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Fresh, Healthy + Delicious

A Hong Kong resident adapts her favorite Southeast Asian salads for her own kitchen

Words by Natasha Lawler | Photographs by Johnson Liu

The truth is the food in Hong Kong is amazing! Since moving here last year, my husband and I have had some of the best Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese, Japanese, French and even Southern comfort food here. There are some really beautiful establishment-type restaurants here, as well as incredibly intimate private kitchens and everything in between. The only cuisine Hong Kong is missing is Mexican—we always head straight for tacos when we're back in the United States.

The biggest adjustment we faced after moving to Asia is that because of China’s food safety concerns, restaurants here will boast about “jet fresh” ingredients, just flown in from Australia or the United States—a sharp contrast from the Chez Panisse-inspired locavore restaurants we were used to patronizing in San Francisco.

You can find almost every ingredient you want here in Hong Kong, but you may pay a small fortune for it. While I avoid purchasing meat from China that has been sitting out all day, I will frequently buy local mango, spring onions, pomelo or cabbage at relatively cheap prices. This has encouraged me to cook as the locals do, using meat sparingly and embracing native produce.

Most recently I set out on a mission to study and recreate my favorite Southeast Asian salads in my own kitchen. My husband is allergic to lettuce of all things—I kid you not—and I love salad. While traveling through Southeast Asia, we quickly became obsessed with the healthy and fresh non-lettuce salads found in the region. They really are special and something we had rarely encountered back in the States.

After tasting local salads in Koh Samui, Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and Angkor Wat, not to mention numerous recipe creation attempts, I feel ready to speak with a little more authority on the subject, albeit as a home cook.

The secret to these salads is the complicated interplay of spicy, sour, salty and sweet flavors that comes from the dressing. These salads are fabulously healthy; unlike most dressings that rely on a three-to-one oil to vinegar ratio, this dressing turns that ratio on its head.

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