One of the richest cuisines of the world is Chinese cuisine. The Cantonese cuisine is amongst the eight traditional cuisines of the country. It comes from Guangdong province of China. It’s also the cuisine that westerners refer to as the Chinese cuisine.
It’s popular across the globe because the Cantonese are the major immigrants who went to America.
It’s also unique as it uses only the fresh ingredients for cooking and it’s known to be milder than the Szechuan cuisine.
Where is Guangdong?
This is a province in China that is found in the southern part of China. The province also has the rivers from the province draining into the sea which has led to the formation of the pearl river delta.
Pearl river delta is the agriculture zone of the province and it’s the most densely cultivated region in the country. Its capital is called Guangzhou which was also referred to as canton in the ancient days. The city has served as the gateway to the world outside of China.
Cantonese people are also the ones that are spread across the world. Since it’s at the southernmost part of China it is often affected by typhoons. It’s an economically stable town as it’s a metropolitan city that holds various commercial activities.
You might have heard of the Canton Fair that is held every year. There’s a vastly popular trade in this country. So aside from agriculture, there are other commercial activities that are common in this province.
Features of The Cantonese Cuisine
Notice that the Cantonese cuisine is made using a variety of ingredients which makes it bold and flavorful. Now, in this culture, you will find that they eat almost everything. The Cantonese believe that you can eat everything that has four legs apart from the tables.
You will normally find meals containing snakes, cats and even dogs. Since it’s a blend of ingredients you will sometime find the different meats in your meal therefore if you are new to this cuisine but wouldn’t like to eat such meats always ask what it contains.
It retains its originality
Unlike the other regions, cuisines like Hunan and Szechuan where the aim of cooking the food is to make it delicious and spicy, the Cantonese chefs aim at revealing the originality of the flavors. You will have the meats and veggies revealing their original flavor.
The usage of spices in this cuisine is retained to a bare minimum. When you eat Cantonese in China, you may find it bland as opposed to the ones you are used to overseas.
The meals are healthy
For most Chinese food prepared overseas a lot of oil and grease is used when cooking. On the contrary, cooking Cantonese back home uses minimal to no oil or fat. Moreover, they use minimal to no milk products.
This means that the number of calories you consume is reduced to the bare minimum. It, in fact, works best if you are on diet.
The meals are often eye-catching
Like most other Chinese cuisines, the food here is colorful as it represents the veggies, different colors of proteins, starch and desserts. Since we know the effects of having eye catching meals, we often strive to make the meal as colorful as possible.
Its flavors and tastes
The meals here are slightly sweet, mild and fresh. On an in-depth level, they have a tender consistency and are full of natural ingredients. Since it mostly uses hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, sweet and sour sauce the food is characterised by the natural sweetness and tenderness.
Other spices used include the five spice, white pepper and star anise. You must have at one point or another eaten the sweet and sour pork. This is the Cantonese signature and you will agree with me that it’s amazing.
- They use all the fresh ingredients and they, therefore, offer fresh meals
You see, the Guangdong province is characterised by abundant rainfall as well as a tropical climate. It’s basically an agricultural field which means that the ingredients used in cooking are often fresh from the garden.
In essence, this leads to the production of meals that retain the authentic and natural flavors. This province also is characterised by the presence of poultry and pigs no wonder you have more pigs and poultry dishes.
Today, however, the cuisine has embraced various other meals from other countries like Thailand where they use coconut, noodles and curry powder.
The Historical Development of The Cantonese Cuisine
The same way Chinese cuisine developed is the same way the Cantonese cuisine developed. During the Han dynasty, the Guangdong province developed into the transportation hub. This saw the need for good food in good restaurants.
With the Cantonese people entrepreneurial spirit, they quickly developed to a rich food service hub. The cuisine quickly developed to become the common cuisine of the world as they migrated to the various parts of the world.
By the time it was the Qing and Ming dynasty the cuisines had matured in the market.
- The common seasoning and spices used
The one sauce you will never miss in a Cantonese home is the oyster sauce, hoisin sauce and soy sauce. the oyster sauce is easily made when you boil the oysters and seasoning while the hoisin is made when you mix the soybean paste and spices.
