Cantonese cuisine comes from Guangdong province and is one of the Eight Culinary Traditions of Chinese cuisine. Its prominence outside China is due to the great numbers of early emigrants from Guangdong. Cantonese chefs are highly sought after throughout China. When Westerners speak of Chinese food, they usually refer to Cantonese cuisine.
Guangdong has long been a trading port and many imported foods and ingredients are used in Cantonese cuisine. Besides pork, beef and chicken, Cantonese cuisine incorporates almost all edible meats, including offal, chicken feet, duck's tongue, snakes, and snails. However, lamb and goat are rarely eaten, unlike in the cuisines of northern or western China. Many cooking methods are used, with steaming and stir frying being the most favoured due to their convenience and rapidity. Other techniques include shallow frying, double steaming, braising, and deep frying.
For many traditional Cantonese cooks, the flavours of a finished dish should be well balanced and not greasy. Apart from that, spices should be used in modest amounts to avoid overwhelming the flavours of the primary ingredients, and these ingredients in turn should be at the peak of their freshness and quality. There is no widespread use of fresh herbs in Cantonese cooking, in contrast with their liberal use in other cuisines such as Sichuan, European, Thai or Vietnamese. Garlic chives and coriander leaves are notable exceptions, although the latter are usually used as mere garnish in most dishes.
In 1986, Prince Philip commented on Chinese eating habits at the World Wildlife Fund conference: "If it has four legs and is not a chair, if it has two wings and flies but is not an aeroplane, and if it swims and is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it." Despite having the quote presented to a notable organisation, it has also appeared in books such as "The Most Stupid Words Ever Spoken" as it is deemed by some Westerners as a prime example of a lack of understanding of foreign culinary traditions in the Western world. However, some sources point out that this is a modern saying used by the Chinese from other regions in reference to Cantonese culinary habits.
Sauces and condiments
In Cantonese cuisine, a number of ingredients such as spring onion, sugar, salt, soy sauce, rice wine, cornstarch, vinegar, scallion oil, and sesame oil, suffice to enhance flavour, although garlic is heavily used in some dishes, especially those in which internal organs, such as entrails, may emit unpleasant odours. Ginger, chili peppers, five-spice powder, powdered black pepper, star anise and a few other spices are also used, but often sparingly.
Dried and preserved ingredients
Although Cantonese cooks pay much attention to the freshness of their primary ingredients, Cantonese cuisine also uses a long list of preserved food items to add flavour to a dish. This may be influenced by Hakka cuisine, since the Hakkas were once a dominant group occupying imperial Hong Kong and other southern territories.
Some items gain very intense flavours during the drying / preservation / oxidation process and some foods are preserved to increase their shelf life. Some chefs combine both dried and fresh varieties of the same items in a dish. Dried items are usually soaked in water to rehydrate before cooking. These ingredients are generally not served per se and go with vegetables or other Cantonese dishes.
Dried and preserved ingredients
||gong1 jiu4 cyu5
||Usually added to clear soup.
|Fermented black beans
||Usually added to pork and tofu dishes.
||Usually added to rice together with preserved-salted duck and pork.
||Usually paired with steamed pork or added to fried rice together with diced chicken.
||Usually eaten with rice in a family meal.
||Usually eaten with rice in a family meal.
|Salted duck egg
||May be eaten as it is or mixed with stir-fried vegetables and steam dishes or cooked with diced pork in congee.
||can be found served with roasted dishes, in congee with lean pork, and in a sweet pastry with lotus paste
||haam4 syun1 coi3
|Dried small shrimp
||Usually mixed with stir-fried vegetables.
||Usually used as wrapping for ground pork dishes. It is fried in a similar manner as spring rolls.
||Usually de-shelled, sliced into half and added to vegetable dishes.
|Pickled Chinese cabbage
||Usually cooked with pork or stir-fried with rice.
|Pickled diced daikon
Cantonese stir-fried vegetables. Often, vegetables are simply stir-fried plain or with minced garlic.
