March 28, 2013

Chinese Pickles 酸瓜

cantonese, chinese, cucumber, pickle, pickles, 酸瓜, vinegar, recipe, vegetable
By Published: 2013-03-28
Did you know that the Chinese love pickles too?  There are all kinds of chinese pickles, or 酸瓜, from all the different provinces of China.  In Sichuan they even have special pickling jars! 

cantonese, chinese, cucumber, pickle, pickles, 酸瓜, vinegar, recipe, vegetable
Chinese Pickling Urn
(Image from The Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo)

Here is the description of chinese pickling jars from the wonderful cookbook The Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo (illustration also from the book):  
"Home pickling was so important in Chinese households that special porcelain urns were made from the kilns of Kwangsi province.  Measuring about 3 feet in height and 1 foot in diameter, the beautiful blue-white jar, resembling a vase, was ingeniously designed for perfect functioning.  

Around the neck was a deep cup into which water was poured.  When the cover, shaped like a deep rice bowl, was placed over this cup its rim was submerged in about 2 inches of water, thereby preventing air from seeping in but allowing the gas of fermentation to escape through the water as the brine aged."  
Wouldn't I just love to have one of these beautiful pickling urns in my house if I could only find a couple inches of space to spare!

cantonese, chinese, cucumber, pickle, pickles, 酸瓜, vinegar, recipe, vegetable

The kind I like to eat, however, are not the Sichuan type, otherwise known as the spicy kind.  I like those cool vinegary sweet pickles, kind of similar to the dill pickles that I grew up with.  And also similar to the 花瓜 or 脆瓜, those oh so! crunchy yummy soy sauce Hua Gua chinese pickles which are a favorite of my mother's.  (I think it is a very popular treat in Taiwan where my mom grew up.) 

Here I have made the Cantonese style chinese pickles which are easy to make and keep at home, plus my little girl just loves them.  These also are an excellent side dish to add to a chinese family style meal, a vinegary/sweet appetizer or palate cleaner so to speak.

cantonese, chinese, cucumber, pickle, pickles, 酸瓜, vinegar, recipe, vegetable
cantonese, chinese, cucumber, pickle, pickles, 酸瓜, vinegar, recipe, vegetable

Here's some chinese radish (also known as daikon) pickle that we made the same way.  For radish pickle you need to wait a bit longer before eating as the peppery "bite" of the radish takes longer to mellow out.  Hope you like them as much as we do!

These pickles go great with a congee meal!  See our delicious Congee recipe and Hua Gua pickle recipe.

A note on produce:  We use organic carrots which have really fantastic taste. Of course not all organic carrots are created equal but you can search for better stuff.  

For the cucumber, we used English cucumbers here, I think the smaller cucumbers known as Japanese cucumbers are also very good.  Don't use the regular cucumbers, I think they are called Garden Cucumbers as they are too watery and pretty tasteless and have alot of seeds you have to get rid of.  Your chinese pickling cucumber should be nice and firm, hard to the grip.  The harder the fresher.  (smirk...but seriously!)  We've tried the organic cucumber but the ones available here don't taste very good.
Chinese Cantonese Pickles Recipe 酸瓜
(Prep time: 5 mins  Salting time: 30 mins Pickling time: overnight)

You may need a  Glass Jar for pickling

  • 2 cucumbers
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup of Rice Vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar( we use Raw Sugar )
  • 2 slices ginger 


Peel carrot and wash the cucumbers.  Slice everything into approx. 2 inch lengths by 1/4 inch thickness.  Put into large bowl with salt and toss.  Let stand for at least 1/2 hour.  Drain off extruded water until dry as possible.  

Place one of the ginger slices on bottom.  Pack the vegetables into your pickling jar in alternating patterns or whatever you like.  Put the other ginger slice on top.  Mix the sugar into the vinegar in a bowl and stir until the sugar is melted.  Pour over vegetables until covered.  Pour in a bit more vinegar to top up if necessary.  

Close jar and put in the fridge overnight.  It's ready to eat the next day but the flavor will improve as time goes by.

We just add vegetables to the jar as it empties, remembering to salt it first to draw out the moisture, topping up with fresh rice vinegar/sugar mix as needed.  Constant chinese pickle fix!



  1. Looks great, I will be trying this out tonight.

    Since you add more vegetables until it empties, when will it be neccessary to replace the vinegar solution altogether?

    Many thanks again for the recipe

    1. Hey there,
      I think you could top it up with proportionate vinegar/sugar mix about two or three times after the first preparation and still keep the fresh pickled taste. Be sure to add a fresh slice of ginger each time. After that I would just use a fresh mix for the pickles. Hope you enjoy your chinese pickles!

  2. I have eaten Chinese Cantonese pickles several times, I have addicted to that taste. Thanks for the recipe also.

    1. You're very welcome! They are addictive little snacks aren't they?

  3. How long would these pickles last in the fridge?

    1. Two to three weeks is okay. But be sure to use clean dry chopsticks when getting pickles out of the jar! ~ellen

  4. But a smiling visitor here to share the love (:,
    btw great style.

  5. Easy to make, and it was delicious served with some char siew to balance out the richness. Thank you for sharing the recipe.

  6. Hey sugarplum -so glad you enjoyed your pickles! Happy Chinese New Year! ~ellen

  7. hi i tried this recipe but when i mixed the sugar and vinegar, the sugar didn't completely dissolve and there was a little left that just refused to mix. Is that alright or would it cause problems?

    1. It's fine, it won't cause any problems. But if you like, next time you could heat up the vinegar a tad and then mix in the sugar. That will help sugar melt quicker and more completely. Just be sure to wait for the solution to cool completely before adding to the veggies. ~ellen