Guangdong Province, An Introduction to Cantonese (Yue) Cuisine
This week our travels take us to Guangdong Province, China. This region is more popularly called Canton in the West, due to a transliteration of the city name Guangzhou to Western European languages, particularly that of Portuguese traders. The Portuguese had a large presence in Macau and the surrounding areas as the city was ruled as a Portuguese colony from 1557 to 1999. As I explore China’s provinces and foods from a historical context, I’m finding more and more how we refer to certain places is based on sometimes incorrect transliteration to Western languages which were never corrected. We’ll see this a bit more next week.
Cantonese food became hugely popular in the West and especially in the United States due to a number of reasons. Starting in about the mid-nineteenth century, an influx of Chinese immigrants came to the United States (and Europe). Most of these immigrants were from Guangdong province and brought with them their culinary traditions. This style of cooking has an array of methods and focuses on fresh ingredients, foregoing heavy sauces so the ingredients themselves are emphasized. It is extremely adaptable, so it isn’t uncommon to see Cantonese fusion dishes from everywhere immigrants settled.
With my first dish of the week, I discovered an interesting fact. Most traditional Chinese homes don’t have an oven. When someone makes duck noodle soup at home, they begin with a duck that was roasted and sold at a place that specializes in siu mei, or roasted meats. I picked up a roasted duck at my local 99 Ranch, and followed a recipe from The Woks of Life. It was surprisingly easy to get a well-flavored broth from pieces of the already roasted duck. DeAnna even commented that she liked mine better than the one at 99 Ranch because you could taste this broth. If you have a Chinese grocery near you and you enjoy duck, you have to give this one a try. It’s perfect for a weeknight dinner.
Since I took the easy route on the duck noodle soup, I thought I would try roasting char siu myself. I knew the week’s big finale would require making the filling or char siu bao, so I thought I would get a head start earlier in the week. I mistakenly thought I had fermented tofu so the final product isn’t red on the outside as you may be used to seeing, but flavor-wise it was spot on. We ended up eating it for a couple of days with rice and veggies, with plenty left for the bao filling.
I wanted to bake this week and had borrowed Mooncakes and Milk Bread from the library. This cookbook is full of recipes for Chinese bakery staples. This region is famous for its bao, so I attempted what is arguably one of the most popular, Bolo bao, or pineapple buns. The bao were absolutely delicious and pretty simple to make. The topping adds texture and some additional sweetness to a wonderful soft bun. Interestingly, while some of the ingredients are different, bolo bao and Mexican conchas are made very similarly. Oddly, there appears to be no historical link between the two breads.
Before the week’s big finale, we had one more simple dish, this one the result of not wanting to get out to pick up more groceries. I had chicken wings in the freezer and found a Food.com recipe for Mut Jup Mun Gai Yik, Honey Soy Braised Wings. Sadly the link no longer seems to be available, but just search it and you will find several recipes. The wings are given a quick stir-fry then braised in a covered wok in a dark soy sauce and honey mixture. This picture isn’t the prettiest, but the desire to get to eating outweighed the need to capture the moment.
Before I finish this newsletter off with a bang, I wanted to highlight a dish that I somehow ate all week, but never got a picture of. Congee is a savory rice porridge that is typically eaten for breakfast or for a snack. I found a recipe on Omnivorescookbook.com that used the Instant Pot. Rather than chicken, I added a pound of grass fed ground meat that I had mixed with some soy sauce and corn starch. Considering how much I love rice, it’s shocking that I hadn’t tried this before. Warm, filling, and comforting, congee is a dish that will be going in my forever rotation.
Finally we come to the end of the week and the city of Hong Kong. While Hong Kong is not officially part of Guangdong province, it is culturally Cantonese. Hong Kong was a British colony 1882 to 1997 and remains a center of international trade and cultural exchange, today operating as a Special Administrative Region. The city is famous for Dim Sum and the style of eating known as Yum Cha, or Drink Tea. Of all of the dishes I was excited to explore this week, having a weekend Yum Cha brunch was at the top of the list. The process took two days, as I made the radish cakes and fillings the day before, leaving the doughs and actually cooking everything for Sunday morning. Overall, I’m pleased with the way everything turned out. I was a bit over ambitious and abandoned making the Har Gow (shrimp dumplings) when I realized I was running out of time. Everything else made it to the table. I present Siu Mai formed into roses, Lo Bak Go (radish cakes with Chinese sausage, mushrooms, and dried shrimp), and Char Siu Bao. The bao were a touch under proofed, so chewier than I would prefer, but still tasty and a lesson learned on giving myself a little more time than I think I need.
Most of what I made toward the end of the week came from the Mooncakes and Milk Bread cookbook. Of all of the resources I’ve watched or learned from this week, I highly recommend this book. It’s wonderful if you have any interest in Chinese baking and pastry.
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