A number of dishes have been part of Cantonese cuisine since the earliest territorial establishments of Guangdong. While many of these are on the menus of typical Cantonese restaurants, some simpler ones are more commonly found in Chinese homes. Home-made Cantonese dishes are usually served with plain white rice.
|Chinese steamed eggs
||zing1 seoi2 daan2
|Congee with lean pork and century egg
||pei4 daan2 sau3 juk6 zuk1
|Cantonese fried rice
|Sweet and sour pork
||gu1 lou1 juk6
|Stewed beef brisket
||cyu5 hau4 ngau4 naam5
|Steamed spare ribs with fermented black beans and chili pepper
||si6 ziu1 paai4 gwat1
|Steamed frog legs on lotus leaf
||héyè zhēng tiánjī
||ho4 jip6 zing1 tin4 gai1
|Steamed ground pork with salted duck egg
||xiándàn zhēng ròubǐng
||haam4 daan2 zing1 juk6 beng2
|Blanched vegetables with oyster sauce
|Stir-fried hairy gourd with dried shrimp and cellophane noodles
||daai6 ji4 maa1 gaa3 neoi5
|Stir-fried water spinach with shredded chili and fermented tofu
||jiāosī fǔrǔ tōngcài
||ziu1 si1 fu6 jyu5 tung1 coi3
Deep fried dishes
, a common dish in a Cantonese breakfast.
There are a small number of deep-fried dishes in Cantonese cuisine, which can often be found as street food. They have been extensively documented in colonial Hong Kong records of the 19th and 20th centuries. A few are synonymous with Cantonese breakfast and lunch, even though these are also part of other cuisines.
|Yau Zaa Gwai
||jau4 zaa3 gwai2
|Dace fish balls
||ling4 jyu4 kau4
|Deep-fried marinated pigeon
||siu1 jyu5 gaap3
Slow-cooked soup, or lou fo tong (simplified Chinese: 老火汤; traditional Chinese: 老火湯; Mandarin Pinyin: lǎohuǒ tāng; Jyutping: lou5 fo2 tong1) in the Cantonese dialect (literally meaning old fire-cooked soup) is usually a clear broth prepared by simmering meat and other ingredients over a low heat for several hours. Chinese herbs are often used as ingredients.
Soup chain stores or delivery outlets in Cantonese-dominated cities such as Hong Kong serve this dish due to the long preparation time of slow-cooked soup.
Due to Guangdong's location on the southern coast of China, fresh seafood is prominent in Cantonese cuisine. Many authentic restaurants maintain aquariums (seafood tanks). According to Cantonese cuisine, seafood has a repugnant odour so strong spices are added; the freshest seafood is odourless and, in Cantonese culinary arts, is best cooked by steaming. For instance, in some recipes, only a small amount of soy sauce, ginger, and spring onion is added to steamed fish. According to Cantonese cuisine, the light seasoning is used only to bring out the natural sweetness of the seafood. As a rule of thumb in Cantonese dining, the spiciness of a dish is usually inversely proportionate to the freshness of the ingredients.
|Steamed scallops with ginger and garlic
||suànróng zhēng shànbèi
||syun3 jung4 zing1 sin3 bui3
|White boiled shrimp
||baak6 zoek3 haa1
|Lobster with ginger and scallions
||goeng1 cung1 lung4 haa1
||laai6 niu6 haa1
Noodles are served either in soup broth or fried. These are available as home-cooked meals, on dim sum side menus, or as street food at dai pai dongs, where they can be served with a variety of toppings such as fish balls, beef balls, or fish slices.
||wan4 tan1 min6
||Sometimes spelled as wanton noodles.
|Beef chow fun
||gon1 caau2 ngau4 ho4
||A generic term for various stir-fried noodle dishes. Hong Kong-style chow mein is made from pan-fried thin crispy noodles.
||zuk1 sing1 min6
||Bamboo log pressed noodles.
|Beef brisket noodles
||ngau4 naam5 min6
||May be served dry or in soup.
|Rice noodle roll
||zyu1 coeng4 fan2
||Also known as chee cheong fun.
||Also known as hor-fun.
|Silver needle noodles
||ngan4 zam1 fan2
||Also known as rat noodles (Chinese: 老鼠粉; Mandarin Pinyin: lǎoshǔ fěn; Jyutping: lou5 syu2 fan2).
||Also known as e-fu noodles.
Siu mei (simplified Chinese: 烧味; traditional Chinese: 燒味; Mandarin Pinyin: shāo wèi; Jyutping: siu1 mei6) is essentially the Chinese rotisserie style of cooking. Unlike most other Cantonese dishes, siu mei consists of meat only, with no vegetables.
Lou mei (Chinese: 滷味; Mandarin Pinyin: lǔ wèi; Jyutping: lou5 mei6) is the name given to dishes made from internal organs, entrails and other left-over parts of animals. It is widely available in southern Chinese regions.
