The History of Guangzhou Street Food
Located in Guangdong Province, the city of Guangzhou, formerly known as Canton, is the birthplace of Cantonese cuisine, 1 of the 8 traditional culinary cuisines of China. As a major trading port, Guangzhou / Canton has many imported ingredients, as well as fresh ingredients from farms or fisheries. Guangzhou Street Food shares many similarities with Hong Kong cuisine, as the 2 cities are located relatively near each other, and there has been much cross influence.
Food in Guangzhou can be found along the streets in pushcarts, kiosks or small cafes, on street corners, in mid-range restaurants and fine-dining establishments. Cantonese cuisine is defined by the use of roasting, steaming, stir frying or braising, and dishes that are well balanced but not greasy. Fresh herbs are rarely used, and Cantonese dishes tend to be heavy on gravy or marinade. Soups are especially popular.
Common ingredients used in many Guangzhou China dishes include beef, pork, chicken, fish, snake, snail, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, plum sauce, black bean, vinegar, shrimp paste, prawn, squid, tofu, egg, chinese broccoli, chinese spinach, chinese cabbage, daikon, frog, rice, scallop, mung bean and more. Lamb is rarely eaten.
Breakfast in Guangzhou is often a light, quick, on the go affair during weekdays, with the more leisurely Dim Sum breakfast popular on weekends. As with other parts of China, dining in Guangzhou is often a communal affair, and you’ll rarely be able to order a 1 dish meal in a restaurant. The increasing wealth of the cosmopolitan city has also opened Guangzhou to more variety in cuisine, and cuisines from other parts of the world are becoming more popular, such as American, Japanese, Italian or French.
A look at Guangzhou Street Food
Guangzhou / Canton dishes use claypots for cooking fairly often, and one such style is Baked Fish With Ginger And Black Bean Sauce. A fresh fish with firm white flesh is baked in a traditional China claypot together with black beans, salt, bok choy chinese cabbage and lots of garlic, which gives it a fragrant aroma.
Beer brewed locally in either China or Guangzhou tends to be pale golden in colour, slight sweet with not much bitterness, and very low alcohol content. Harbin Beer is produced by China 4th largest brewery in Harbin. Tsing Tao Beer is the 2nd leading brand of Beer in China, brewed in Qing Dao / Tsing Tao, but is the biggest brand of beer exported.
Tsing Tao Beer has even entered into international pop culture, as a representation of China. Zhujiang Pearl River Beer is produced locally in Guangzhou, and is named for the iconic Pearl River which flows through the city. Brewing of Zhujiang Pearl River Beer uses water sourced from the Pearl River fresh springs.
Although considered a ‘Chinese’ thing in Singapore, Chili In Soy Sauce is rarely eaten in Guangzhou / Canton cuisine. In fact, you have to specially order and pay for this in restaurants / cafes, as it’s not provided free. Chili In Soy Sauce is in fact considered a Szechuan style of eating in China, where chili is added to almost every dish.
A simple stir fry, Chinese Broccoli With Ham And Ginger consists of fresh chinese broccoli kai lan, salt, ginger, and slices of ham in a thin gravy of chicken stock and ginger. The addition of cured meat like ham to various dishes is a signature style of Cantonese cuisine.
Claypot Braised Mushrooms is a savoury dish of various types of mushrooms, including Shiitake, Abalone, Golden, Oyster and Straw, braised in a mushroom gravy with salt and broccoli. Claypot Braised Mushrooms is a hearty, meaty dish suitable as a protein substitute for vegetarians.
Claypot Braised Pork Belly consists of sliced pork belly braised in a savoury soy sauce till tender. While unhealthy due to the high fat content, Claypot Braised Pork Belly is a popular dish for the Chinese to keep warm during the cold seasons.
A hearty and satisfying dish, the Claypot Braised Tofu With Seafood consists of tofu cubes braised till soft, along with various fresh seafood like squid, prawns, crab stick and sometimes abalone, as well as shiitake mushrooms or button mushrooms.
