My recipe for this pretty, easy, and delicious cold salad is nearly 40 years ago, and comes from a friend who took a Chinese cooking class when we were stationed together in Japan and then generously shared the recipes with me. The salad, which is called three-color salad in Chinese, is called hiyashi chuka in Japanese, “chilled Chinese.” It is a summer staple in Chinese restaurants in Japan, served during the summer when it is too hot and humid to cook. Neighborhood restaurants there often offer home delivery, and on hot, steamy evenings when we lived off-base, it was a wonderful treat to call the restaurant down the street from us and have them bring this salad to us.
Hiyashi chuka is one of our family’s favorites, and our girls all informed me when they were young that I had to make it frequently for them. The salad can either be made in individual portions with the dressing added individually, or as one large salad which is mixed with the dressing after being brought to the table. The desired effect either way is to present a colorful composition that can be visually enjoyed before eating begins.
In Japan, the salad is made with raw ramen noodles called chukamen (instant ramen does not work for this), but my friend’s recipe called for rice vermicelli or mung bean noodles, sometimes called cellophane noodles. They are easy to prepare and don’t require cooking, only soaking in hot water. They can be found in the Asian section of many markets, at Asian markets, or can be purchased online. Toppings for hiyashi chuka can be varied, but the idea is to have at least three different items in three different colors. Traditional toppings include thin omelet strips, julienned or shredded cucumber, and julienned ham or Chinese barbecued pork. Shredded, chilled chicken breast also is delicious. Mung bean sprouts and julienned carrot can also be added, and in Japan, sliced tomatoes are usually included as well. Two types of dressings are traditionally served with this salad, either soy sauce or sesame flavor; the recipe below includes the soy sauce dressing.
The ingredients here make enough for two or three individual salads. The salad dressing should be enough even if the salad ingredients are doubled for a larger salad.
- 2 1/2 oz. rice vermicelli, rice sticks, or bean threads
- 1 cup thinly julienned ham or Chinese barbecue pork slices
- 1 English or Japanese cucumber, seeded and thinly julienned or shredded
- 1 egg
- pinch salt
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 3 TBSP rice vinegar
- 2 TBSP vegetable oil
- 2 TBSP soy sauce
- 1TBSP granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp mirin
- 1 tsp sesame oil
Blend the dressing ingredients together and chill. In a large bowl, pour boiling water over the vermicelli and let soak for at least 10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water, and then squeeze out extra moisture. Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut the softened noodles into 2″ pieces. Beat the egg with the salt; heat the vegetable oil in a small skillet and make a thin omelet with the beaten egg – do not fold the egg. Remove the circular omelet from the pan onto a plate or cutting board and let it cool, then slice into very thin strips. To assemble the salad, put the vermicelli onto a plate or shallow bowl and top with alternating wedge-shaped sections of egg, ham, pork or chicken, and cucumber (add in wedges of other ingredients if using). Keep the salad chilled until ready to serve. At the table pour the chilled dressing over the salad and toss just before serving, after diners have had a chance to admire the colorful composition.
Note: You can cut the dry vermicelli before soaking, but it’s a very messy operation, with noodle pieces flying all over the place. YaYu prefers to have her noodles left uncut, but they’re too long for Brett or I to handle.