really an english cucumber salad.
I am interested in a Chinese cucumber salad using Chinese cucumbers.
Hi Manny, of course you can use Chinese cucumbers, which is the best way. English cucumber is the closest thing I can find in the US.
Easy & so tasty!
Was verrry delish. I had it first recently in a restaurant n loved it. Thanks.
absolutely fantastic I am addicted!!!!! True Chinese taste what a treat!! Thank you
Thank you for this recipe, Maggie!
I lived in Beijing for a while several years ago and have been craving this since I left! Tastes exactly how I remember it 🙂
Soooo good and authentic!!
I have tried to find the perfect recipe for these cucumbers and made countless versions from other websites or recipe books that just weren’t right. Finally I found this gem! The flavors were perfect! I can finally recreate the tastes of my childhood. SO healthy, easy and delicious. Thanks Maggie!
I put this in a pita with roasted mushrooms and a spoonful of Chinese BBQ’d pork – it was divine! I added thinly sliced red pepper to the salad for more colour. Thanks Maggie!
This is really nice! How long can I store this and the sauce in the fridge? Is the sauce the same if I want to make 豆腐皮? Do you have tips on how to peel the layer of toufu skin separately in a quick way?
I made this tonight My husband and I both loved it. Super simple and flavorful!
Is amazing, i have been cooking ur dished for the last three days non stop. Very authentic i feel like i am eating in beijing. Thanks so much for the fantastic website. Do u have a cook book?
So easy and so delicious!
Made this. Excellent — I had all the ingredients except the Chili Crisps. Thanks!
Where in NY can one get the Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisps? What is it made of besides chili?
It’s pretty much chili oil but it has MSG in it, the reason why it’s super addictive.
You can make the chili oil using this recipe: http://omnivorescookbook.com/how-to-make-chili-oil/
I’m pretty sure H mart carries it. You can probably find it at smaller grocery stores in a Chinese neighborhood (or Chinatown) as well. Really depends on which neighborhood you live.
I’ve noticed that the ends of the larger American types have a slight bitter taste.
English cucumbers are unavailable so I use small, young American types.
Your recipe is definitely very pleasantly flavoured and makes a good vegetable salad side.
Please use darker colour on font in instructions. White letters on white background difficult to read.
Thanks. Nice recipe.
Hey there. I love your recipe, and it introduced me to black vinegar, as well as spicy chili crisp (which I don’t know how I lived without). However, I think your nutrition information is incorrect regarding sodium levels and fat from sesame oil, or maybe it’s attached to the wrong recipe? One half-teaspoon of salt creates ~480mg sodium/salad serving if coarse salt is used, or ~581mg sodium/salad serving if you use traditional table salt. These totals don’t include the sodium from the vinegar or soy sauce, which adds over 290mg more sodium per serving. Am I missing something?
Thanks for your comment and I’m glad to hear you like the recipe!
Re nutrition fact – it’s based on 1 of the 4 servings from the recipe, which contains about 300mg sodium from the salt. Chinkiang vinegar contains very little sodium and the rest mostly comes from soy sauce.
We’ve tried several versions of this dish, but this recipe is the best
Hi Maggie, I just made your cucumber salad, it was the most delicious Chinese cucumber salad I’ve ever had. My husband is Chinese and I had the chance to eat a lot of them. 😁I followed your recipe and luckily I had on hand all the Chinese sauces and all the other ingredients that you mentioned. I only replaced the sugar with granulated monk fruit sweetener. It turned out perfect, I printed your recipe and I put it in a sacred place. 😄😄😄I will definitely make it again.
Thanks for the recipe. Although I didn’t have any chilli oil or chilli crisp, it was absolutely delicious!
Hi! I know this was posted forever ago, but I was so excited to find this recipe! My SO was telling me about this salad recently, as he thought I would enjoy it, seeing as I love just about anything that includes vinegar. It’s one of his mother’s go-to recipes and one of the ways he actually enjoys cucumbers. He told me she likes to fry an egg extremely thin and cut it into “noodles” (his description not mine) to add to the salad. I was wondering in this was a common addition and if there are any others similar to it, or if this was something she added on her own to make the food stretch further.
