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Cantonese Cooking & Traditions


chengb02
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I truely believe in Chi zai Guangzhou----, but isn't that because of the freshest of ingredients are available and the food is prepared in such a way as to keep to the Tao belief of things in  the natural state? That the variety and cooking control add to the reputation of Cantonese cooking?  Doesn't it mean that Sichuan or other regional foods are not less or better tasting, it's just that they are more complicated than the simple purity of  the Southern regions?

but this is just pushing us toward the debate...that's why I hate cantonese food, its BLAND! Well, maybe not in Guangzhou, but I have a friend that insists on cooking cantonese here in the US, and to everything she cooks, I must add la jiao or jiang you or something so that it actually has flavor...

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but this is just pushing us toward the debate...that's why I hate cantonese food, its BLAND! ..... and to everything she cooks, I must add la jiao or jiang you or something so that it actually has flavor...

I think that, in the majority of cases, this judgement of taste comes from one's upbringing -- what one is used to. Unlike Hunan, Sichuan and other Chinese regional food, Cantonese food is known to be mild. So if you grew up eating hot and spicy food, you tend to think Cantonese food is bland. On the other hand, for those who grew up eating mild food, they tend to think Hunan/Sichuan/etc food is nothing but hot.

Likewise if I grew up in the Carribeans eating nothing but bananas, I may think the food from the rest of the world is no good and only bananas taste the best.

I read on a book once which said "hot" itself is actually not a taste. "Salty", "sour", "sweet" are tastes. But "hot" is just a mechanism to stimulate, excite your taste buds to boost their receptions to true tastes. So adding a little hot sauce to the food will make enhance the eater's perception to the food's taste. But when you eat something that's overly hot, your taste buds would become numb then you cannot disguish between different tastes any more.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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I just want to add my vote to the Cantonese = bland debate. There are much better cooking styles in China.

Cantomese seems to me to be all show, no taste.

I think one man's "bland" is another man's "subtle".

My knock is that Cantonese cuisine is too complex (despite Jo-Mel's "simple purity"). There's a northern dictum-- stated or unstated-- that a stir-fry should have no more than two main ingredients; my wife sniffs at the "Happy Family" type dishes on some Cantonese restaurant menus, to take an extreme example.

Maybe the too-many-competing-ingredients character often found in Cantonese cuisine is what you meant by "show" (they carve birds from veggies in Sichuan too, after all).

Cantonese may extol the complexity of their cuisine, but one man's "complex" is another man's "confused."

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I guess everything is relative. Even in Cantonese food you can experience a variety of tastes in a simple menu of Pickled Mustard Green Soup, Steamed Ham and Chicken and Black Bean Ribs. Hardly bland.

But the 'simple purity' was just a description as compared to the depth of Sichuan cooking in which so many flavors are added.

Not being Chinese, I'm not locked into any region (as I am with my New England tastes). I rarely cook a Chinese meal that does not bring all the regions, plus textures and forms of cooking into play. I love them all!

Gary -- how do you figure that Cantonese is 'complex'?

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but this is just pushing us toward the debate...that's why I hate cantonese food, its BLAND! Well, maybe not in Guangzhou, but I have a friend that insists on cooking cantonese here in the US, and to everything she cooks, I must add la jiao or jiang you or something so that it actually has flavor...

I hope that you don't take one person's cooking (your friend's) and generalize it to conclude that all Cantonese food is bland. My in-law never cook her "Cantonese food" with any salt or sauce. Her version of Cantonese food tastes very bland to me too.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Salted black beans, haum yu, haum ha, choong choy, fu yu, ...BLAND. :shock:

Oh, forget it Ben. These are Cantonese stuff. Northerners probably don't have any idea what you are talking about...

Edited by hzrt8w (log)
W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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I guess everything is relative. Even in Cantonese food you can experience a variety of tastes in a simple menu of Pickled Mustard Green Soup, Steamed Ham and Chicken and Black Bean Ribs. Hardly bland. 