Cantonese style Congee is a type of rice porridge in China, usually eaten at Dim Sum restaurants in Guangzhou, and has a thick texture from long slow cooking of the rice. Congee is usually garnished with spring onions, shallots, roasted peanuts, peanut oil and fried dough fritter / You Tiao.
Various side dishes are served to accompany Congee, usually salted preserved vegetables, salted egg, pickled tofu and more. Sometimes, the Congee is enhanced with the addition of pork, fish, or chicken.
Traditionally served as part of a Dim Sum meal, the Shrimp Dumplings / Har Kao is also sometimes called a Shrimp Bonnet due to its pleated skin. A good Shrimp Dumplings / Har Kao is the hallmark of a good Dim Sum chef, and there are very stringent criteria on judging a good Shrimp Dumplings / Har Kao, including 10 or more pleats, a thin translucent skin that is still strong enough to hold together and not break when picked up.
It should not stick to anything, contain a generous portion of well cooked fresh shrimp, and yet be small enough to be eaten in 1 mouthful.
Dumplings Shrimp / Har Kao is made with wheat starch, tapioca starch, corn starch, shrimp, bamboo shoot, scallions, pork fat, light soy sauce, sugar, salt, sesame oil, chinese rice wine, pepper and ginger.
Fried Rice is a common staple in South China, and consists of white rice stir fried in a wok together with egg, carrots, peas, corn, soy sauce and scallions. Fried Rice is often sold in cafes and restaurants in Guangzhou / Canton, rather than on the streets. The Cantonese version of Fried Rice typically has a thick gravy made of chicken / beef stock poured over it, this is then called Mui Fan.
In China, the Fried Spring Roll is often stuffed with minced pork, shredded carrot, bean sprouts and chinese cabbage, and eaten during the spring season, hence the name. In Guangzhou, Fried Spring Roll is often served as an appetizer as part of a larger meal, or as a snack in Dum Sum restaurants.
Fresh seafood is common in Guangzhou, and the most popular is the Grilled Squid, served in nearly every Chinese restaurant here. There are a multitude of presentation styles, but all typically use fresh squid, grilled lightly and seasoned with salt, then served with a dipping sauce.
The traditional Cantonese Pineapple Bun / Bo Luo Bao is a mix of savoury and sweet, typically eaten as part of a meal. The upper layer is a crispy crust, while the bottom layer is soft and doughy. The Pineapple Bun / Bo Luo Bao is hollow within, and is stuffed with sweet caramelised pineapple.
The contrasting savoury and sweet taste may take some getting used to though. Other variations include the meaty stuffing of Roast Pork Loin / Char Siew, western style cheese stuffing, or simply plain with no filling.
While there are variations of Chinese Rice Krispies / Sachima throughout China, the version locally produced in Guangzhou / Canton is slightly sweeter and sprinkled with sesame seeds or dried dessicated coconut. Despite the name, Rice Krispies / Sachima doesn’t contain rice, and instead is made with all purpose flour, butter / lard, rock sugar / malt sugar, and eggs.
Cantonese Rice Krispies / Sachima has a slightly chewy, slightly crisp texture, with a sticky consistency and sweet taste, and the malt sugar / rock sugar tends to leave the universally loved, fun trailing strands of sugar between bites.
The Cantonese are famed for their excellent roasting skills, producing dishes which feature crisp, savoury skins, juicy meat within, and very little fat in between. The Roast Chicken is a fine example of Cantonese roasting, though the meat tends to dry out more towards the wings.
The skin tends to crackle when bitten, producing a satisfying crunch. Cantonese Roast Chicken is often served with a sweet sauce, such as plum sauce, or sweet chili sauce, and sometimes sea salt.