Thanks for sharing this recipe with us! I absolutely cannot wait to try it out!
Hi Hannah, I’m glad to hear you like the recipe!
Re your question – It’s not a common practice to add eggs into the cucumber salad in Northern China, but I did had similar salad with eggs at a Yunnan restaurant before. I create a similar recipe later on: https://omnivorescookbook.com/recipes/asparagus-salad-with-mushroom-egg-glass-noodles
It’s not the type of eggs you mentioned but I think it creates a similar effect. It’s very delicious way to enjoy salad and I truly liked it 🙂
Thank you so much! I’ll definitely be trying both of these recipes out, and I can’t wait!
Excellent recipe, the best for this dish that I’ve found.
Very good recipe. I’m making one alteration to the recipe. I’m multiplying the sauce ingredients by 8 so I can have a pint jar of this dressing on hand all the time.
Just made it, it is great!
Simple and delicious – it tastes just like the dish my mom made growing up. Thanks for making this so accessible!
So easy and so good! Will be making again
I have not eaten such a delicious salade for a long time
Yum this came out exactly how I remembered it in Chinese restaurants from when I grew up in Queens, NY. I live in jersey shore area now and not many good Asian places. Thanks so much, this totally hit the spot!
Just made it! Very easy and yummy. First recipe from your website. I’ll let you know later if my boyfriend (Taiwanese) approves.
I always order this dish in a local Chinese restaurant and I have wondered how to make it for a while. I agree it goes well with everything and is a great balance to spicier or richer dishes as it is so refreshing. It is always hot and humid here in Jakarta!
We love this recipe so much. It tastes just like our local noodle restaurant’s but I can make as much as I want! We are having it tonight with your Hiananese chicken and rice. CAN’T WAIT!
This recipe is so tasty. I used garlic chili oil instead of adding garlic separately. The liquid was so good that I hated to waste it, so I ended up pouring the leftover liquid over rice. I think the liquid would make a good sauce for a Chinese stir fry dish actually.
Make, eat, repeat!!! Done it many times, very easy and tasty
Yikes. I followed the recipe but it just seems way too salty. I’m omitting the salt next time. Soy sauce is already salty enough. Also felt like way too much dressing for 1 cucumber. Going to do the same amount for 3 cucumbers next time.
Great recipe, I salt and drain water from the cucumbers first, then the sauce over them is absolutely gorgeous, thank you
Yet another excuse to use chili crisp. My wife is from Wuxi and she makes a cucumber salad similar but we never put chili crisp in it though she and I eat it like an addiction. We’ll have to try it next time and make it with your dressing, its sounds delicious.
Great quick and easy recipe.
I love this recipe so much, I could eat an entire bowl of it myself!
Very easy and good. I love cooking your recipes1
I was turning to this recipe every other week in lockdown here in Shanghai. The government was sending us cucumbers and garlic often, and I made this every time! Now that lockdown is over, I made sure to go out and buy some lao gan ma to add to it when I make it again. 🙂
Wow I’m so happy to hear the recipe helped during the lockdown. Yes to lao gan ma! I think it really makes everything tastes better 🙂
Love cucumber salad! Would a few drops of Sriracha Sauce work for the added heat?
Yes you can!
This was so delicious! I will be making again and again
I’m usually sceptical of things containing anything vinegar but I sourced the recommended brand + chili paste and made a decent batch of this salad alongside a couple other dishes for a bigger dinner party. Like advertised, almost all was gone very quickly! I was careful to add the sauce at the very end but we happily enjoyed the ‘well-marinated’ leftovers the day after too. The only minus of the whole recipe was that the neighbours were probably not too happy with my hammering of the poor and defenceless cucumbers, but this is definitely a side I’ll be making again. Thank you for the recipe!