A Fresh Concept: the New Age Era for Salads

A decade ago, a hearty salad was an unfamiliar concept, and Dongguan was yet to introduce the foundations for greatness in the form of a cool, crisp bed of leaves & everything in between.

When you think of a salad, what image comes to mind? A few measly green lettuce leaves? A simple garden salad? I remember being a teen and seeing that mental picture at the mention of “salad.” It was all about meat and pasta, bread and cheese. Who seriously wanted to dine on dry arugula or cold red cabbage? However, with today’s food and beverage industry booming with numerous options, and competition among restaurateurs, the success of salad has gradually gained a steady incline with more people caring about consuming nutritional meals.

Getting the good stuff is something that has always been important, and will continue to be, however it seems to now be trendier than ever. With the increased number of dedicated gym-goers, aspiring bodybuilders and the prevalent era of the selfie, strict diets and balanced lifestyles are prioritized greatly by many these days.

January is of course renowned for being that time of year, where many people focus on their commitments to New Year’s resolutions, or at least consider making some lifestyle changes or improvements. Although many of us will admit that we could make healthier choices by eating balanced meals at the right time of day, living in the heart of Dongguan means we have a plethora of deliciously rich food and inexpensive food—especially via China’s food delivery service, Meituan Waimai—and sometimes it’s hard to say no! Similarly, a lot of Dongguaners lead busy working routines, often resorting to fast food as a quick fix.

It’s no secret that it’s much simpler than we think to indulge and be healthy simultaneously, you just need to know where to go. And that doesn’t mean eating salad every day—variety and moderation is the key to a healthy diet. With these restaurants, diversity means that there is something tantalizing for all palates. Lighter or more satisfying options, as well as warm salads and seasonal dishes at selected restaurants means that all tastes can be accommodated, even during winter.

Anyway, back to those mental images of a stingy plate of greenery. If you would consider yourself a somewhat connoisseur of salads, or even if you have only dabbled a little with decent eateries, you will know that indeed, you can most definitely find a delicious and satisfying salad, even in Dongguan. They have been adapted to follow Western trends and not only match the taste buds of those who enjoy their green fix, but also cater for those who don’t. Think about various restaurants all over the globe whereby you have tasted a salad and truly enjoyed it. A real, wholesome salad. Sustenance in the form of avocado, quinoa or barley, texture from crispy leaves or croutons with herbs and assorted beans for extra protein. Delicate smoked salmon and palatable marinades or crusts coating meat or fish; tanginess from a quality balsamic vinegar. Not to mention homemade dressings. That, is a must.

Salads of 2019 are coming in top with quality ingredients, generous portions, creative combinations and unique flavors. And that has moved its way over to Dongguan—a place that used to be a stranger to the concept of salad as its own entity. These novel salads are nutritious, delicious, and shaping the way we eat and think, providing a better-quality lifestyle.

Green Salad
Green Salad by name, but not by nature. Presented elegantly, Green Salad’s dishes offer variety and quality with well-balanced options. Having been situated opposite Dongcheng’s Walking Street since late 2016, Green Salad also has a pick-up and delivery service in Nancheng, as well as a new branch in Shenzhen in the pipeline. Truly tasty, their meats and vegetables are accompanied by grains or pasta. Most salads are priced between 40 and 60 RMB, which may seem a bit steep, however for a gourmet salad, it’s most certainly justified.

“We use organically sourced vegetables from a farm in Yunnan,” explained Rainie along with Jack, the co-owners. Their cold and warm dishes are crafted with delectable homemade dressings. The smoked salmon salad from the menu is complemented perfectly by a lemon yoghurt sauce. Similarly, the avocado and pumpkin salad features an aromatic vinaigrette, the ideal accompaniment to seabass with crispy skin. For something more filling, the Japanese salad is a myriad of flavors.

Dining in at Green Salad is a culinary experience in itself. A minimal design with plants makes for a relaxed yet lifted setting. Lemon water is always provided at the counter for customers, and each table offers Himalayan pink salt and pepper grinders, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Ordering your food delivery on Meituan just doesn’t provide the same experience!

