Cantonese DimsumToday we want to introduce you to another Chinese cuisine: Cantonese food. Cantonese food is one of China’s four Han cuisines (the others being Shandong, Sichuanese and Jiangsu, check our previous post on Beijing food as well to learn more!), though it’s probably the most famous abroad.
Cantonese food is from the southernmost province on mainland China called Guangdong. It is the province to which Hong Kong originally belonged and indeed the people of Hong Kong still speak the local Guangdong language which we know today as Cantonese.
This is important because it was precisely because of Hong Kong that Cantonese food is so well known today. People from Guangdong often migrated abroad and took their food with them, but Hong Kong’s international status was a further impetus to the spread of Cantonese food.
Map showing GuangdongIn China, all foods have a common abbreviation or sort of nickname (we’ll post more about that later!). Cantonese food’s abbreviation in Chinese is Yue cai (粤菜), with Yue referring the Guangdong and cai meaning “food”.
What does Yue have to do with Guangdong?, you might ask. Well, the reason is related to what makes Cantonese food so interesting. Originally, today’s Guangdong provice was home to a large group of non-Han people collectively called Bai Yue, or “the 100 Yue’s”. Their many varied dishes used local ingredients and formed the base for today’s Cantonese food. As time went on, more and more Han people came from the central plains of China and mixed with the local Yue people. As their cultures and cuisines mixed, they eventually made today’s Cantonese food.
Dried lizard and starfishOne key characteristic of Cantonese food is its preference for dishes to emphasize the original flavors of the main ingredients. Herbs and heavy sauces are used sparingly since it’s thought that they are only needed to mask foods that are not fresh or are very pungent themselves.
Another characteristic of Cantonese food — one likely brought on by the influence of the neighboring Hakka people — is its liberal use of dried and preserved ingredients. If you go to any city in Guangdong or Hong Kong, you’ll see a plethora of shops selling all types of dried ingredients including mushrooms, scallops, fish, shrimp, seaweed, nuts, meat, fruit and even lizards! Some are medicinal, but many are used in regular day-to-day dishes.
Cantonese restaurant fresh seafood fishtanksA final characteristic of Cantonese food is its love of fresh ingredients from the sea. In fact, if you go to a good Cantonese restaurant, they’ll usually have fish tanks on site where you can choose live seafood. This makes for not only fresh, delicious food, but a fun experience seeing all of the creatures!
Have you tried Cantonese food before? Do you have a favorite dish? Let us know!