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Cantonese Cuisine is World Renowned

by Habeeb Salloum

Regional Foods

Winter Volume: 2013 Issue: 20(4) page(s): 21 - 24

The most popular Chinese dishes worldwide are said to be Cantonese, a city now known as Guangzhou, in the Guangdong Province, and the south of China. Why are there more Cantonese restaurants world-wide than those of any other Chinese province that serve foods that originated there. Perhaps because people from there left China before those from other provinces. These are not the only foods from China, but they are perhaps the most well-known, well-liked, and mentioned in many articles and books; they are said to be the best of China's foods. The city of Guangzhou has, for centuries, been a most important southern Chinese trading port. As such, it has helped its inhabitants become world-conscious. For decades, since the late 1800s, a good number of citizens from Canton have migrated to other countries, a huge number to the United States and Canada. Many have also migrated to almost every other city and country in the world. Cantonese food was the first Chinese food to take hold in North America, one not just best known, but at one time the most consumed there and all over the world, excluding China. It might still be.

The Chinese from Guangzhou and Guangdong have been coming to Canada where I live, since the end of the 19th century. They continue to come even though they were subject to discrimination including having to pay a poll tax, facing prejudice in employment, and other less acceptable behaviors. They had to find ways to make a living here and everywhere, and one way they did was to open Chinese, specifically Cantonese restaurants. In western Canada, the Chinese also opened hand laundries in many prairie towns, a job not many Canadians wanted. Actually, it was later they opened the restaurants, most initially serving Canadian and not Chinese dishes. In their restaurants and home kitchens they ate the tasty dishes of their province and home country. Some say they had an inferiority complex in a world of colonialism thinking their food not good enough nor liked enough for their Canadian neighbors; but not everyone believes that.

In later years, that is more recently, as the eating habits of Canadians began to evolve, Chinese émigrés began to serve many more traditional Chinese dishes. They made in-roads into the Canadian kitchen and into Canadian citizen taste buds. Initially, they made what Canada's people thought was Chinese food; now they are making the foods most Chinese know.

I remember as a youth living in southern Saskatchewan where many prairie towns had Chinese restaurants serving American and Chinese food. I did not know it then, but the Chinese dishes served were Cantonese foods. From that time on, I became addicted to the succulent food of China, that is the food of southern China. My love affair with Chinese food expanded and today I prepare and go out to eat not only the foods of this one province, but those of other provinces in China, as well.

Located on the Pearl River, Canton is a major Chinese seaport set in the midst of endless rice paddies that thrive in their tropical climate. The Chinese have turned the province into a major agricultural region growing ingredients for their delicious cuisine. Some food writers indicate their cuisine really is the 'haute cuisine' of China; this agrees with many reports in the Chinese literature.

All types of meats and fresh vegetables are used in this cuisine. Due to its location on the edge of the south China Sea, fresh seafood is a specialty. They use two favorite cooking methods, steaming and stir-frying. At times, their dishes can also be double boiled, braised, deep fried; or any combinations thereof. Fats, herbs and spices are used in moderation, the ingredients for a dish are usually purchased the same day and cooked just before serving them. The fresh, succulent flavors of their dishes truly tantalize.

A good number of condiments and sauces are found in the cuisine of this city and province. Such ingredients enhance the flavor of their foods including garlic which is used heavily in some dishes, fermented black beans, five-spice powder, fresh ginger, oyster sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, and star anise.

Soup can be a clear broth prepared by boiling bones, meats, shrimp shells, and vegetables over a low fire for long periods of time. Most often, only the liquid is used, the solids are usually thrown away. A somewhat different soup is their famous 'Shark's Fin Soup.' This highly prized delicacy is very expensive and as a good number of shark types are now on the endangered species list; and in many places these fins are banned. Hong Kong is included on the 'do not serve' list as are parts of North America. Soups of endless varieties are, in my view, mouth-watering and excellent accompaniments to and with other Cantonese foods. They have a saying in this province, that 'to keep a husband happy, a Cantonese wife needs to cook good soups;' and they do!

