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A fresh approach to food

YUE cai or Cantonese cuisine from Guangdong Province originated in the Lingnan region (southern part of China). Like most cuisines in China, Cantonese fare can be split into several styles, in this case Guangzhou, Chaozhou and Dongjiang, each of which involves some local nuances. Renowned for its sophisticated and varied cooking styles, and its overall healthiness, Cantonese is the biggest of China's eight main cuisines and is the style most foreigners associate with Chinese food.

About 2,000 years ago, people in the Lingnan region became quite experienced at using different ingredients to make tasty dishes. Han Yu, a famous poet in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), made plenty of references to Guangdong cuisine in his poems after he was sent to Chaozhou. Besides pork, beef and chicken, Cantonese cuisine incorporates almost all edible meats, including organs, chicken feet, duck and duck tongues, snakes and snails.

Being a great trading port, Guangdong also has the advantage of boasting many imported foods and ingredients. Since the Song Dynasty (960-1279), many people from China's central region immigrated here, enriching Guangdong's culinary culture. Some overseas Chinese also brought back some cooking methods from Europe, America and Southeast Asia, influencing Cantonese cooking even further.


Cantonese cooking's main emphasis is to keep the food's original flavor. Given the emphasis on freshness, steaming has a major place in Cantonese cooking as it is the least intrusive cooking technique, and the healthiest. As for stir-frying, the Cantonese are the acknowledged experts. This cooking method is very popular in the province, especially for vegetables, as it preserves their color, flavor and nutritional value. Other methods include shallow frying, double boiling, braising and deep-frying due to their convenience and rapidity, and their ability to bring out the flavor of the freshest ingredients.

For many traditional Cantonese cooks, spices should be used in modest amounts to avoid overwhelming the flavors of the primary ingredients, and these primary ingredients in turn should be at the peak of their freshness and quality. But many signature seasonings of the province are widely used. No Cantonese kitchen would be complete without a bottle of oyster sauce, made from boiling oysters and seasonings - vegetarian cooks can use a vegetarian version made with mushrooms. Chinese fermented black beans (also called salted black beans) and shrimp paste also figure prominently in Cantonese cooking. Hoisin sauce (seafood sauce), made by mixing soybean paste with spices, is used as well.

In a Guangzhou food exhibition held in 1956, 5,447 dishes, 815 dim sum and hundreds of snacks were presented, an early demonstration of the abundant variation in Guangzhou dishes. Guangdong boasts more than 20 cooking methods and the duration of cooking plays a key role. The result is a harmonious integration of color, fragrance, taste and shape. The dishes usually combine flavors that are fresh-but-not-light, tender-but-not-raw, fat-but-not-greasy.

Chaozhou cuisine is more focused on cutting techniques and fresh ingredients. It rests solidly on serving locally grown, seasonal produce. This makes it possible to serve more robust dishes during the colder months and lighter dishes during the hotter months, a practice that Cantonese chefs take great pride in following. Its seafood, soups and porridges are the most characteristic dishes. The emphasis on preserving the natural flavor of the food and preserving people's health are the hallmarks of Chaozhou cuisine. A Chaozhou chef would consider it a culinary sin of the highest order to produce a dish that was overcooked or too heavily seasoned.

Dongjiang cuisine, also known as Kejia cai, uses more meat and pickled vegetables as its main ingredients due to the region's geographic features. The flavor is much more salty, heavy and greasy compared to the other two local cuisines of Guangdong Province. They specialize in casserole dishes.

Yum Cha is a dining tradition in Guangdong people's daily life. Yum Cha, literally, drinking tea, is what Guangdong and Hong Kong people do if they go out for breakfast early in the morning. It's usually accompanied with traditional Guangdong-style dim sum. Chaozhou people are keen on kungfu tea, the "espresso" of Chinese teas with a formidable kick, which was first sipped back in the Song Dynasty. It is still flourishing and remains an important part of social etiquette in the region. If you visit a family, you can be sure of at least one round of kungfu tea. Kungfu tea, to which manual skill, high-quality tea leaves and water as well as appropriate temperature control are critical, brings out the best that tea, especially the fermented Oolong tea, can offer. For ordinary people a round of kungfu tea offers refreshment and physical relief after a long day at work. This is one reason the tradition lives on. Some even use kungfu tea to stimulate their minds and seek inspiration, a much healthier method than relying on caffeine or cigarettes.

