Chinese Cucumber Garlic

This Chinese-style garlicky cucumber salad is a staple recipe in my home and one that I think everyone should know how to make! It’s a simple yet delicious vegetarian side dish – savory, tangy, slightly sweet, and very garlicky!

This recipe was inspired by a restaurant called Nan Xiang located in my hometown Flushing, Queens. I always ordered their cucumber garlic salad on the side to enjoy with hot and steamy soup dumplings! While this is not an exact copycat, it’s very similar, and I’m so happy I can make this whenever I’m craving it at home.

I love quick and effortless side dishes like this, especially for days when I don’t feel like cooking. This is also a great option to have when I need to have more vegetables with my meals. 

So if you’re looking for a refreshing vegetable side dish, you should give this recipe a try!

Why you’ll love this recipe

This Chinese cucumber garlic side dish is not only easy and delicious, it requires minimal cooking. All you’ll need to do is a bit of chopping, mixing, and heating the oil! Plus, this can be made in advance and stored in the fridge where you can enjoy it whenever you like. 

The combination of soy sauce, black vinegar, sugar, and garlic creates a perfect balance of sweet, umami, and acidic flavors that complement the cucumbers deliciously. Despite its complex flavors, this cucumber garlic recipe can be enjoyed with almost any meal – and it only takes 30 minutes to whip up! 

The soy sauce, black vinegar, and sesame oil are a staple combination. And while it is delicious, there’s always room to experiment with ingredients and flavors that you enjoy or might be curious to try!

Like most recipes, this side dish can be customizable and altered based on what you enjoy and what you’re craving.

For example, you can take the original sauce in the recipe up a notch by adding some heat. Chili flakes, gochugaru, or chili oil are great options to elevate the sauce. For an easy homemade chili oil recipe, check out my Korean Chili Oil recipe made with ginger and scallion-infused oil and gochugaru. 

How do I prepare Chinese Cucumber Garlic?

To make this easy and delicious cucumber garlic side dish, follow the instructions below!

Step 1: Cut the cucumbers.

Cut the cucumbers into thirds. Then, cut each third into quarters.

Step 2: Salt the cucumbers.

Transfer the cucumbers to a small mixing bowl and add salt. Make sure to mix them well together before setting them aside for 20 minutes. This is a process called ‘sweating’, where the salt draws out the excess moisture from the cucumbers making it extra crunchy. 

Step 3: Infuse the garlic with oil.

While waiting for the cucumbers, place the minced garlic in a heat-proof bowl. 

In a pan, heat oil until it’s hot and smoking. Carefully pour the hot oil over the garlic.

Step 4: Drain the cucumber.

After 20 minutes, drain the cucumber slices and pat them dry with a paper towel.

Step 5: Season the cucumber.

Transfer the cucumber to a clean mixing bowl. Add soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, black vinegar, MSG, and garlic oil to the cucumber.

Step 6: Mix the ingredients together.

Toss the cucumber and seasoning well to ensure each slice is evenly coated. At this point, taste for seasoning and make adjustments as needed. 

Step 7: Garnish and serve.

Once you’re satisfied with the taste, garnish the cucumber with chopped cilantro. Serve and enjoy!

Preparation Tips for Chinese Cucumber Garlic

Considering you won’t need to do much cooking for this dish, its preparation is as easy as it will get. But to help make the process smoother and the most delicious side dish every time, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • The best cucumbers to use for this recipe are Persian or Indian cucumbers. Unlike other cucumber varieties like English cucumbers, they are thin and slender with an edible skin. 
  • ‘Sweating’ the cucumbers in salt is an essential step in this process. It helps to draw out excess moisture from within the cucumber which creates a crunchy texture. This process will also prevent the side dish from accumulating water as it sits in the sauce. 
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate) is the secret to making this taste like the restaurants do. It adds umami and makes it irresistibly good. A little bit is all you need!
  • While you can enjoy this right away, it’ll be more flavorful if you let it marinade in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Keep in mind that the longer it sides, the more flavorful it will be!
  • Feel free to make a big batch and enjoy it throughout the week. These are dangerously delicious and I guarantee you they will go quickly. 

Ingredients and Substitutions

Persian or Indian cucumbers: Persian or Indian cucumbers are the star of this dish, so it’s important you use the freshest cucumbers you can find. While they are ideal for this recipe, you can substitute them with Kirby cucumbers. I don’t recommend using other cucumber varieties like English cucumbers because they have tough and bitter skin. 

Salt: salt is used to pull out the excess moisture from the cucumbers

Cilantro: cilantro adds a bright flavor and freshness to round out the dish. If you’re not a fan of cilantro and think it tastes like soap, you’re a weirdo. Lol I’m just kidding. You can just skip the cilantro altogether. 

Garlic cloves: garlic enhances the flavors of the side dish and while I personally like this super garlicky, feel free to use as much or as little as you prefer. If you’re concerned that the garlic will be too overpowering, just remember that the hot oil will help mellow out some of the spice and rawness of the garlic. 

Neutral oil: any neutral oil will work well for infusing garlic cloves, including corn, canola, avocado, sunflower seed, grapeseed, vegetable, or peanut oil.

Soy sauce: soy sauce builds the salty and umami flavors of the dish. You can also use low-sodium soy sauce for a less-salty dish. 

