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Going Beyond Chinese Cuisine – I

The food scene of the world in general and India in particular is undergoing revolutionary changes as it embraces more and more international cuisines and people’s palettes indulge in the exoticism of the various dishes from across the globe. One such cuisine that has often been misunderstood and more often than not been generalized for a very wide bracket of cuisines is the Chinese cuisine. China is a huge country and that itself gives an opportunity for diversity in cuisine. Each province/region could have a culinary style of its own. Like India has its own culinary diversity, so does China.

Thanks to my new explorations of this genre of cuisines, I bumped into one such type of Chinese cuisine, called as the Cantonese cuisine. Cantonese cuisine comes from the Guangdong province of China, and it forms one of the Eight Culinary Traditions of Chinese cuisine. Chefs trained in Cantonese cuisine are in huge demand. And generally, when we say Chinese cuisine, it is mostly Cantonese cuisine that we are referring to.

It is popularly said that the Cantonese folks eat everything that has legs except tables and everything that flies except aeroplanes. Unlike many other schools of Chinese cuisine, the main goal of any Cantonese chef would eb to preserve the original flavor of the food instead of burying it in a variety of spices and oil. Thus, the original Cantonese cuisine might seem a little bland to many outsiders. Cantonese food is the most healthy of the other schools of Chinese cuisine, offering well balanced meals without any extra grease or spices.

If we look at the Guangdong province geographically, it’s capital is Guangzhou; which has been an age-old port town. Due to this, one would come across a lot of imported ingredients in the Cantonese cuisine. Cantonese cuisine generally incorporates all edible meats like pork, beef, chicken, offal, chicken feet, duck’s tongue, snakes and snails. Unlike cuisines of Northern or Western China, it does not use much of goat or lamb. The most common cooking methods are steaming and stir frying, shallow frying, double steaming, braising and sometimes deep frying too.

Good Cantonese cuisine will be mildly spiced, well balanced and not greasy. Cantonese cuisine does not involve a lot of usage of fresh spices with garlic chives and coriander leaves being the notable exceptions. The common ingredient used are spring onions, salt, vinegar, soy sauce, rice wine, cornstarch, scallion oil and sesame oil. Commonly used sauces are Hoisin sauce, Oyster sauce, Plum sauce, Sweet & sour sauce, Black bean sauce, Shrimp paste, Red vinegar, Char siu sauce and Chu Hau paste.

Cantonese traditional dishes would be like Chinese steamed eggs, Congee with lean pork and century egg, sweet and sour pork, stewed beef brisket, steamed frog legs on lotus leaf, steamed ground prok with salted duck egg, blanched vegetables with oyster sauce, stir fried water spinach with shredded chilli and fermented tofu. As opposed to this, Cantonese deep fried dishes are more deep fried, and include Zaa leung, Yau Zaa Gwai and Dace fish balls. There are multiple noodle dishes as well like Wonton noodles, chow mein, rice noodles, rice noodle rolls, etc. Apart from this there are many rice dishes, delicacies and desserts, that we would commonly recognize as Chinese cuisine, like dim sums. As the province is located by the sea, fresh sea food plays a prominent role in Cantonese cuisine.

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