Featured: Avocado Kale Smoked Salmon Salad & Couscous (¥50)
Japanese Seabass Fish Soup Rice Salad with Vegetables (¥42)
Avocado Pumpkin & Seabass Fish Salad with Vinaigrette (¥45)
Highlights: Warm salads, homemade dressings, cold-pressed juice, the setting
Location: No. 210, Qifeng Garden, Lifeng Road, No. 188 Dongcheng Avenue

Situated on the first floor of Moon Bay Plaza, VeggieBox relocated from Dynacity Mall in 2018. They boast a menu divided into Western and Asian dishes, giving the menu a sense of identity. VeggieBox serves nutritious food as “a hearty meal” as founder, Danny Wang described. The restaurant first opened in summer 2015, with potential for franchising in the future.

With a regularly updated menu, creations are devised as a result of Danny’s overseas traveling experiences and influence from a Canadian chef and talents from the U.S. and Australia. Local and seasonal ingredients are incorporated. The highlight for me, was the addictively good Gado-gado style peanut sauce served with “healthy fried rice” made with quinoa, embellished with little gems of pepper and onion. The citrus wild rice on the other hand was a little sweet for me personally. However, the chili lemon chicken served alongside it had a really great flavor.

Slightly pricey for a salad, the roast beef dish features marinated and roasted beef, mushroom brown rice, sautéed vegetables, an egg and nuts for a balanced and tasty lunch or dinner. Yes—you read that right, a salad for dinner.

Interestingly, both the online restaurant menu and the menu instore provide detailed dietary information, which is very handy for those who have a complex diet. Lemon water is on display and will be kindly served to you when your glass looks almost empty, or try a coffee or fresh juice.

Featured: Roast Beef Mushroom Brown Rice with Sautee Salad (¥55)
Pineapple Chicken Fried Quinoa with Gado-Gado Salad (¥46)
Water Boiled Veggie Salad with Citrus Wild Rice and Chili Lemon Chicken Breast (¥48)
Highlights: Homemade sauces, nutritional info, menu
Location: Moon Bay Plaza Dongcheng, Ground Floor

Hello Salad
Since its inception in 2014, Hello Salad has built its reputation and customer base, having emerged as what is known locally as being a “trendy shop.” Arguably the first salad restaurant in Dongguan, many Chinese will visit to dine in and take photographs. The first thing that caught my eye about the place was the large arrangement of paper cups assorted to spell the word “Hello” on the far wall. According to the owner, Conan, he wanted to create an inviting environment.

Interestingly, Hello Salad’s customization concept actually stems from Conan having worked at a Subway eatery while studying in Manchester in the U.K. However, set meals are prepared for those who wish to try something already established. “They don’t see the work that gets done in the early hours of the morning, it takes a lot to run a restaurant,” Conan explained. His inspiration for the salads derives from his traveling experiences, not just the U.K. but also Italy, Denmark and Iceland.

The tofu in the high fiber salad provides a protein-rich alternative to meat. Lemon and curry coated chicken tasted truly delicious, ideal with cherry tomatoes and greens. If you like seafood, the fish medley is for you. It was remarkable to discover that nine months ago when I personally messaged Hello Salad’s account to ask them if they would consider ditching the plastic cutlery served when dining in, they actually did.

Featured: Lemon Chicken Salad (¥40)
High Fiber Salad (¥31)
Seafood Salad (¥41)
Highlights: The concept, responding to customer feedback, cold-pressed juice
Location: Xingxi Plaza, Dongcheng (next to Starbucks)
东城星玺广场 (星巴克旁)

SALADBAR was first founded toward the end of 2014 in Shilong Town, Dongguan. After two years of operation, a second branch was unveiled inside of Dynacity Mall, Dongcheng. Following this, a third branch was opened in Liaobu Town during early last year. The cool thing about SALADBAR is that each restaurant has its own signature style: girl style, industrial style, Nordic style.

