Samui Wining & Dining
Canto deligthts

Real Cantonese cuisine offers a lot more variety than your average genres al age take-away menu. We explore the three sub-genr of Cantonese food to inspire your next restaurant order.

 

12-13If I ask you to close your eyes and imagine a table full of Cantonese food, what dishes spring(roll) to mind? Kung Pao chicken, perhaps? Or, egg fried rice and chicken chow mien? How about glow-in-the-dark sweet and sour pork? But hold your gravy train for a second, because little do outsiders know, Cantonese cuisine actually encompasses far more signature dishes than your average Ming Dynasty Restaurant’s all-you-can-eat, cheap as chips Chinese buffet.

    People tend to associate Cantonese dinners with quick wok stir fries and deep fried foods. But these are only two cooking styles out of seven that are commonly used in a Cantonese kitchen – the others being steaming, stewing, baking, braising and double boiling. All these methods are excellent at preserving – if not enhancing – the crisp and sharp flavours of the fresh-off-the-farm seafood, produce and meat that are often preferred in Cantonese cooking.

       The South Eas tern coast of China – where traditional Cantonese grub was born – is perched firmly in the sub-tropical region of the Middle Kingdom, where sunshine and rainfall are abundant. Getting fresh ingredients for the menu is never a tough task, and hence Cantos seldom have to resort to using lots of salt or excessive herbs to disguise the stale flavour of food, something which is common in northern parts of China (cue Szechuanese cuisine and it's fondness for garlic and chilli

       Cantonese delights are famous for their frankness, but don’t let the uncomplicated taste fool you into thinking that the dishes are easy to prepare. More often than not, Cantonese staples require the use of more than one cooking style, and it is always the extensive prep work that contributes to the cuisine’s distinguished flavour. Take the delicate dim sums for example. The making of a char siu bao – a white barbecued pork bun served in a bamboo basket – requires the use of two classic Cantonese cooking methods. The pork has to be marinated first, and then quickly stir fried, before the pastry chef rolls the filling into the white dough. This is then placed inside a steamer to rise to its renowned volcanic dome shape.

       Another curio of Cantonese cuisine is that it is only a generic genre of food. Under its umbrella there are three subcategories: Guangzhou, Chiuchow and Hakka, with each speciality defined by the regional birth place of the style of cooking. Guangzhou is the largest city in Guangdong province, and as its inhabitants are notorious nationwide for their picky palate, is it any wonder that the Guangzhou style of cooking is one of the most renowned around the world? The dim sum, the sweet and sour pork and the shark fin soup are all Guangzhouese creations.

      There’s a phrase in Guangzhou that goes “wu zhi liu wei”, referring to the five senses and six flavours that set the bar for a first-rate meal. The five senses are fragrance, crispiness, odour, greasiness and thickness, while the six flavours point to sourness, sweetness, bitterness, saltiness, hotness and freshness. Of course not every dish has to incorporate all wu zhi liu wei before it’s considered a 5-star-worthy dish; the balanced texture and taste are still the hallmarks that govern a yummy meal, very much the same as other regional cuisines that have made their mark on the international dining scene.

      So what are the differences between Guangzhou, Chiuchow and Hakka specialities? Basically Guangzhou dishes tend to use very little spices when compared to the other two styles of cooking. The key herbs and seasonings used in Guangzhou cuisine include salt, sugar, soy sauce, rice wine, ginger and spring onion, with the occasional deployment of five spice powder and white pepper. Guangzhouese seem to have a fetish with chicken as well. Some of the most legendary Guangzhou grub includes soy sauce chicken, Hainanese chicken rice as well as a crispy fried chicken dish that comes with prawn crackers and a garlic pepper dip. But of course there are also the dim sums, the wanton noodles, the nourishing clear soups and stewed beef brisket.

       Chiuchow chefs are generally very good at preparing seafood and other dishes that are typified by their simplicity and freshness. Reputable Chiuchow restaurants also serve tiny clay pots of kungfu tea before and after the meal to help diners prep and clear their palates. Some classic Chiuchow dishes include Chiuchow cold crab and cold big eye fish, which are simply steamed or boiled in salted water, to serve with a preserved soy bean paste. There are also the classic fish and squid ball soup noodles, as well as braised cold meats marinated with five spice powder.

       Hakka dishes originate from the hilly Dongjiang area of Canton where there is a long tradition of farming. The heavy manual labour, and the hot inland weather necessitate a relatively salty diet to replenish minerals lost from sweat. As a regional tradition, meats are only ever eaten during festivities and celebrations, as livestock make for great income, and are not sacrificed for daily consumption. Furthermore, the excess produce from the field is often preserved and saved as reserves for rainy days, eaten as condiments or used as ingredients in other main dishes. Hakka dishes are very strongly flavoured and intensely fragrant – enabling the farmers who are working on the far side of the field to know when dinner is being served! All these factors contribute to the signature Hakka dishes like preserved cabbage and pork intestine soup, pickled mustard and cabbages with stewed belly pork, fried preserved eggs with bitter melon, and many more.Next time you visit a Cantonese restaurant, why not spend some quality time digesting the menu to see what else is on offer, apart from the good old buffet clichés? There are a lot more titillating goodies that are packed with wu zhi liu wei that are guaranteed to tickle all your senses.

 

 

Kawai Wong


 


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