But the 'simple purity' was just a description as compared to the depth of Sichuan cooking in which so many flavors are added.

Not being Chinese, I'm not locked into any region (as I am with my New England tastes).  I rarely cook a Chinese meal that does not bring all the regions, plus textures and forms of cooking into play. I love them all!

Gary -- how do you figure that Cantonese is 'complex'?

I'm not Chinese either, though I have my acquired biases.

My choice of the word "complex" may have been too imprecise, and at the same time too kind. I mean something like "busy". Cantonese food may not be as complex in flavoring as Sichuanese food (once you get past the warhorses beloved of chiliheads) but often has a cast of too many characters, like a Robert Altman movie on a plate. You often are left wondering what all those critters are up to, and why are they there. This seems to be most often true of vegetable or seafood dishes.

I have to add the disclaimer that I have never been to Guangzhou, and my experience is primarily limited to Western US "high" Cantonese food (a whole book has been written about this "school", which I'm dying to read, but is, alas written in Chinese) and mid-range Hong Kong Chinese (with which I have separate issues).

Let the record show, however, that I have not used the word "bland" in reference to Cantonese cuisine, and I have never turned down a Cantonese-style meal.

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I hope that you don't take one person's cooking (your friend's) and generalize it to conclude that all Cantonese food is bland.  My in-law never cook her "Cantonese food" with any salt or sauce.  Her version of Cantonese food tastes very bland to me too.

In retrospect, I should have clarified things a bit...I was using my friend's cooking as an example, but for the most part, at home or in a restaurant, I find cantonese food to be a bit bland for my taste at times...That isn't to say that I would never eat cantonese food or even try to avoid it all the time, its just to say that if we must have this debate about regional cuisine, there will be many arguments for all regions foods. in any case, I don't think this is necessary to discuss, people from different regions will all have different viewpoints on what food is the best, the regional pride in China runs very deep.

Edited by chengb02 (log)
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Bear with me, as I am going to post a parable :biggrin:

Food, like music, is all about the senses and taste. In music appreciation, one progresses from nursery ditties to campfire songs, to teenybop, to light rock and roll to heavy metal, etc. And, depending on your background and training, you might want to sample, and love, the blues, jazz, country or bluegrass. There are those of us whose tastes get refined as we go through life and come to appreciate the upper reaches of the musical universe, eg. the works of Puccini, Verdi, the three Bs, Stravinsky, Handel, Dvorak, etc., etc. The works of this class of people are called classics, for good reason. And these works endure.

My take on Szechuan food and all other heavily spiced and complicated cuisines is that it is the heavy metal of the Chinese food world, it is about as subtle as a sledge hammer. But judging by the popularity of rock and roll, people must like to be hit over the head with sledge hammers. (Btw I treasure each one of my 1000 vinyl albums of rock as much as I do my 1000 albums of other music. ) Cantonese food requires a more discriminating palate to appreciate the nuances and subtleties. Everytime I eat a Szechuan meal, I always think the question: "What is the cook covering up with the chilis and the spices?"

There endeth my parable.

Edited by Ben Hong (log)
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Oh now I understand. I'm not sophisticated enough!

one progresses from nursery ditties to campfire songs, to teenybop, to light rock and roll to heavy metal, etc

Maybe you did. Some of us go other routes.

the three Bs

Beatles, Brian Wilson, Britney?

Everytime I eat a Szechuan meal, I always think the question: "What is the cook covering up with the chilis and the spices?"

And you accuse us of lack of subtlety. Any decent Sichaun cook will use the spicing to complement and bring out the flavours of the ingredients. If all you are tasting is chilli then either it is bad sichuan cooking or bad tasting.

Edited by liuzhou (log)

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Oh now I understand. I'm not sophisticated enough!

Maybe you did. Some of us go other routes.

Beatles, Brian Wilson, Britney?

And you accuse us of lack of subtlety. Any decent Sichaun cook will use the spicing to complement and bring out the flavours of the ingredients. If all you are tasting is chilli then either it is bad sichuan cooking or bad tasting.

