Chinese people sum up their nation’s cuisine as: “Sweet in the East, salty in the North and spicy in the West”. However, Guangzhou’s cuisine is varied and not constrained to one particular style. A robust tourist and commercial city, Guangzhou features dishes from all over China.
As a die-hard gourmand, during my week in Guangzhou, I fervently tried to sample the best and most famous local dishes. Directed by Chinese friends, my first stop was Hong Xing Restaurant at 198 Yanjiang Middle Street in Yuexiu District to eat Kungpao chicken. This signature Guangzhou delicacy appeals to different palates, with soft, sweet, spicy and aromatic chicken mixed with spring onions, sweet chilli, and buttery ground peanuts. Mr. Wang’an, a waiter in the restaurant, explained that the dish originated in Sichuan Province, but is immense popularity in Guangzhou.
Another popular Guangzhou treat that took me by surprise was roast duck, which has a strong sweet flavor markedly different from that served in Vietnam. Only fat ducks are used to prepare this delicacy. The duck is marinated with spices, briefly processed, and roasted in the oven. The skin is served first with rice crepes, cucumber, chili, spring onions and a special soy sauce dip. The meat is made into soup or fried with rice.
Along with elaborate and refined dishes, Guangzhou delights foodies with its countless street snacks. A rustic street food typical of Guangzhou in particular and China in general is fermented tofu. This dish is notorious for its stinky smell. Fermented tofu marinated with spicy chili is a popular treat in Guangzhou that is often featured in Chinese dramas. Many visitors refuse this dish because of its strong smell. However my Chinese friends are so addicted to this dish that they will stop by a fermented tofu vendor to sniff its distinctive odor even if they are full. Guangzhou’s connoisseurs recommend the Tiger Prawn Restaurant at No. 548 Hi Fu Dong Lu Street for fermented tofu.
Another snack that bespeaks the soul of Guangzhou is porridge hotpot. I consider this “the queen of street foods” because it is novel, tastes great, and is affordable. Ingredients include lingzhi mushrooms, cardamom, Job’s tears, sea cucumber, jujube fruit, snow fungus, and baby ginseng – all popular herbs in China. The broth is made of steamed chicken bones, fresh ginger, and spices, but also comprises well-steamed white rice. It tastes sweeter and heavier than a hotpot. People who are drunk or unwell may feel better after eating some porridge hotpot.
Another food synonymous with Guangzhou is dim sum, which includes many small treats, from fried rice cakes and dumplings to porridge. In Guangzhou, dim sum is typically served with tea. In this city, dim sum ingredients include rice flour and locally sourced vegetables.
While my time was limited, I regard Guangzhou as “food heaven” and hope to return to feast upon more famous dishes.