Above all, their custom par excellence in the culinary world, is the serving of dim sum. These words means 'to touch the heart' and to the culinary world they are often called 'snack foods.' In restaurants, they are usually served for breakfast, brunch, or lunch, and usually consist of 'bao' which are dumplings along with steamed spare ribs, other steamed buns with roast pork, and spring rolls, among other things.

Many dim sum items are served in bamboo baskets fresh from the steamer. They come on rolling carts making their way to customer tables. One can select whatever pleases the eye from these rolling carts. Dim sum is part of Cantonese life wherever immigrants from that part of China settle; and it is becoming an American and Canadian way, too. It is common to see many people eating these savory delights in restaurants. On week-end and holiday mornings; whole families gather to enjoy them.

This short overview and a few recipes below do not do justice to the breadth of items in the Cantonese dim sum cuisine or the entire Cantonese cuisine.

The ones that follow are just to get you started thinking about and preparing a few of them. They are a small taste of foods from this region. My suggestion is that you master and enjoy them. These are to offer ideas, variations, and suggestions, and I suggest you try them and enjoy them; then make your own variations, as well.
Cantonese Pork with Shrimp
4 Tablespoons sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound pork, cut into very small pieces
1 pound tiger shrimp, peeled, their veins removed and discarded
2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with four Tablespoons cold water
2 eggs, beaten
1. Heat oil in a frying pan, then add garlic and salt, and stir-fry on medium heat for one minute before adding the pork. Stir-fry it until light brown.
2. Stir in the shrimp and continue to stir-fry for three minutes then add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, and three-quarters of a cup of hot water.
3. Cover and cook over low heat for five minutes, then stir in the cornstarch mixture, and then the eggs, continuing to stir. This recipe can be served with cooked rice.
Note: Lamb goes well instead of the pork in this recipe.
Soy Sauce Chicken IV
4 cinnamon sticks, about two-inches each
1/2 teaspoon ground aniseed
1 Tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon powdered garlic
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons dry white or red wine
2 pounds chicken breasts, cut into half-inch cubes
1. In a saucepan place the, cinnamon, aniseed, ginger and sugar and chicken broth, cover and bring to a boil over high heat.
2. Add remaining ingredients and re-cover and bring back to the boil, then lower the heat to medium/low and allow to simmer for forty minutes, adding a little water as necessary.
3. Turn off heat but leave cover on and allow to stand for one hour.
4. Remove and discard the cinnamon sticks then serve with cooked rice and cooked greens.
Note: The Chinese prefer using a whole chicken and serving it with stir-fried greens instead of using chicken breasts.
Cantonese Baked Chicken Wings I
3 pounds chicken wings
4 Tablespoons oyster sauce
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons black bean sauce
4 Tablespoons dry red wine
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon sesame seed oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 medium grated onion
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, then in a greased casserole, spread out the chicken wings then set aside.
2. In a bowl, place all the remaining ingredients and thoroughly combine them before brushing the chicken wings on both sides with about a third of the mixture.
3. Bake them in the preheated oven up to one and a half hours or until done to your liking. Turn them over at least once, and brush them often.
4. Place the baked wings on a serving platter and just before serving them, brush with the pan juices.
Note: This recipe can be served hot or cold, and as an appetizer, snack, or an entrée.
Cantonese Fried Rice
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup cooked ham, cut into very small pieces
4 cups cooked rice
1 cup sliced small mushrooms
1 cup sliced water chestnuts
4 Tablespoons toasted slivered almonds
2 cups bean sprouts
4 Tablespoons soy sauce
1. Heat oil in large heavy frying pan or wok then stir-fry onion and garlic over medium-high heat for three minutes.
2. Push onions and garlic to one side then add eggs on the other side and stir-fry them for a minute before combining the onions, garlic, and eggs.
3. Stir in the remaining ingredients except the bean sprouts and soy sauce, and stir and toss until evenly mixed; then add in bean sprouts and soy sauce and stir- fry for a minute. Then serve.
Note: Leftovers can be used; in China they are more commonly used than any fresh meat or vegetable.
Cantonese Spareribs with Black Bean Sauce
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
3 Tablespoons black bean sauce
2 Tablespoons red wine
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons powdered ginger