You can also use the plum sauce in some of the meals. Spices used include the anise, black pepper, ginger and coriander leaves among others. You may at times use the sugar and salt in minimal quantities.
The sesame oil will add the mild tanginess to the food. However, most of the times when the food is naturally flavorful, they will rarely add the spices.
The stir-frying method is not only famously used in the Sichuan and Hunan cuisine but also the Cantonese cuisine. Although they are sometimes stir-fried, its not a common method of cooking.
For the Cantonese, maintaining the freshness of the food is a major factor of concern. They will boil, steam, sauté, braise and roast it.
Generally, the steaming method is more common compared to other methods. Therefore, the food appears healthier than other regions of Chinese cuisine. Its no wonder it’s referred to as the city of fresh food.
You can deep fry Cantonese food though they are not popularly done. I love the Cantonese roasts like char Siu Bao and roast pork.
The Staple Ingredients
Some of the common ingredients in the cuisine are the fresh fish and shellfish. You will also use different kinds of fruits and veggies.
Although today you will find wheat noodles in every part of the country, rice is commonly used as a staple. In addition, the Cantonese have planted taro, yams, wheat and sweet potatoes. This acts as a great alternative to the rice staple.
Seafood is popularly used in the region, the Cantonese also love beef, pork and chicken.
Cantonese Style Cuisine
The general characteristics of the Cantonese style of cooking is that the food is mostly cooked slowly. They also cook in varied and gentle spices. They also popularly use fresh ingredients. For this reason, it offers various favorite meals for many.
Notice that, this region is mostly based on the use of seafood thus they don’t encourage the use of heavy spices as this may overwhelm the taste.
They further use all the fresh ingredients and a chef’s home will never miss the traditional 5 spices which delivers the five flavors of China. Sweet, sour, savory, salty and bitter.
Traditional Cantonese Meals
- Sweet and sour pork
I think if you have been to any Cantonese restaurant in America, you will notice that the meal never misses on the menu. This is to tell you that the sweet and sour pork is a signature dish for the Cantonese cuisine.
The meal appears to be easy to make but it’s not as easy to make at home like it is in the restaurant. This is attributed to the ingredients needed as well as the style of making the meal.
Most people enjoy the sweet and sour flavors which are authentically from vinegar, hawthorn candy and preserved plums. The pork is stir-fried in the above ingredients although some people use the pineapple and ketchup to make the coating sauce.
- Turnip cakes
You will find it referred to as the radish cakes. For the dim sum lovers, this is your must-have meal. It has a simple recipe and it’s often served in the Cantonese yum cha. It assumes the rectangle shape and to attain the crunchy exterior texture, it’s pan-fried.
You can have it being soft all over because you can decide to steam it. Turnip appears different in all the parts of the country and world. However, it mostly uses all basic ingredients. The cakes are best served with the soy sauce as a condiment or hoisin and chilli flakes as a side dish.
- Steamed chicken feet
For other people from other parts of the world, this meal is weird yet I must say, the Cantonese and other Chinese love its weirdo nature.
The dish is nothing short of succulent and delicious when carefully cooked. Notice that you first deep fry the chicken feet, braise them and then lastly steam it.
This will help the bones and skin tenderise. For this, you can marinate the meat overnight for it to suck the ingredients flavors. Moreover, if you want to enjoy it the Chinese way, split the bones as you are eating. This meal is not only made at home but also in dim sum restaurants.
- Cantonese steamed chicken
Steaming is a common method of cooking for the Chinese. It’s also one of the healthiest processes as you will cook your food without the use of excess oil. The Cantonese steamed chicken is characterised by tenderness and simplicity.
The meal is also easy to prepare and you will have it ready in less than an hour. This means that it would work best for those who have busy days. In most cases, the meal is cooked with mushrooms.
They like to use the Chinese black mushroom as it adds the earthy flavors. In addition, the use of onions and ginger makes the meat tasty. To enhance the flavor further, add soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil. You can then serve it over rice.
This meal is readily available in most restaurants and you can make it at home too.
