Asian salads are a far cry from the green
salads on Western menus. They may be more like a relish or salsa,
piquant and used as an accent; or they can be an entire meal, combining
raw and lightly cooked vegetables, fried bean curd, slivers of cooked
meats and a dressing or sauce which ties the ingredients together, as in
gado-gado with its celebrated peanut sauce; or urap, steamed
vegetables dressed with fresh grated coconut, dried shrimp paste and
In all of the Pacific countries, there is a
raw fish salad by one name or another, the fish marinated in lime juice
until it turns white and opaque, then dressed with fresh coconut milk
and raw onions. China has its cold platters with thinly sliced cooked
meats, but these are banquet platters, not usually part of an everyday
Korean cuisine includes namul and saingchai,
two categories of dishes which can be said to resemble salads since they
combine fruits and vegetables, which are sometimes raw, and use a
dressing of crushed toasted sesame seeds, soy, vinegar, sesame oil,
pepper, sugar, salt and sometimes chili and garlic.
Japan offers aemono and sunomono with cold
sauces which could be described as salad-type dishes. They are served in
tiny portions as an appetizer before the meal. They may include fish or
shellfish, seaweed, sliced or shredded raw vegetables, or lightly
steamed vegetables. Dressings are made from mild rice vinegar, crushed
sesame seeds, tofu or a thick, oil-free dressing which looks like
mayonnaise. The portions are never the serving size of a Western salad.
In Malaysia a traditional dish which might
fit the description of a rice salad is simply steamed rice mixed with
many different kinds of finely shredded fragrant herbs including such
exotics as leaves of aromatic ginger, turmeric, kaffir lime, basil,
Vietnamese mint, stem of lemon grass, bulb of shallot, and bud of torch
ginger. This is usually served with a relish and dry curry.
It is in Thai cuisine that salads (yam) are
given most prominence, combining fruits both ripe and unripe,
vegetables, seafood, meat, leaves and flowers - lotus and rose petals,
no less. The dressing will always be piquant with lime, hot with chili,
and salty with fish sauce.
Raw, tender leaf-tips gathered from hedges
and trees by those who know their species, are an important part of the
meal, and are a vital source of vitamins and minerals in Asian diets.
They may be tossed with flavored oil, toasted sesame seeds, fried
garlic, fish sauce and a good squeeze of lime juice. Or they may be
dipped into a pungent sauce such as the various nam priks of Thailand.
Indian salads may include small portions of
fresh tomatoes, onions and chilies, seasoned with salt and lime juice,
and used as a fresh relish. Yogurt 'salad' known as raitas can include
fried lentil drops, diced boiled potato and beetroot, sprouted mung
beans, sliced ripe banana, cooked spinach or okra, fried eggplant (aubergine),
sliced or diced raw cucumber or a mixture of any vegetables in season.
The yogurt itself is the dressing, seasoned with fried mustard seeds,
crushed toasted cumin seeds, salt, sugar, chili powder and garam masala.
Salads in Asia may be called rojak or yam or
mallun or ahthoke depending on which country you are in. One thing they
have in common is that they are fresh-tasting, perhaps a little more
fiery than one expects of a dish in the category of salad, and feature
unexpected combinations of ingredients.