All Cantonese-style cooked meats, including siu mei, lou mei and preserved meat can be classified as siu laap (simplified Chinese: 烧腊; traditional Chinese: 燒臘; Mandarin Pinyin: shāo là; Jyutping: siu1 laap6). Siu laap also includes dishes such as:
A typical dish may consist of offal and half an order of multiple varieties of roasted meat. The majority of siu laap is white meat.
|Rice with Chinese sausage and char siu
||làcháng chāshāo fàn
||laap6 coeng4 caa1 siu1 faan6
|Rice with roast goose and goose entrails
||shāo'é écháng fàn
||siu1 ngo4 ngo4 coeng4 faan6
|Siu mei platter
||siu1 mei6 ping6 pun4
|Siu lap platter
||siu1 laap6 ping6 pun4
Little pan rice
Little pan rice (simplified Chinese: 煲仔饭; traditional Chinese: 煲仔飯; Mandarin Pinyin: bāozǎifàn; Jyutping: bou1 zai2 faan6) are dishes cooked and served in a flat-bottomed pan (as opposed to a round-bottomed wok). Usually this is a saucepan or braising pan (see clay pot cooking). Such dishes are cooked by covering and steaming, making the rice and ingredients very hot and soft. Usually the ingredients are layered on top of the rice with little or no mixing in between. Many standard combinations exist.
|Rice with layered egg and beef
||wōdàn niúròu fàn
||wo1 daan2 ngau4 juk6 faan6
|Rice with minced beef patty
||juk6 bing2 bou1 zai2 faan6
|Rice with spare ribs
||paai4 gwat1 bou1 zai2 faan6
|Rice with steamed chicken
||zhēng jīròu bāozǎifàn
||zing1 gai1 juk6 bou1 zai2 faan6
|Rice with Chinese sausage and preserved meat
||laap6 mei6 bou1 zai2 faan6
Banquet / dinner dishes
A number of dishes are traditionally served in Cantonese restaurants only at dinner times. Dim sum restaurants stopped serving bamboo-basket dishes after the yum cha period (equivalent to afternoon tea) and began offering an entirely different menu in the evening. Some dishes are standard while others are regional. Some are customised for special purposes such as Chinese marriages or banquets. Salt and pepper dishes are one of the few spicy dishes.
Cantonese banquet / dinner dishes
|Crispy fried chicken
||zaa3 zi2 gai1
|Seafood with bird's nest
||hoi2 sin1 zoek3 caau4
|Roast suckling pig
||siu1 jyu5 zyu1
|Fried tofu with shrimp
||xiārén chǎo dòufǔ
||haa1 jan4 caau2 dau6 fu6
|Spare ribs with salt and pepper
||ziu1 jim4 gwat1
|Squid with salt and pepper
||ziu1 jim4 jau4 jyu4
|Shrimp with salt and pepper
||ziu1 jim4 haa1
|Sour spare ribs
||saang1 caau2 paai4 gwat1
|Duck with taro
||can4 pei4 wu6 tau4 ngaap3
|Yeung Chow fried rice
||Joeng4 zau1 caau2 faan6
After the evening meal, most Cantonese restaurants offer tong sui (Chinese: 糖水; Mandarin Pinyin: táng shuǐ; Jyutping: tong4 seoi2; literally "sugar water"), a sweet soup. Many varieties of tong sui are also found in other Chinese cuisines. Some desserts are traditional, while others are recent innovations. The more expensive restaurants usually offer their specialty desserts.
|Red bean soup
||hung4 dau6 saa1
|Black sesame soup
||zi1 maa4 wu4
|Sai mai lo
||sai1 mai5 lou6
|Sweet potato soup
||faan1 syu4 tong4 seoi2
|Mung bean soup
||luk6 dau6 saa1
|Dau fu fa
||dau6 fu6 faa1
||gwai1 ling4 gou1
|Sweet Chinese pastry
||je4 zap1 gou1
|Steamed egg custard
|Steamed milk custard]]
|Double skin milk
||soeng1 pei4 naai5
Many Cantonese delicacies consist of parts taken from rare or endangered animals, which raises serious controversy over animal rights and environmental issues. This is often due to the supposed health benefits of certain animal products, for example shark cartilage, which is widely believed to prevent cancer, although scientific research has found no evidence to support these claims.
- Eight Immortal Flavors: Secrets of Cantonese Cookery from San Francisco's Chinatown, Johnny Kan and Charles L. Leong. Berkeley, California: Howell-North Books, 1963