Sugar: the sugar helps to balance out the saltiness of the cucumbers. I recommend using white sugar as it’s the most neutral tasting. 

Sesame oil: sesame oil will add a nutty and bold flavor to the dish. To amplify and complement the sesame oil, you can also add some sesame seeds. 

Chinese black vinegar: the Chinese black vinegar adds a sharp and acidic flavor to the dish. It has a distinct taste that is described as fruity, malty, and sweet. You can substitute Chinese black vinegar with rice vinegar or white wine vinegar. 

MSG (Monosodium glutamate): using MSG in the dish is completely optional, but highly recommended! It adds an extra layer of umami flavor. If you want to make it like the restaurant, don’t skip this!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are some cucumbers bitter?

The bitter taste of the cucumbers comes from a compound called cucurbitacin. The best way to minimize its bitter taste is to peel the cucumbers, which is commonly done with English cucumbers before serving.

Now the great thing about using Persian and Indian cucumbers is that the bitterness is significantly toned down, making them more enjoyable to eat compared to other cucumber varieties. These cucumbers can be eaten with the skin, which cuts down the prep time as well. With that being said, I highly recommend using Persian or Indian cucumbers for this recipe!

Why do you add salt to the cucumbers?

Adding salt to the cucumbers is a process called ‘sweating’ that draws out excess moisture. It makes them extra crunchy and also prevents the cucumbers from releasing water into the sauce, which will dilute the flavors and make them less flavorful.

It’s also important to pat the cucumbers dry with paper towels after draining to ensure you get rid of the leftover moisture. 

What does pouring hot oil on garlic do?

Pouring hot oil on minced garlic will lightly cook them to enhance their flavor and aroma. This also extracts the garlic flavor resulting in a more flavorful oil. Alternatively, you can also cook the garlic in oil for 2 to 3 minutes to extract more of its flavor, but the risk of burning the garlic is higher if you don’t keep a close eye on it. But whichever method you prefer to do, the end goal is to enhance the flavors and aroma of the dish using garlic. 

What does Chinese black vinegar taste like?

If you’re unfamiliar with Chinese black vinegar, it has a more complex flavor than regular vinegar. It has a distinct acidic and umami flavor tied with the taste of licorice and a hint of sweetness. You can find it in any Asian supermarket or on Amazon. You won’t regret keeping a bottle of black vinegar in stock because you can also add it to dressings, salads, noodles, or meat dishes.

Chinese black vinegar is also commonly used in noodle dishes like my Easy Chili Oil Noodles recipe and dipping sauces for dumplings. 

Can you store Chinese Cucumber Garlic in the fridge?

If you have any leftover Chinese Cucumber Garlic, you can store it in the fridge for up to 5 days. Just be sure to keep it in an airtight container so it stays fresh for longer. Remember that the longer the cucumber is stored, the more flavorful it will be because the cucumbers have more time to marinate in the sauce.

Looking for more easy & delicious Chinese-inspired recipes? 

You can try these dishes out for your next meal:

1. Char Siu Noodle Soupthis recipe is a childhood favorite of mine because it brings me comfort and joy. It’s made with juicy char siu pork, flat wide rice noodles, and vegetables – perfect for warming you up.

2. Lap Cheong Fried Ricespice up your leftover rice with this hot and savory fried rice recipe. You can customize whichever vegetable toppings you like to add, but Chinese sausage or lap cheong is an absolute must!

3. Shrimp Pan Fried Noodleyou can now make this dim sum staple at home and even better. The crunchy noodles are smothered with thick seafood gravy and topped with succulent shrimp, making it a dish you’ll surely remember.

4. Impossible Mapo Tofu if you’re looking for a spicy meal, you have to give this recipe a try. It’s spiced with Thai chili peppers, dried red chili peppers, ground Sichuan peppercorns, and chili oil, making it notorious for being a rice killer. Best of all, it’s vegan!

5. Hong Kong French Toast if you’re looking for something sweet to brighten up your day, indulge yourself in this delectable treat. This Hong Kong French Toast recipe is slathered with peanut butter then shallow fried and drizzled with condensed milk. Perfect for any time of day!

5 from 2 votes

Chinese Cucumber Garlic

Servings 4 people
Prep Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes


  • 5 Persian cucumbers
  • tsp salt
  • cilantro chopped for garnish

Garlic Oil

  • 6 garlic cloves minced
  • 3 tbsp neutral oil


  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1  tsp sugar
  • 1/4  tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp black vinegar substitute with rice vinegar
  • 1/8  tsp msg optional


  • Cut the cucumbers into thirds. Then cut each third into quarters.
  • Transfer the cucumbers to a bowl and add salt. Mix together well and set aside for 20 minutes.
  • In the mean time, place the minced garlic in a heat-proff bowl. Heat up the oil until hot and carefully pour it over the garlic.
  • After 20 minutes, drain the cucumber and pat dry with a paper towel.
  • To the drained and dried bowl of cucumber, add soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, black vinegar, msg and garlic oil.
  • Toss everything together to combine well.
  • Garnish with chopped cilantro.
  • *Optional* Let the cucumber sit in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to develop
  • Enjoy!
Course: Appetizer, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Chinese

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