We visited the Dynacity Mall branch, with an industrial design. Customize your salad or try a set dish, with ten assorted homemade sauces and dressings. Vegetables are transported directly from farm cars to various branches, and fruit juices are 100% pure press, all mirroring the same concept. An ingenious self-service station displays a large lemon water dispenser, plates, cutlery in napkins and environmentally-friendly reusable cups.

The salmon avocado plateful priced at a reasonable 38 RMB incorporates seaweed—a novel addition. Accompanied by shrimp and cashews, the beef salad surf ‘n’ turf makes for a protein-packed dish.

KK, the founder of SALADBAR, interestingly used to be a TV presenter when she first became a restaurateur. For a while, she managed both jobs before she realized that SALADBAR was her passion, and quit TV presenting. Traveling to different countries has influenced KK’s food and brand design, as has seeing diverse eateries all over social media such as Instagram. “I will choose food and design products by asking my colleagues and friends if they like them,” KK explained.

Featured: Chile Beef Salad (¥38)
Tuna Crab Salad (¥29)
Salmon Avocado Salad (¥38)
Highlights: The setting , environment-friendly, cold-pressed juice
Location: 2nd Floor Dynacity Mall, Dongcheng

Besides the Dongcheng store, Calories also has a smaller store in Nancheng and plans to combine the two in Nancheng later this year. This place is not only great for those on a budget, but also those with physique goals. Calories’ nutritionist, Jon, is an advocate for good health, commenting, “Actually, some unfortunate occurrences could be prevented with a healthy diet.”

Many regular customers who go to the gym and have a basic knowledge on nutrition visit the restaurant and preorder, too. The menu includes in-depth dietary details for all its generously portioned dishes and homemade dressings. Kimchi certainly makes the chicken noodle salad pop with tangy flavor, and irresistibly fragrant Thai sauce drizzled over the grilled chicken salad was a match made in heaven. Slivers of radish and green beans adorn the beef salad, pleasing the eyes before the palate.

Featured: Grilled Chicken & Mixed Bean Salad (¥26)
Japanese Noodles and Chicken Salad (¥28)
Potato Baby Melon Beef Salad (¥32)
Highlights: Nutritional info, homemade dressings, portion size
Location: No. 153, Dongping street, Yong Hua Ting, Dongcheng

1&3 Salad
Despite currently having a Chinese-only menu, this restaurant is a charming little spot, and a bilingual menu could be on the horizon. Sizeable amounts are well-priced, so you get your money’s worth. 1&3 Salad uses organic lettuce leaves, promising quality and store-bought dressings are given a twist. A tasty citrus dressing went well with the rainbow-like roast chicken salad. The Deep-Sea Salad including crab, smoked salmon, tuna and roe, sets you back at just 38 RMB, with a sauce of your choice. The asparagus salad with egg and shrimp also contains pasta for a nice fill.

Situated close to the new DG Mall in Nancheng, 1&3 Salad presents an intimate setting, with quaint décor, earthy tones and notable features. The precious love story behind the concept of 1&3 was formed through the union of high school sweethearts—Felix and Bonnie—the two owners of the store. “We don’t wish to go commercial,” Felix humbly explained.

Featured: Deep-Sea Salad (¥38)
Asparagus Shrimp Egg Salad (¥32)
Quinoa Roast Chicken Diced Vegetables Salad (¥30)
Highlights: Portion size, the setting, environment-friendly
Location: Shop No.5, Dao Hua Cun, Nancheng

Ex Salad
New to the scene, Ex Salad stepped into the market in September 2018. Almost solely focused on their delivery service, Ex Salad aims to develop its brand and, in doing so, introduce better circumstances for dining in the restaurant in the future. According to the store owner, Yi Long, “Our store is out of the way, so the rent is lower than others. This means we can make quality food with cheaper prices.” With some input from a nearby trendy shop, the store also sees regular orders from local gyms cooperating with them.

Using fresh vegetables, food is well presented and placed into environmentally-friendly boxes. Ex’s homemade chili sauce is oddly addictive and great for the metabolism!

Featured: White Fish Salad (¥27)
Chicken Salad (¥25)
Vegetarian Salad (¥19)
Highlights: Great value, environment-friendly
Location: No. 76, Jinbao Road, Dongcheng