Or just ordering from the wrong part of the menu. You can't hammer out "Strange Taste Chicken" with a sledgehammer.

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Food fight! Food fight!

(Who is Britany?) (just kidding)

"Chinese Gastronomy" has a forward by Lin Yutang in which he says: "Tastes can be good or bad, instinctive or cultivated, ostentatious or sophisticated and restrained. Also there is personality about types of cuisine, about certain types of preferences. It varies like the music of composers."

The actual authors of the book don't mention Cantonese or Sichuan (or other regions, when they write about flavors, but they do speak of 'plain flavors' (bland, if you will) appearing simple because all the seasonings blended into it are undetectable. And about the amount of art that goes into bringing out the 'natural' taste. ----------They then go into 'complementary flavors' in which individual ingredients preserve their identity while complementing each other.

They go into it a little more deeply than that, but that seems to be the gist.

I think of two dishes -- Chicken Shreds with Yellow Chives - subtle flavorings but a wonderful classic dish. Is it any better than Twice Cooked Pork which asserts itself? Both different, but both dishes that I would enjoy equally because of those differences.

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Food fight! Food fight!

The actual authors of the book don't mention Cantonese or Sichuan (or other regions, when they write about flavors, but they do speak of 'plain flavors' (bland, if you will)  appearing simple because all the seasonings blended into it are undetectable. And about the amount of art that goes into bringing out the 'natural' taste. ----------They then go into 'complementary flavors' in which individual ingredients preserve their identity while complementing each other.

I think this is a very good way of showing the tastiness of all Chinese food and can sort of bring an end to all of this...

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Cantonese food in my opinion was always considered to be the most elegant, subtle and more important adaptable of the ethinic food of China.

This is appearent in the USA where it's not unusual to see Restaurants switching from Cantonese, to other types of more popular types of fashionable Chinese foods with no change in management.

The one thing we should all be thankful for is that the "Dim Sum" or "Yum Cha" that has become so popular for all it's variations, tastes and flavors is one of the few traditional Cantonese Foods now so popular in most cities where it's being served.

I feel that the "Cantonese Methods' of preparing Seafood, Soups and Banquet presentations in most ways are superior then those from anywhere else in China.

It's important to take into consideration that for many years the bounty of items from everywhere in China were often available only in "Hong Kong" where only the best were shipped reguarly. Things that were taken for granted in "Hong Kong" were not available in the local markets, such as "Shanghai Freshwater Crab", Finest Pork, Ducks, Geese, Chicken, Vegetables, Codiments, Spices or almost anything that was special or unique to any area.

These food items were incorperated into Cantonese Dishes and eventually into their regional presentations as immigration into Hong Kong increased. Since there was such a largesse of available ingredients in the marketplace even those types of foods aquired a Cantonese influence.

That's why I feel that many of the interpertations of many ethinic cusines both in China or exported all have some influence from the Hong Kong Cantonese enviorment that sutained the popularity of these different foods.

During the "Cultural Revolution" except for only a few establishments located in big cities and operated by the government mostly to accomodate visitors there were almost no restaurants available to serice the local populations except those who maintained mediocre menus and service providing mostly institutional type meals at moderate prices with limited hours of service.

Again it's important the every Cantonese establishment always provided, many types of codiments, oils and enhancers to every customer who wished to jazz up the meals being provided. This was during a period where oil, meats, rice and almost everything else was rationed on the mainland for every consumer.

Irwin

I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

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I am very uncomfortable with this whole debate period, but it just doesn't seem to die. I think this is just an issue of personal preference and there is no end in sight. If you brought together people from each province in China and asked them what they thought the best Chinese food is, I am sure that in every case they would answer with their province (or their "region"). As for complexity of cooking and flavors, this is another issue...Cantonese cuisine uses ingredients that are typically more expensive and "higher class" and thus there is a propensity of high-end Cantonese restaurants in China. I think this is part of the issue, I couldn't imagine many people going to a high end Sichuan (or for that matter Xinjiang) restaurant, because this is everyday food, it can be found everywhere and is good whether spending 5, 50, or 500 RMB. However, too often (from my experiences) Cantonese food, at least in cities outside of Guangzhou/HK is only good when you go to the higher end restaurants.