Dim sum is another unavoidable part of Cantonese cuisine. It is now not only popular in China but also in other countries. The traditional Cantonese dim sum meal involves a wide range of light dishes served alongside Chinese tea. The various items are usually served in a small steamer basket or on a small plate with dishes based on meat, seafood and vegetables. There are also desserts and fruit. Hagao, charsiubao and cheung fun all enjoy a worldwide reputation and are the most important standard in judging an authentic Cantonese restaurant. The tradition of Guangdong people to have morning tea has gone beyond mere dining, becoming an integral part of the region's culture.

Eight Cuisines

Famous for fantastic mouthwatering flavors, Chinese cuisine has an enviable reputation among gourmets. Though there are so many varieties of Chinese food, they literally can be classified into Eight Cuisines, a system based on a main city or area representing symbolic dishes and cooking methods. To show a genuine Chinese food culture, the World Expo 2010 organizer has chosen the most representative restaurant from each of the Eight Cuisines to set up an outlet in Expo Park. So you can now taste all these delicious foods beside the Huangpu River.

Taste buds

Yuntun Mian (云吞面)

(Wonton noodle)

In Cantonese cuisine, wonton noodles are usually served in a hot broth, garnished with leafy vegetables and wonton dumplings. The soup is made from boiling shrimp shells, pork bones and dried flounder to give it a distinct taste. The leafy vegetables used are usually kailan, also known as Chinese kale. The wonton stuffing usually contains prawns, chicken or pork and spring onions. Some chefs will also add mushroom and black fungus. It may also be eaten with red vinegar. Cantonese noodles are fresh, smooth and thin, and cooked al dente. The dish may also be served "dry," with the wontons placed on top of the noodles. No soup is added to the dry version.

Gulao Rou (咕老肉)

Sweet and sour pork

Gulao Rou is a very popular Cantonese dish that is not only tasty, but also attractive. It well presents Chinese cooking standards: color, aroma and taste. The dish consists of deep frying pork in bite-sized pieces, and subsequently stir-fried in a more customized version of sweet and sour sauce made of sugar, ketchup, white vinegar and soy sauce. Traditional ingredients include pineapple, green pepper and onion. In more elaborate preparations, the dish's tartness can be controlled by using less Chinese white rice vinegar.

Shuang Pi Nai (双皮奶)

(Double-boiled milk)

It is one of the signature deserts of Cantonese cuisine. The dish is actually simmered milk with a solid covering made from a mixture of egg whites, milk and sugar. It's easy to make, even at home. A nice bowl of double-boiled milk must be pure white and have the consistency of pudding. The second layer of tasty skin must stick to the edge of the bowl. It can be eaten either cold or hot. Some restaurants serve the original double-boiled milk, some add fresh fruit or red beans on the top to give it extra flavor.

Where to eat

Chao Food

Representing Cantonese food at the Expo site, Chao Food is a high-end, authentic Chaozhou-style restaurant.

Its General Manager Leslie is keen to spread the Chaozhou dining culture to visitors, rather than just presenting them good food. Step into the ancient-looking restaurant and be welcomed by a beautiful lady wearing a qipao. She presents some Chaozhou kungfu tea, which is the first step in becoming familiar with Chaozhou culture. If you are interested, try the Phoneix Dancong Tea, the most ancient Ooloog tea in the world. As Leslie says, kungfu tea plays a significant part in the life of Chaozhou people and reveals their dining spirit. The food here emphasizes freshness, seasonal ingredients and original flavors.

Leslie says some people consider Chaozhou food to be rather light, but he believes the dishes have the most flavor because they retain the original taste of each ingredient. Leslie highly recommends visitors try their signature World No. 1 Porridge. The dish is simple, just rice and water.

However, the rice is a special grain from China's southeast region and imported Evian water is used. Lesilie claims that even if you know the recipe, you will struggle to make it the same as they do due to their secret method of producing it. The porridge is light green and tastes like egg white. All the food here is carefully made and delicately presented. The average cost is 300 yuan (US$43.93 yuan) per person.


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