Cuisine in Southern China
Rich and prosperous southern Chinese cuisine is dominated by Guangdong Province and is best characterized by fresh flavors and textures using cooking techniques that preserve the integrity of ingredients. As a gateway to the new world, all manner of food products from the rest of China –fresh and preserved, flowed through Guangdong. Expect many foods to be lightly seasoned with simple flavors and literally all cooking techniques used– don't be surprised to see salt, clay or lotus leaves wrapped around something tasty to eat. The subtropical climate provides an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits, a profusion of fish and seafood (fresh and all manner of dried), as well as poultry and pork. If you want to see a veritable zoo, you only need visit a local market; the Cantonese are known to pretty much eat anything in the name of eating well. Common exotics include dogs, cats, and frogs –you've been warned.
Fresh seafood in southern China is perhaps the best available in China. Nearly all restaurants have swimmingly fresh fish and seafood, which is the standard. Look for the live tanks filled with incredible varieties of fish, clams, crab, abalone and lobster –pretty much anything that swims. You can go to the live tanks and just point your finger at anything you want. Try clams or crab stir fried with ginger and spring onion; nearly any seafood can be done this way. Whole fish steamed until just cooked and seasoned with light soy sauce and sprinkled with scallions is a classic dish. If you love seafood, southern China is the place to be.
"Yum cha" or literally "drink tea" is perhaps the most social of all dining traditions in China and is a must especially when in Hong Kong or Guangzhou. From morning to mid afternoon, small snacks or tidbits called dim sum, or "touch of the heart" are served with bottomless pots of hot tea. It's a time to socialize and catch up with friends and family or just read the morning paper while snacking on a variety of savory and sweet items that are steamed, fried or baked. There are perhaps thousands of different dim sum items to choose from but it couldn't be any easier to order. Just point at anything you like on the dim sum cart that is wheeled about and you are served immediately.
Fresh vegetables are abundant in southern China and are usually cooked with reverence– usually very simply to retain color, flavor and texture. They're typically stir-fried with a bit of garlic and a minimum of oil or cooked "in soup". Try Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, or pea shoots stir-fried with garlic. Pea shoots are the tender young tendrils of the pea vine, they taste a bit like fresh peas. Most vegetables are cooked with some crunch and texture remaining, and seasoned very lightly with soy sauce, oyster sauce, or a chicken stock based sauce.
The world's original deli is perhaps the famous Cantonese roast or barbecued meats. Pork and duck are favorites and can't be missed –you can find them prominently displayed in shop windows. Try crispy roast pork, barbecued duck or salt baked chicken When visiting southern China, remember that the Cantonese people live to eat.
Ten Representative Southern Dishes:
Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce ( 蚝油芥兰) – a very simpleclassic preparation for Chinese broccoli orother vegetables such as lettuce, using oystersauce which makes the dish, premium oystersauce starts with 40 liters of oysters to yield1 liter of sauce.
Clay pot chicken ( 海南鸡饭) – chicken, long grain rice, sweet pork sausage and black mushrooms are cooked in a clay pot and served with a soy, rice wine, sugar and sesame oil based sauce.
Drunken prawns steamed with rice wine ( 醉虾) – steamed with Shaoxingwine, or other rice based wine, live shrimpsare "drowned" by letting the shrimp swim inrice wine before they are steamed.
Barbeque pork ( 蜜汁叉烧) –that's usually dark red on the outside and juicy and succulent on the inside, often served as a side dish or on top of rice or noodles.
Pepper and salt fried shrimp ( 椒盐虾) – seasoned with pepper and salt, the shrimps are cooked very crisp resulting in shrimp shells that are crunchy and edible, if cooked whole the heads may be eaten as well.
Pig knuckle stew ( 白云猪手)– a pig knuckle is first boiled then slowly stewed in a mixture of vinegar, sugar and salt, this dish has a sweet tangy zest.
Roast duck Cantonese style (广东烤鸭) – this roast duck does not have the crispy skin of Peking duck, but is more flavorful, it's marinated with five spice powder, soy and sugar or honey, typically some marinade is poured into the ducks cavity before roasting.
Roast pigeon ( 烤鸽) – best when plain roasted and accompanied by pepper salt for dipping, the rich succulent flavor of pigeon is not masked by anything, typical of Cantonese cuisine.
Salt baked chicken ( 盐烤鸡) – a whole chicken is buried in salt using a large wok and cooked creating an "oven" to producing amazingly succulent chicken.
Whole steamed fish ( 清蒸全鱼) – nearly any variety can be used, more of a universal Cantonese technique than a dish, often uses slivers of scallion and ginger, thin soy sauce and a quick dousing of smoking hot oil, usually uses whole fish and steamed until just cooked.