What is it?

A crisp and crunchy coleslaw using the pale, softer wong nga bak (wong bok/wombok/Chinese cabbage) and a hot, sweet-and-sour Asian dressing instead of the traditional raw green cabbage and mayonnaise. Chefs use it to add freshness and crunch to steamed pork buns, Asian tacos and smoked meats.

 

Where is it?

''It's our number one best-selling salad,'' says head chef Alex Alice of Melbourne's multi-tasking Howler, part warehouse bar, part arts hub and part beer garden/diner. ''We use red cabbage and Chinese cabbage, roasted snake beans, Vietnamese mint, basil and coriander in a punchy, hot-and-sour red nam jim dressing and top it with crisp shallots and roasted cashews.''

In Sydney, the best antidote to the full-on, feed-the-man-meat barbecued smoked meats platter at hot new Papi Chulo in Manly is a super-refreshing Vietnamese slaw of red cabbage, Chinese cabbage, mint, coriander and Vietnamese mint dressed in a tangy nuoc cham of fish sauce, sugar, lime, water and vinegar. ''It's the traditional accompaniment to Vietnamese chicken congee and 'bun mang vit' duck and bamboo noodle soup,'' says Merivale Group chef Dan Hong. ''We needed a nice fresh slaw with fragrant herbs to cut the richness of the smoked meats.''

 

Why do I care?

Because it's one of those can't-stop-eating things that people go crazy about.

 

Can I do it at home?

Too easy. For a real crowd pleaser, add a packet of Chang's Fried Noodles at the last minute for an extra bit of crunch, or serve with Chinese barbecued pork or chicken.

Asian slaw

Toss the salad just before eating or the cabbage will soften too much.

500g Chinese cabbage

75g small red cabbage

100g carrot, peeled

3 green (spring) onions

100g snow peas

1 red chilli

1 cup coriander sprigs

1 cup mint leaves

1 cup Asian basil leaves

2 tsp soft brown sugar

2 tbsp rice vinegar

2 tbsp fish sauce or soy sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce

Sourcing

VIC Howler Melbourne, 7-11 Dawson Street, Brunswick, 9077 5572

NSW Papi Chulo, 22-23 East Esplanade, Manly Wharf, Manly, (02) 9240 3000

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and pepper

2 tbsp beer nuts or cashews, roughly chopped

1. Cut the Chinese cabbage in half, lengthwise, then finely shred crosswise.

2. Finely shred the red cabbage.

3. Cut the carrot into long shavings with a vegetable peeler then cut into long thin matchsticks.

4. Cut the spring onions, snow peas and chilli into long matchsticks. Toss with the cabbages, carrot, coriander, mint and basil.

5. To make the dressing, whisk the sugar and vinegar together, then whisk in the fish sauce, sesame oil, chilli sauce and olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Pour over the cabbage mixture and lightly toss, scatter with nuts and serve.

Serves 4 as salad