Roast Duck is another popular poultry often used for roasting, though it tends to be slightly more fatty. Cantonese Roast Duck often has a faint fragrant aroma wafting from the skin, and again, tends to be tender and juicy within but slightly dry near the wings. The skin of a Roast Duck can be served either crisp, or slightly chewy.
Served as part of a Dim Sum meal, the ever popular Roast Pork Loin Bun / Char Siew Pau features a dense yet soft bun made from low protein flour, yeast, baking powder, water, sugar, sesame seed oil and vinegar.
The resulting white bun is stuffed with tender, sweet, slow roasted pork loin marinated in a mixture of oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, roasted sesame seed oil, vinegar, chinese rice wine, soy sauce, sugar and corn starch. Roast Pork Loin Bun / Char Siew Pau originated from the Guangdong Province, and is more common in Guangzhou / Canton and Hong Kong, than in other parts of China.
The famed Cantonese barbecue Roast Pork Loin / Char Siew consists of cuts such as pork loin, pork shoulder, pork collar, pork belly or pork butt, often sliced into strips. The meat is marinated with honey syrup, garlic, chinese 5-spice powder, sugar, shaoxing wine / chinese rice wine / sherry, dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, red fermented tofu and seafood hoisin sauce, and sometimes oyster sauce, pepper, soy bean paste or sesame oil. Roast Pork Loin / Char Siew is then skewed, and slow roasted for hours. It can be served alone, or as part of a larger meal.
The Sesame Ball / Sesame Seed Ball / Jin Deui is a sweet Chinese pastry made from glutinous rice flour and sesame seeds. Sesame Ball / Sesame Seed Ball / Jin Deui is crisp and chewy on the outside, and hollow inside, usually filled with either lotus paste, black bean paste or red bean paste. Sesame Ball / Sesame Seed Ball / Jin Deui was considered a Royal food of the ancient Imperial court.
Dspite the Chinese origin, Sesame Chicken or Sesame Seed Chicken is more commonly found in Western countries, and rarely offered by restaurants in China. And while the name is the same, Sesame Chicken in China is prepared very differently from those in Western countries.
It usually involves steaming the chicken with ginger, then stir frying it quickly with chicken stock, sugar / honey syrup and topped with sesame seeds. This results in a slightly sweet taste to the meat, with a crisp, crunchy skin.
Traditionally served as part of a Dim Sum meal, Siew Mai, also known as Shu Mai / Sui Mai / Pork And Shrimp Dumplings, has many different varieties, though the Cantonese style is probably the most common.
Cantonese Siew Mai is made with minced pork, shrimp, chinese black mushrooms, scallion, ginger, chinese rice wine, light soy sauce, lye water dough, chicken stock and sesame oil. Sometimes, bamboo shoot, carrot, water chestnuts or pepper is added to the Siew Mai. Siew Mai is one of the hallmark dishes of Dim Sum.
Soups are popular in Cantonese cuisine, and most meals in Guangzhou / Canton usually feature some type of soup served at the start of a meal. Like most soups in China, it is usually double boiled, and feature some type of herb, as soups are considered medicinal, or to have health benefits.
The Double Boiled Minced Pork And Cordyceps Soup is a simple soup of slow cooked minced pork in a pork broth with cordyceps, red dates, wolfberries and salt, supposed to reduce oxidation and boost the immune system.
The Double Boiled Pork Rib And Lotus Root Soup consists of pork ribs slow cooked in a pork broth, along with lotus root, peanuts, black beans, ginko nuts, red dates and salt, supposed to aid digestion and improve blood circulation.
The Double Boiled Sea Cucumber And Ginseng Soup consists of boiled whole sea cucumber slow cooked in a chicken broth, along with Asian red ginseng root, American ginseng root, shiitake mushroom, wolfberries and salt, supposed to balance the body, act as an aphrodisiac and increase energy levels.
