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The Kunming Cucumber Rickey


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It would be best to confess up front that I have finally caved in to popular demand. Here's the drink recipe for which you have all been clamoring. Cuba has its Mojito and Daquiri, Mexico is home of the Margarita, and Kunming boasts the Cucumber Rickey. As the days heat up it's difficult to resist a refreshing after-work libation. With one as crisp and clean as this ready to hand, your prayers have been answered. I promise not to tell if you have more than one. 


The ingredients, a short list, are at their best right now. Perfect time to buy: quality high; price low. What you will need per person, be it man, woman or child. (Wait. I got carried away. No children allowed at this party.)


1. One small lime -- 青柠檬

2. A half or a third of a cucumber, depending on size -- 黄瓜

3. Gin -- 1.5 ounces or maybe even 2 if you don't have many pressing items on your agenda this evening

4. Simple syrup -- A tablespoon for each ounce of gin. (Footnote below on how to make simple syrup.)

5. Club soda -- 苏打水


(Please click the photos to enlarge them.)


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We have three kinds of cucumber in the local wet market just now. First we have these large ones, as shown in the photo, which I call "English cucumbers." Then we also have the long, skinny "Asian" ones, the length of your forearm. They are smaller in diameter than these "English" ones, with a thicker and darker green skin plus more prominent bumps. The third kind is the smaller "Persian" cucumbers, which have dark, smooth skin. Any of these will do just fine; they are interchangeable here. Don't let yourself be bogged down in detail when pursuing this project. Forge ahead. Victory belongs to the bold.   


No need to remove the cucumber skin; just wash it well. Slice about a third of it into long, thin slivers, as shown. I use a ceramic-blade peeling tool; but I could use my trusty Chinese vegetable knife 菜刀 just about as well. 


Use one whole lime if they are small. Too much lime juice is better than not enough so err on the side of generosity instead of parsimony. I cut two or three wedges from the lime and squeeze the rest into my glass. I dice an additional inch or two of cucumber, putting it into the bottom of the glass along with the wedges of lime. 




Add a tablespoon of simple syrup for each ounce of gin. More if you like your drinks sweeter; none at all if you happen to be a purist. (A "how to" on simple syrup follows below.) 


Notice, if you please, that all these photos are streaked with long shadows. Please construe that as evidence that the sun is well over the yardarm and it's time for a little righteous alcoholic refreshment. 








Now muddle this all in the bottom of the glass with a roundish soup spoon or similar. Add the gin and crush everything up a little more. The idea is to coax the lime and cucumber to release their delicious essential oils so they can diffuse throughout the other ingredients and become part of the whole drink. Bartenders have an actual dedicated instrument for this, but I would suggest spending you hard earned cash on more gin instead of a silly single-use tool. 


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I first discovered this drink one very wet night in Kuala Lumpur when my plans got rained out and I took refuge in the rooftop bar to soothe my disappointment. Wind was lashing the palms outside by the pool, making quite a racket. I could barely hear the mellow jazz coming over the speakers. This drink is just as much at home on the Pacific Rim as it is in Europe or Latin America. The featured brand that night, being poured at a discount, was Hendrick's in the black bottle. It's a gloriously complex "craft" gin distilled in Scotland and it has cucumber and rose notes all its own to start with.  But lately I've been buying Gordon's or Seagram's, since they are on special at the nearest Carrefour for only 49 Yuan per bottle (750 ml.) 







The glass that I use could probably be called a "large, sloping-walled old-fashioned," except that I bought it right here in China. Line it all the way around with the thinly sliced cucumber strips, add ice cubes and top it off with club soda 苏打水。Stir once with a light hand. 










That's all there is to it. Eat the cucumber as you go along. A variant of this drink includes mint, and I will take you there another time. 


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Simple syrup:


One part granulated sugar 白砂糖 mixed in a small saucepan with an equal amount of water. Heat over medium low until the sugar is dissolved. Stir several times; don't need to stir non-stop. Should take only a minute or a minute and a half. Can be stored in a covered jar in the fridge a couple of weeks. 

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