粤菜 Cantonese Cuisine

China’ s southern city of Shunde(顺德) joined the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as the city of gastronomy on Monday.

Shunde has long been widely regarded as the basis for exquisite Cantonese cuisine and the cradle of Cantonese cuisine chefs. While the cuisine of Guangzhou has been historically very minimalist in terms of flavorings, food from Shunde is known for its liberal use of ingredients such as sun dried tangerine peel and dates, resulting in simple but powerful flavors.

Chinese Eight Regional Cuisines(中国八大菜系 zhōng guó bā dà cài xì )

Chinese cuisine includes a variety of different flavors due to China’s vast geography and diverse nationalities. Local dishes with their own distinctiveness can be roughly divided into eight regional cuisines.

Cantonese Cuisine (粤菜 yuè cài)

Cantonese cuisine is one of the Eight Chinese Culinary Traditions. Taking root in the southern province of Guangdong, this cooking style is characterized by gentle spices, fresh ingredients and slow, careful preparation.

Taken overseas with them by early Chinese emigrants, Cantonese cuisine has become one of the most widely eaten cuisines in the world — extending its territory to Chinatowns in countries far and wide.
Because of Guangdong’s role as a trading post, many imported foods and ingredients found their way into its cuisine. Many cooking methods are used, with steaming and stir-frying the most common thanks to their convenience and speed. Other techniques include shallow frying, double steaming, braising, and deep frying.
Distinct from other types of Chinese cooking in its light seasoning, Cantonese cuisine places a strong emphasis on freshness. For traditional Cantonese chefs, the flavors of a finished dish should be non-greasy and balanced. Spices should also be used in modest amounts to avoid overwhelming the flavors of the primary ingredients, which in turn should be at the peak of their freshness and quality.

Guangzhou has become known as the Chinese food capital because of the freshness and light seasoning in a huge variety of popular and exotic ingredients. With so many choices of exquisite tastes and flavors, the Cantonese people are thought to have the most sensitive taste buds, and consider themselves connoisseurs of taste.

Yum cha is at the heart of Cantonese people’s life. They would be happy to spend the whole day enjoying endless cups of tea and beautifully-made dim sum.

Yum cha(喝茶 hē chá ) in Cantonese literally means "to drink tea". But it is more defined by ritual than the simple act of drinking a beverage. Mai Guang-fan is vice president of the China Cuisine Association and an expert on Cantonese culinary culture.

"Yum cha is also called Tan Cha by Cantonese people, and means to enjoy a cup of tea. It means relaxing and enjoying aromatic tea and fine food with friends or family, making up for lost time and solidifying relationships."

Yum cha isn’t just about sipping tea and spending time with friends–it’s also intertwined with another distinctive Cantonese culinary tradition —the consumption of dim sum.

Dim sum(点心 diǎn xīn ), which literally means "to touch the heart", has come to mean a light snack. Flour-based snack foods are actually not unique to Cantonese cuisine. Shanghai has xiao long bao, steamed pork dumplings, and in Sichuan chao shou, or wontons, are popular. What sets Cantonese dim sum apart, though, is the extraordinary variety of dishes and the list keeps growing.
Dim sum is usually steamed or fried, though there are other methods. The dim sums are usually small and normally served as three or four pieces in one dish. It’s customary to share dishes among all the diners on one table. Because of the small portions, people can try a wide variety of food.
In traditional yum cha restaurants, dim sums are served on trolleys. Instead of reading a menu then placing an order, diners order what they like on the trolley. The cost of the meal is calculated based on the number and size of dishes left on the table at the end.

Yum cha is a special dining custom for Cantonese people and an important part of the local culture. The whole tradition refreshes the palate and is steeped in culture. Mai Guangfan again.

"Yum cha and eating dim sum has been a major dining tradition among Cantonese people for generations. Originally people drank tea and ate some small dishes before they went to work in the morning. Gradually, this eating habit became a happy and boisterous social ritual, which brings people together. There is a sense of sharing and camaraderie that comes with the food. "

As an expression of Cantonese cultural identity, yum cha has its own rules of etiquette to follow, just as many other Chinese culinary schools do. They include pouring tea for elders and social superiors, tapping the table as a sign of thanks, leaving the last piece of each order as a sign of abundance and in deference to others, etc. These details are essential to a culinary tradition that elevates ceremony, and is sometimes more important than the food itself.

Cantonese people also have a deep passion for soup(汤 tāng ). The soup is usually a clear broth prepared by simmering meat and other ingredients, and cooked on a mild heat for hours.
Unlike other Chinese cuisines, the Cantonese usually serve soup before a meal. The soup-drinking tradition is said to be related to the regional climate in Guangdong, which is a moist heat.

It is believed by many Cantonese people that soup plays a role in "clearing" heat, nourishing beauty, strengthening physical health, and preventing and curing diseases. Chinese herbal medicines are sometimes added to the clay pot, to make the soup nutritious and healthy.

Zheng Yao-rong is a Canton native and connoisseur of the local cuisine.

"Cantonese people feel the health benefits of soup in different seasons are really important. Different soup is cooked in different seasons using the best seasonal ingredients available, catering to people’s varying tastes and needs. For Cantonese people, slow-cooked soup is not an appetizer to introduce a meal or fill the stomach but an important food therapy. Soup will help warm the empty stomach first to trigger its digestive functions; relieving the stomach and bowels from the pressure of having to digest the dishes that follow: since the stomach contains soup, you won’t wolf down your food, and will naturally chew and swallow more slowly."

The soup isn’t made randomly. Ingredients are usually matched according to their medicinal effects and seasonal changes to help people become physically fit and prevent and cure diseases.

Even special cooking equipment is required. A clay pot is usually preferred for a slow-cooked soup. Clay is a naturally porous material and is believed to enable even heat distribution. Flavors are thus developed slowly and blend with all the ingredients as they cook.
It may look complicated to make Cantonese soup, requiring so many different ingredients, a precise amount of water, precise heating control, enough cooking time, etc. But to the Cantonese, making a savory and healthy soup is easy — the key is to cook with care.

And that’s also the key for Cantonese fare to become one of the most revered Chinese cuisines, with local chefs using care and creativity to follow old traditions and extract the best flavors from available ingredients.

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