3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 pounds pork spareribs
1/2 cup chicken broth
1. Combine all ingredients except the spareribs and chicken broth, then set this aside.
2. Place the spareribs in a greased casserole then brush heavily on both sides with about one-third of the sauce. Allow to marinate overnight.
3. Add chicken broth and cover and place in a 350° F preheated oven and bake for two hours or until ribs are well cooked, basting them every half hour or until the sauce is used up. For browner ribs, remove the cover for the last half hour of baking.
4. Cut the ribs between each bone and serve warm with a little of the pan sauce; and cooked rice, if desired.
Note: This recipes works well with beef or chicken ribs or any boneless meat in place of the ribs.
Cantonese-style Steamed Fish
2 to 3 pounds salmon or similar fish steaks rubbed with one and a half teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
4 Tablespoons chopped green onions
1 small red sweet pepper, cut into thin strips
4 Tablespoons light soy sauce
2 Tablespoons peanut oil
3 teaspoons sesame oil
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves
1. Place fish in the perforated upper part of a steamer and set aside.
2. Fill the lower part of the steamer with water and bring to a boil over high heat, then set the top part on, spread the ginger over the fish, cover and steam 12 to 15 minutes.
3. Remove the fish and place it on a platter. Then spread the green onions and red pepper slices on top of the fish and drizzle with soy sauce.
4. Now heat the peanut and sesame oils in a small saucepan until they begin to smoke and immediately pour this mixture over the fish and spread the coriander on top and serve.
Note: This beloved recipe is healthy, low in fat, and popular at all family and banquet meals.
Almond Chicken, Cantonese-style
Ingredients for the sauce:
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with two tablespoons of water
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup white grape juice
2 teaspoons sugar
Preparation for the Sauce:
1. Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set them aside.
Ingredients for the dish:
1 pound chicken breast, cut into half-inch cubes
4 Tablespoons thinly sliced leeks
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
4 Tablespoons peanut or olive oil
1 cup water chestnuts, drained and sliced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 cups snow peas cut into half-inch pieces
½ cup lightly toasted almonds
Preparation for the dish:
1. Place chicken, leeks, garlic, ginger and soy sauce in a bowl and marinate them for thirty minutes.
2. Heat oil in a wok or heavy frying pan then stir-fry chicken with its marinade over medium heat for four minutes before stirring in the water chestnuts, mushrooms and snow peas. Stir fry these three minutes more.
3. Stir in the sauce and stir for three more minutes; then place this on a pre-heated serving platter. Then spread the almonds on top.
Note: Serve hot with cooked rice or cooked noodles.
Broccoli with Oyster Sauce
1 pound Chinese or regular broccoli, cut into one-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon grated ginger
4 Tablespoons chicken broth
3 Tablespoons oyster sauce
2 Tablespoons red wine
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1. Place broccoli, salt, and ginger in a saucepan, and cover with water, then bring it to boil. Cover and cook until the broccoli stalks are tender, about five minutes.
2. Drain then rinse in cold water and drain again.
3. Place in a serving platter and set aside.
4. In a small saucepan combine all the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and pour evenly over the broccoli and serve.
Note: This recipe can be made with any other green vegetable.
Beef with Oyster Sauce
1 pound round beef steak, cut into thin two inch long slices, half-inch wide
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons dry red wine
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with two tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
3 Tablespoons oyster sauce
4 Tablespoons peanut or olive oil
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 pound baby spinach, chopped into large pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1. Combine meat, soy sauce, wine and cornstarch and let marinate for thirty minutes.
2. Mix one-quarter cup water, sugar, and oyster sauce, and set aside.
3. Heat two Tablespoons oil over medium heat in a preheated wok then add ginger and stir-fry for thirty seconds, then stir in the meat with its marinade and stir-fry for four minutes or until almost cooked, then remove the beef from the wok.
4. Add remaining oil in the wok and stir-fry the carrot for two minutes over medium heat. Stir in the mushrooms and spinach, then push vegetables to the sides and add the oyster sauce mixture in the middle and bring to a boil. Next return the beef, and add salt, pepper and cayenne and stir fry for a minute. Serve with cooked rice.
Note: Oyster sauce enriches the meat, particularly beef; and it is great with fish, too.

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