I don't know necessarily where I'm going with all of this, there are a couple of different paths to go down, but I'll just leave it at this...

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I agree with wesza that the availability of fresh and top-quality ingredients in Hong Kong in the past few decades, under its special circumstances, has a major contribution to making Cantonese cuisine so successful.

If you brought together people from each province in China and asked them what they thought the best Chinese food is, I am sure that in every case they would answer with their province (or their "region").

This seems to agree with what I said earlier about if I grew up in the Carribeans eating nothing but bananas, I may think the food from the rest of the world is no good and only bananas taste the best.

Cantonese cuisine uses ingredients that are typically more expensive and "higher class" and thus there is a propensity of high-end Cantonese restaurants in China. I think this is part of the issue, I couldn't imagine many people going to a high end Sichuan (or for that matter Xinjiang) restaurant, because this is everyday food, it can be found everywhere and is good whether spending 5, 50, or 500 RMB.

I don’t think this is true at all, what you said about Cantonese cuisine uses ingredients that are typically more expensive. You may be referring to those dishes found in Chinese banquets. If you walk in to a restaurant in Hong Kong, or here in the USA or Canada, you can find plenty of dishes similar to what you called “everyday food”, such as beef stir-fried with vegetables, beef stew in hot pots, chicken with black bean sauce, Hong Shao Do Fu, roast duck and barbequed pork, etc.. These ingredients are not considered expensive nor “higher class”.

However, too often (from my experiences) Cantonese food, at least in cities outside of Guangzhou/HK is only good when you go to the higher end restaurants.

I think the issue is, at least partially, when you and other fellow posters slammed on and said “Cantonese food is bland”, “all show and no taste”, you may be basing your broad judgment on a few limited Cantonese “bland chop suey” restaurants in the U.S., or a few what you considered as “high end” Cantonese “all show and no taste” restaurants in China, or the cooking done by a Cantonese friend. If you have the opportunity to spend some length of time living in Hong Kong and don’t be afraid to try the local Cantonese food, you may open up your mind a little.

I think Gary Soup would agree with me… take San Francisco for example, there are plenty of restaurants in or outside of SF China Town which offer excellent common “everyday Cantonese food” for less than US $5.00 a dish. They are good (in fact excellent) but nobody would consider them as “high end”. Have you ever tried dining in those places? Have you dined in Cantonese restaurants serving “everyday food” in Portland, Seattle, Monterey Park, San Jose, Los Angeles, Cerritos, Irvine, New York City, Boston, D.C., Philadelphia, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal? These cities, all outside of Guangzhou/HK, have fairly decent “low end” Cantonese restaurants. Yes, my personal experience.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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This seems to agree with what I said earlier about if I grew up in the Carribeans eating nothing but bananas, I may think the food from the rest of the world is no good and only bananas taste the best.

They are good (in fact excellent) but nobody would consider them as “high end”.  Have you ever tried dining in those places?  Have you dined in Cantonese restaurants serving “everyday food” in Portland, Seattle, Monterey Park, San Jose, Los Angeles, Cerritos, Irvine, New York City, Boston, D.C., Philadelphia, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal?  These cities, all outside of Guangzhou/HK, have fairly decent “low end” Cantonese restaurants.

First, the bananas point...I am not saying you are wrong about this, but my point is that this will never be settled because it is impossible to find a consensus on this issue, and Chinese are intensely regional.

I have eaten in almost every one of those cities you mentioned and don't disagree that you can find good, everyday Cantonese food. I guess the focus of my post was on Cantonese food in China. In any case, the good Cantonese offerings in these places doesn't translate to me feeling that Cantonese is the best of all Chinese foods, nor does it show it to be the most simple or complex, it just offers me a good cheap meal...

