Tiger Salad (Lao Hu Cai) Recipe, à la Xi'an Famous Foods

Savory, refreshing, and tart, this dish is inspired by the lao hu cai, or "tiger vegetable salad," served at Xi'an Famous Foods.

Closeup of tiger salad, served on a speckled earthen ware plate.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Why This Recipe Works

  • Peeling the celery ribs ensures there are no stringy bits left in the salad.
  • Small dried shrimp add savory depth and pops of salinity in each bite.
  • Cutting the scallions and chili pepper on a bias makes it easier for diners to pick up the salad with chopsticks.

Some restaurant dishes are so good, you can't help but order them every time you have the opportunity. For me, the tiger vegetable salad at the New York–based chain Xi'an Famous Foods is one such dish. It features crisp-tender bits of celery, fragrant cilantro leaves and stems, scallions sliced on the bias, and a few slivers of spicy Longhorn peppers, all tossed with a sweet-salty sesame oil vinaigrette.

It's the perfect complement to everything on the menu; whether you order the cumin-lamb noodle soup, a plate of slippery liang pi (cold skin noodles), or a pork burger and a crowd of spinach dumplings, the tiger vegetable salad is hard to pass up, given just how well its cool spiciness fits with anything. But I've always thought that if the folks at Xi'an offered the vegetables undressed and the dressing on the side, as they do for the liang pi noodles, you could cart the salad home and serve it with any number of meals, from almost any cuisine—a tray of barbecue, say, or a platter of fried clams and fries, or a Japanese breakfast spread, even—and it would be just as complementary.

Of course, Xi'an Famous Foods isn't the only place where you can get this salad. The dish, called lao hu cai and sometimes translated as "tiger salad," appears on the menus of several restaurants focused on the cuisines of Northern China.

One of the most memorable versions I've had (which in no way supplants Xi'an's version in my heart, but is nevertheless very, very tasty) is the one at Fu Run, since the salad there comes topped with the small dried shrimp that Fuchsia Dunlop says are called "shrimp skin" in Chinese. You can find these at large Chinese-American supermarkets, in the section housing refrigerated dried seafood, or buy them online.

An earthenware pinch bowl of small "shrimp skin" dried shrimp.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

As I was cleaning out the staff fridge the other day, I discovered we had a crazy surplus of celery, cilantro, and scallions, so I figured it was high time to devise a recipe for tiger salad.

I make absolutely zero claims about the authenticity of this recipe. It's essentially an approximation of the salad Xi'an Famous Foods offers, but I added the dried-shrimp topping, just because I love the extra pops of shrimp-y saltiness in every other bite.

How to Make Tiger Salad

Overhead view of ingredients for tiger salad. From left to right: Celery, scallions, cilantro, long hot pepper, dried shrimp.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The main element of this salad is celery, which makes it a wonderful dish to have in your repertoire if you, like me, often find yourself with a surplus of celery. I love celery's flavor and use it in salads of all kinds, including this winter chicory salad. I even enjoy it in stir-fries, where it takes on a kind of bean-sprout quality, if you cut the celery ribs thinly on a bias.

Celery stalk with outer ribs removed.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

If you're breaking into a new head of celery for this recipe, I'd suggest removing the outer ribs and reserving them for another purpose. I tend to hold on to the outer ribs for stocks and broths, since they're a little woodier and peeling them takes a little more effort than peeling the interior ribs—and peel them you must.

Hands peeling celery rib with y-peeler

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Well, maybe not "must," but I am a very strong advocate for peeling celery; there are few things I find as irritating as a stringy bit of celery. You may not feel the same way, so it's up to you to decide if you're fine with leaving those stringy bits in your salad.

After I've cut the (peeled) celery into batons, I rip apart a small bundle of washed and spun cilantro, using my hands. I reserve any of the thicker stems for use in cooked dishes, or something like nam phrik.

You'll want the more tender stems of cilantro you use in the salad to be rather long, at least three inches. Then I slice some scallions thinly on a bias, to yield elongated rounds, and I do the same with the chili pepper. My local stores don't carry Longhorn peppers, but they do carry long hot peppers.*

You can use any pepper in this salad, from mild to spicy, but part of the dish's appeal is the contrast between the cool vegetables and the spiciness of the pepper slivers, so I strongly suggest trying it with a pepper that's on the spicy side.

Cutting these other vegetables on a bias greatly enhances the experience of eating the salad. The planks of celery, when picked up by a pair of chopsticks, serve to sandwich the cilantro stems, the scallions, and the hot pepper. If the cilantro stems are left long, and the thin slices of scallion and hot pepper are long, too, it requires no futzing at all to get a nice mix of vegetables in each bite.

Once all your vegetables are cut, toss them in a mixing bowl and make the dressing, which is so simple that it barely deserves a description—just stir together rice vinegar, salt, and sugar until the solids dissolve, then add soy sauce and sesame oil and stir again to combine. That's it.

Dress the salad, put it on a single serving plate (or divide it between two plates), and then, if you like, sprinkle over the top a couple tablespoons of those tiny dried shrimp.

It's a salad that transcends both season and cuisine, plus it's easy to make and it goes with everything. What's not to like?

June 2019

Recipe Details

Tiger Salad (Lao Hu Cai) Recipe, à la Xi'an Famous Foods

Active 5 mins
Total 5 mins
Serves 2 servings

Savory, refreshing, and tart, this dish is inspired by the lao hu cai, or "tiger vegetable salad," served at Xi'an Famous Foods.


  • 3 celery ribs (5 ounces; 140g), preferably cut from closer to the heart, peeled of tough fibers and cut into quite thick matchstick lengths

  • 1/2 long hot green pepper (1/2 ounce; 14g), split in half, each half then cut on a bias (see note)

  • 2 scallions, sliced thinly on a bias (2 ounces; 56g)

  • 1 small bunch cilantro leaves and tender stems, torn by hand or chopped into 3-inch lengths (1 ounce; 28g)

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) rice vinegar

  • 3/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; if using table salt, use half as much by volume

  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon soy sauce

  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

  • 2 tablespoons tiny dried shrimp (0.2 ounce; 6g); see note


  1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine celery, long hot green pepper, scallions, and chopped cilantro.

  2. In a small bowl, combine rice vinegar, salt, and sugar, then stir to dissolve the salt and sugar completely. Add soy sauce and sesame oil and stir to combine.

  3. Pour dressing over vegetables, tossing to ensure thorough distribution.

    Spoon drizzling dressing over tiger salad in a bowl

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  4. Mound vegetables on a serving plate and sprinkle dried shrimp all over the top. Serve immediately.

Special Equipment

Medium and small mixing bowls


You can use any chile pepper you like in this dish, or even bell pepper if you're averse to chili heat.

The tiny dried shrimp called for here can be found in well-stocked Chinese-American supermarkets, in the section housing refrigerated dried seafood, or ordered online.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
58 Calories
3g Fat
7g Carbs
2g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 2
Amount per serving
Calories 58
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 3g 3%
Saturated Fat 0g 2%
Cholesterol 6mg 2%
Sodium 721mg 31%
Total Carbohydrate 7g 3%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 2g
Vitamin C 19mg 93%
Calcium 63mg 5%
Iron 1mg 6%
Potassium 369mg 8%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)