- White boiled shrimp
This is another popular Cantonese cuisine meal. You make this dish with boiling water. What’s different between it and many other shrimp meals is that you serve it without deshelling it. The shrimps also have the limbs intact.
For most people. the thought of such a meal raises eyebrows. However, it’s quite delicious, especially, when used with soy sauce as the dipping sauce. Cooking it shouldn’t consume much of your time. It’s best eaten with a bowl of rice.
Authentic Cantonese Dishes
- Lanzhou Lamian (hand pulled noodles)
Note that this is not just your regular noodle soup. While it looks simple, the noodles here entail massive work behind the scenes. For most people, the meal looks so simple that they don’t try it but wait until you eat it then you get hooked.
One thing about these noodles is that they should be thick while the beef is soaked in water for hours to tenderise it. You also use the beef blood to make the broth. You make the noodles by twisting, folding and stretching.
Of course, watching as the noodles are being made and hand pulled is fantastic. So, in simple terms, you make the smooth and delicious lamian noodles then eat them with the beef broth. For garnishing, you use parsley to enhance the color and texture.
This is a popular meal among different Chinese regions that is often served at breakfast. It’s simply a rice porridge. It’s silky yet savory and it will act as a side dish but you can add meat like chicken, fish and beef to make it a meal on its own.
Sometimes people add veggies. This it the most common style of breakfast.
- Hainanese chicken rice
This is a meal from the southern side of China which is not only easy to make but also loved across Asian countries. Making the rice is simple and it happens when you make the garlic rice and pair it with chicken.
It matters not whether you are visiting a high-end restaurant or the streets and markets of China, you will find this meal served.
It’s served in different methods but the common one is where you have your favorite garlic rice being hot, ginger scallion dipping sauce with the attractive pieces of chicken.
- Siu Mei barbecue
We can’t finish our list of the best Cantonese meals without talking of barbecue. The Cantonese style barbecue is by far the best kind of barbecue ever. There are special restaurants in Hong Kong that specialise in the making of these barbecues.
Where else will you get BBQ that is slow cooked then glazed with honey and five spices to enhance its flavor. They further use other forms of succulent rubs. Although you may have it using beef and duck, pork meat is the most used meat for barbecuing.
This meal is eaten with rice and it’s tasty yet not complicated.
Cantonese Cuisine Cookbook
The author here is a chef that is also an expert in the Cantonese cooking. With this knowledge, she delivers 42 authentic recipes that you can make at home. She even focusses on making the recipes easy to follow.
The book is all about the unique flavors of the Cantonese cuisine and you will find recipes of the most popular Cantonese dishes. Although she is a chef, she gives you easy instruction and preparation tips.
This means that you don’t have to be Cantonese to make Cantonese cuisine. You will enjoy quick recipes as well as slow cooking recipes. At home, you can recreate your favorite Cantonese meals.
Where to Eat the Cantonese Dishes
Lei Garden restaurant
This restaurant is one of the oldest still operational restaurants in China. It only focuses on Cantonese cuisine and today you will find it across most major cities of China. If you are craving for the different Cantonese soups or crispy roast pork this is the place to go to.
Nevertheless, understand that it’s often packed with people so the best thing is to make a reservation earlier.
Address: Dongdan, Dongcheng Beijing 100010 China.
You want to go to a posh and serene place?
This is your restaurant to visit. It gets its name from a street in New York City. The restaurant is said to focus only on making fresh meals using fresh ingredients. Its like having your homestyle but improved to meet the restaurant standards.
It focuses only on the Cantonese style of cooking. The chefs are creative and innovative. They always deliver the best.
Address: standard chartered bank building, 4-4A des Voeux rd. Hong Kong
Bo Duo Xin Ji Restaurant
For most people, the restaurant’s name is weird but wait until you sit at their tables and are served with the unique meals. The restaurant is known for being one of the best at delivering the traditional Cantonese style meals.
It has a great reputation and its major concentration is on the Cantonese dishes like stir fry meals. It’s a large place where you can come as a company or family. If you are looking for privacy you can get private rooms on booking.
Address: No 15,1252 Fuxing Zhong Lu, by Xiangyang Nan Lu.