Okay, so the Dutch had a word for it, koolsla, which basically meant finely shredded cabbage salad in a vinaigrette. It was noted early on that the vinaigrette caused a pickling or fermenting action which extended the edible life of the dish. As things go, the Dutch didn’t keep to Holland and koolsla didn’t keep to cabbage. Good ideas have many fathers.
Some form of koolsla may be found on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. The Koreans have their potent kimchi, the Germans have krautsalat and the Salvadorans have a pickled curtido. The Balkans and several Middle Eastern countries share a taste for torshi. China has a dozen variations, most popular though is pao cai. Nor is the cabbage part essential. In Italy it is a dish of julienned peppers with ham and carrots. It seems that there is a universal yen for that sour flavor that vinegars add to shake up complacent taste buds. So the idiom “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” was puzzling to me as a child. It more or less ignored the fact that most of us like that sourness. Begging the questions of why on earth would anyone want to catch flies and what were they going to do with them?
When such vinaigrettes are combined with the crispy crunch of cabbage, fennel, carrot, jicama, celery, kohlrabi, snow peas, green beans and firm-fleshed fruit, most of these slaws are satisfyingly refreshing. As a summer side dish that doesn’t require heat, they find a welcome on many tables.