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The food that one encounters in Guangdong province and Hong Kong bears little resemblance to the food served in Cantonese restaurants in foreign countries. There the menu is modified to include such foreign favorites as meat in sweet and sour sauces. Authentic Cantonese cuisine is known for subtle, refined sauces and seasonings that accent only the freshest quality ingredients.
Cantonese cuisine uses little oil, and the triumvirate of ginger, spring onions and soy sauce is used as flavoring in nearly every dish. Garlic, rice wine, oyster sauce and sometimes lemons or fermented black beans are also popular.
Seafood is very popular and live specimens, displayed in restaurant fish tanks,are especially sought after, though often expensive. Being offered favored cuts, such as the fish cheek or head is an honor. Whole fish, subtly flavored with ginger and spring onions, are steamed and glazed with hot oil and soy sauce to emphasize the fresh sea flavors. Shark's fin and abalone are both highly prized and highly priced.
Stir-fried foods are another favorite. Well-cooked dishes are said to have wok hai, literally “air of the wok.” Soups, usually clear broths, which have simmered for hours are an essential part of a meal, and are often chosen for their seasonal health-enhancing qualities. The genius of Cantonese cooking extends to vegetarian fare; bean curd and wheat gluten are cooked to resemble meat and fish.
The Cantonese eat just about everything as a visit to Guangzhou's Qing Ping market will attest. Snakes and lizards are well-known winter fare. All manner of dried seafood exotica from sea slugs to shark's fin are prized, with gourmet price tags to match. Goose web and chicken's feet are favorites, as is honey-glazed roasted pigeon.
Roast suckling pig, glazed and cooked slowly over an open fire until wonderfully crisp, is considered a vital part of weddings and other celebrations. Food at Cantonese banquets is beautifully arranged with vegetables carved in animal shapes and tiny dishes of condiments artfully placed to ensure that colors and shapes harmonize.
At a casual dim sum breakfast or lunch (never dinner) you can enjoy a selection of small dumplings, buns, pastries, beef balls, spring rolls, cakes and tarts, some steamed in little bamboo baskets, some fried, all delicious.
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