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Ah, the never-ending debate.

I grew up eating Cantonese food and it will always be my first preference. I also grew up in California and my tastes run toward Chez Panisse type "California" cuisine that highlights the natural flavors of food rather than buries it. I like other Chinese cuisines the way I also love certain classic, sauce-y French preparations, but not as my primary food. I think, for me, the linkage between my upbringing and love of more pure food preparations is a pretty straightforward one.

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I sincerely believe we can settle this argument satisfactorily if all of us can agree that, really, Fuzhou food is the best.  :laugh:

I disagree. I also recant my previous statement.

Everyone knows that Hohhot cuisine is far and away the most innovative, nuanced, and tastiest Chinese cuisine.

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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      After lunch we headed out to explore the tea plantation.
       

       

       

       

       
      Interspersed with the tea plants are these camellia trees, the seeds of which are used to make the Dong people's preferred cooking oil.
       

       
      As we climbed the terraces we could hear singing and then came across this group of women. They are the tea pickers. It isn't tea picking time, but they came out in their traditional costumes to welcome us with their call and response music. They do often sing when picking. They were clearly enjoying themselves.
       

       
      And here they are:
       
       
      After our serenade we headed off again, this time to the east and the most memorable meal of the trip. Coming soon.
       
       
    • By liuzhou
      It sometimes seems likes every town in China has its own special take on noodles. Here in Liuzhou, Guangxi the local dish is Luosifen (螺蛳粉 luó sī fěn).
       
      It is a dish of rice noodles served in a very spicy stock made from the local river snails and pig bones which are stewed for hours with black cardamom, fennel seed, dried tangerine peel, cassia bark, cloves, pepper, bay leaf, licorice root, sand ginger, and star anise. Various pickled vegetables, dried tofu skin, fresh green vegetables, peanuts and loads of chilli are then usually added. Few restaurants ever reveal their precise recipe, so this is tentative. Luosifen is only really eaten in small restaurants and roadside stalls. I've never heard of anyone making it at home.
       
      In order to promote tourism to the city, the local government organised a food festival featuring an event named "10,000 people eat luosifen together." (In Chinese 10,000 often just means "many".)
       
      10,000 people (or a lot of people anyway) gathered at Liuzhou International Convention and Exhibition Centre for the grand Liuzhou luosifen eat-in. Well, they gathered in front of the centre – the actual centre is a bleak, unfinished, deserted shell of a building. I disguised myself as a noodle and joined them. 10,001.
       

       
      The vast majority of the 10,000 were students from the local colleges who patiently and happily lined up to be seated. Hey, mix students and free food – of course they are happy.
       

       
      Each table was equipped with a basket containing bottled water, a thermos flask of hot water, paper bowls, tissues etc. And most importantly, a bunch of Luosifen caps. These read “万人同品螺蛳粉” which means “10,000 people together enjoy luosifen”
       

       
      Yep, that is the soup pot! 15 meters in diameter and holding eleven tons of stock. Full of snails and pork bones, spices etc. Chefs delicately added ingredients to achieve the precise, subtle taste required.
       

       
      Noodles were distributed, soup added and dried ingredients incorporated then there was the sound of 10,000 people slurping.
       

      Surrounding the luosifen eating area were several stalls selling different goodies. Lamb kebabs (羊肉串) seemed most popular, but there was all sorts of food. Here are few of the delights on offer.
       

      Whole roast lamb or roast chicken
       

      Lamb Kebabs
       

      Kebab spice mix – Cumin, chilli powder, salt and MSG
       

      Kebab stall
       

      Crab
       

      Different crab
       

      Sweet sticky rice balls
       

      Things on sticks
       

      Grilled scorpions
       

      Pig bones and bits
       

      Snails
       
      And much more.
       
      To be honest, it wasn’t the best luosifen I’ve ever eaten, but it was wasn’t the worst. Especially when you consider the number they were catering for. But it was a lot of fun. Which was the point.
       
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