老虎菜 (lǎo hǔ cài) literally translated means ‘tiger vegetables’. It is a very simple Dongbei coriander salad meant to be a stimulating side. In essence, Lao Hu Cai is the combination of coriander, green chillies, and spring onions. Because it is a household dish in Dongbei, there are numerous renditions. Some people add beancurd skin, some add cucumber, so you can get creative!
I was discussing the origin of the unusual name with my Dongbei friend. There are so many theories! One was that this salad is so rousing that after eating it you will be 生龙活虎 (active like a dragon or tiger). Another story suggests that this salad was actually accidentally concocted by a common girl who didn’t know how to cook. Her mother-in-law tasted her salad of random vegetables and commented that the girl was too “虎”. 虎 hǔ or tiger in Dongbei is also a way of describing someone who is a little silly and unpretentiously simple.
The most plausible theory, we decided, is that this coriander salad was prepared for 张作霖 (Zhāng Zuòlín), a famous general in the 1910s-1920s. He was also known as 东北虎 (Dōngběi hǔ) or the Tiger of Dongbei. The story goes that he was feeling poorly and did not want to eat, but this salad helped him regained his appetite again.
This tiger vegetables salad is super easy to make and is meant to be accompanied by other dishes. I love to eat this with plain pan-fried tofu and rice. The salad is spicy from the chillies and pungent from the raw spring onions. The coriander adds a lovely freshness and fragrance. It truly is so appetizing.