Also known as the Cantonese Style Steamed Fish or Hong Kong Style Steamed Fish, the Soy Sauce Fish consists of a firm, white flesh fish, steamed along with salt, pepper, chinese rice wine, spring onions, ginger, sesame oil, light soy sauce, water, rock sugar / malt sugar and cilantro.
The Soy Sauce Fish typically has a darkish brown gravy that is thin and light in texture, and when served, the gravy is repeatedly spooned over the fish.
This results in Steamed Pork Ribs Black Bean Sauce Style having tender and moist meat that is flavourful with a fragrant aroma.
Steamed Sticky Rice With Chicken In Lotus Leaf / Lo Mai Gai is a classic South China dish served in Dim Sum restaurants across Guangzhou / Canton. It consists of glutinous rice filled with diced chicken, chinese black mushrooms, chinese preserved sausage, scallions and dried shrimp, wrapped in a lotus leaf and then steamed.
Steamed Sticky Rice With Chicken In Lotus Leaf / Lo Mai Gai has a fragrant aroma, and is usually very filling despite being served as part of a meal. It is mostly eaten during breakfast.
The Stewed Green Cucumber Flower In Chicken Soup consists of green cucumber flowers, slow stewed in a rich but thin chicken stock along with water and salt. Served as part of a larger meal, the Stewed Green Cucumber Flower In Chicken Soup can be considered either a vegetable dish, or a soup dish.
Typically served in Chinese restaurants or cafes, the Stir Fried Vermicelli is made with chinese vermicelli / cellophane noodles / glass noodles, stir fried with eggs, spring onions, garlic, light soy sauce, ginger and chinese black mushrooms. Stir Fried Vermicelli is usually served at the end of a Chinese meal, just before dessert.
A modern interpretation of a traditional Cantonese classic Dim Sum dish, the Red Rice Noodle Rolls With Prawn And Crispy Bits is both pretty to look at, and a delight to eat. Red coloured rice noodles are wrapped over fresh shrimp and crisp fried egg bits, served with bok choy chinese cabbage and several dipping sauces.
The traditional Rice Noodle Rolls Prawn / Chee Cheong Fun consists of fresh shrimp and scallions, wrapped with a thin rice noodle made from water, rice flour, tapioca flour, corn starch and corn oil. It is then shaped into long rolls and steamed. Rice Noodle Rolls Prawn / Chee Cheong Fun may be served plain, in a sauce of sesame oil, or in a sauce of light soy sauce and ginger.
Sugar Cane is sold in mobile pushcarts or vehicles along the streets of Guangzhou / Canton, often as a drink. Formerly, Sugar Cane used to be sold in some parts of China as a snack for chewing, but it has become less popular, and thus more rare.
For millenia, the Chinese have enjoyed Tea, not only for the flavour as a drink, but as a remedy for various ailments, and as a mark of status for the wealthy / royalty. There is a multitude of various types of Tea, with the most common types being Green, Oolong and Black.
White Rice is a common staple throughout South China, and is served along with meals in Guangzhou / Canton. White Rice is eaten at almost every meal, unless noodles or bread is served instead. Increasingly, the more cosmopolitan locals are actually eating less White Rice.
The Cantonese Wonton Noodles consists of thin egg noodles served in a hot chicken, pork or fish broth / soup, along with garnishes of fresh chinese broccoli kai lan, wonton dumplings and garlic chives. There is a very stringent criteria for making proper Cantonese Wonton Noodles. Only freshly made thin egg noodles are used. The wonton dumplings contain more prawn than minced pork, liberally stuffed into a wrapper made from egg and wheat flour.
The broth / soup is made from pork bones, chicken stock, dried flounder fish, ginger and dried shrimp. Even the order in which the dish is prepared is regulated, making the Cantonese Wonton Noodles an extremely laborious, time consuming task to get right.
A specific speciality dish, the Tofu Trio consists of 3 types of tofu in a light soy sauce, namely Plain, Corn, and Ling Zhi Mushroom.