If you’ve ever been to a Chinese restaurant outside of China, it’s likely you’ve already experienced eating Cantonese food – or at least some variety of it.
Authentic Cantonese cuisine is famous for its mild, fresh, and natural flavors, innovative ingredients, and exquisite cooking techniques. It’s even considered China’s most exquisite cuisine.
But what is it about Cantonese cuisine that sets it apart from China’s other regional cuisines? Let’s deep dive into the short but rich history of Cantonese food.
Cantonese food and cuisine
China’s “haute cuisine”
Cantonese cuisine is considered the “haute cuisine” of China and originates from the province of Guangdong. The Cantonese are very fortunate to live in an area with such abundant rainfall and a warm tropical climate. Guangdong Province is known for its agriculture, and there are plenty of pig and poultry farms in the area. Lush rice paddies are scattered all throughout the Pearl River Delta.
Located on the Pearl River, Guangdong province’s capital Guangzhou makes an excellent seaport through which many foreign ingredients are imported from other countries. Inventive as the Cantonese are, they are happy to incorporate these non-native ingredients into their cuisine.
A short but rich history of Cantonese food
Though having only a short history, Cantonese cuisine has made quite the international impact. Chinese immigrants, many of them from Cantonese origin, are spread throughout the world and introduced their beloved cuisine to every corner of the planet.
Unfortunately, Cantonese immigrants have been struggling to reproduce their native cuisine in a foreign land, resulting in the “pseudo-Chinese” cuisine we know today.
Although these not-quite-authentic Chinese dishes may not be part of the ancient Chinese food culture, they are authentic products of the Chinese immigrant experience, yielding diverse takes on Chinese food tweaked for local palettes.
The mild, fresh, and natural flavors of Cantonese cuisine
The hallmark of Cantonese cuisine is preserving the natural flavors of the food. A Cantonese cook knows fresh is best, and goes all the way to make sure your meal isn’t overcooked or too heavily seasoned. Amongst the varied cooking techniques, steaming and braising are a Cantonese cook’s favorite.
Fresh fish and shellfish, beef, chicken, pork, rice, tropical fruits, and a wide array of fresh vegetables are common ingredients in Cantonese food, which makes for mild, fresh, naturally flavored meals. Notable Cantonese dishes include sliced boiled chicken (Baiqieji), roasted suckling pig (Kaoruzhu), and black chicken soup (Wujitang).
The Cantonese believe that food is delicious as it is, so almost no additional seasoning is added. However, no Cantonese kitchen would be complete without a bottle of oyster sauce and hoisin sauce. Spices such as ginger, chives, black pepper, and anise also figure prominently in Cantonese cooking.
Keep in mind, though, the Cantonese are very open-minded when it comes to ingredients. Don’t be surprised if you end up ordering a dish that contains snake, cat, or even dog! Being a late bloomer, Cantone cuisine is an infusion of the best of other cuisines all around the world. Throughout the centuries, Cantonese cuisine has gradually formed its own signature taste, which has captivated the palates everywhere.
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