Cantonese Cuisine: A Guide To Cosmopolitan Chinese Cooking
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For a population that has grown up on hakka noodles and chicken manchurian that does not skimp on the garlic or seasoning, it can be tricky to tell the difference between what we consider as Chinese food and what it really is. As innovations within the food space have expanded the spectrum of palates from across the world, Cantonese cuisine was one of the first cuisines which truly shaped the identity of Chinese culinary traditions around the world. Despite its general negative reputation for not being ‘Chinese’ enough, most would be surprised to know that Cantonese cuisine is, in fact, one of the most sought-after regional cuisines within China and Asia, at large.

When the Pearl River Delta of the Guangdong province was granted permission by the Qing Dynasty imperial court to open trade to the outside world in the 18th century, traders from the province were one of the first to reach American shores. With their business, they also brought along with them culinary traditions that gave them a sense of familiarity in a foreign land, where it established itself as the default perception of what Chinese food has been through the ages. Traditional Cantonese cuisine is a celebration of the ingredients more than the preparation at large – reflecting the abundance of seafood and farming through its clean, natural flavours.

Unlike Sichuan or Dongbei styles of cooking, Cantonese food is easy on the spice and uses meats like pork, fish and chicken liberally in various forms. In addition to this, the traditional cuisine also encourages the consumption of game meats like finch, civets and snakes for medicinal purposes. The ‘holy trinity’, which comprises of ginger, garlic and green onions take centre stage as opposed to black bean paste and fermented vinegar – two widely used condiments in China. Flavour boosters in the cuisine also come in the form of plum sauce, hoisin sauce, shrimp paste and black beans.

Ingredients like the fatty Chinese sausage, salted duck eggs and pickled Chinese cabbage also feature prominently in dishes such as the fried rice. When it comes to cooking techniques, Cantonese cuisine resorts to an assortment of methods such as steaming, double steaming, braising, deep frying and roasting in order to extract the best from each ingredient. In addition to this, steamed rice is considered to be one of the staples of the regional cuisine – since it bulks up meals that include steamed fish, barbecued meats or stir fries. The love for utilising seafood within traditional styles of preparation extend to delicacies like jellyfish and sea cucumber.

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What’s most special about the food offered within the range of this cuisine is that there is a soup for pretty much every season of the year, as well as to cure any kind of ailment – acting as the medicinal medium in which plenty of healing herbs and nourishing ingredients are infused during the cooking process.