Chinese food is complex, versatile, and above all, delicious. What a lot of people don’t realize, however, is that it’s highly variable depending on the region in question. As someone whose family hails from the southern Cantonese region of China, here are ten foods you definitely need to be eating from my motherland.
1. Hainanese Chicken Rice
Hailing from the Hainan province in Southern China, this boiled, white-cut chicken dish is packed with flavor. From upscale restaurants to the night markets, you can find this insanely popular dish throughout the Cantonese region. With the chicken’s skin glistening, sitting next to a steaming pile of rice and a small dish of ginger-scallion dipping sauce, what’s not to love?
2. Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings)
Xiao long bao, better known as soup dumplings, are the epitome of steamed perfection. They have all the juicy deliciousness of a regular dumpling, but pack the extra punch that only hot broth can offer. Flavorful and delicious, the only caveat is that the skin is extremely easy to puncture, so one has to be rather skilled in handling chopsticks to avoid breakage.
3. Cha Siu Bao (Barbecue Pork Bun)
Cha siu bao, or barbecue buns, are steamed, sweet buns stuffed with a Chinese rendition of barbecued pork. These are usually found on dim sum (the Canton Chinese equivalent of brunch) menus across China or are sold by street vendors to locals for some hearty, on-the-go breakfast.
4. Dan Tat (Egg Tart)
These delicate egg tart pastries prove that custard is so severely underrated and underused in Western style desserts (wake up, America). A flaky, buttery crust gently envelopes sweet, glistening egg custard to create a bite-sized piece of perfection.
5. Beef Chow Fun (Beef Fried Noodles)
If you’re a fan of lo mein, this classic Cantonese dish will blow your mind. Served either with gravy or dry (as pictured) with scallions, bean sprouts, and enough beef and noodles to make your heart sing, this dish blows those take-out noodles right out of the water.
6. Lo Bak Go (Turnip Cakes)
Before you exclaim, “Gross!” and close this article because who puts turnip in cakes, hear me out. These cakes are savory, made from pan-frying pressed daikon turnips and rice flour; the result is a dish that is golden and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. This is also a common dim sum dish and is one of the most commonly eaten “lucky” foods during Chinese New Year, as the Chinese word for “radish” is a homophone for “good luck.”
7. Claypot Rice
Although this rice dish takes roughly 20-30 minutes to cook, it’s well worth it. A hearty serving of white rice is cooked over a charcoal stove in a clay pot and infused with flavors from Chinese mushroom, sausage, and salted rice. Topped with vegetables and served with a side of dark soya sauce, this crispy rice dish will satisfy all your carb cravings for the day.
#SpoonTip: If you happen to have a rice cooker laying around, you can make this right in your dorm.
8. Red Bean Soup
A hugely popular and versatile dish throughout China, this can be served cold or hot depending on the climate. This tong sui (sweet soup) made from red azuki beans is generally served after dinner as a palette cleanser and dessert. Depending on the region, different dessert toppings such as sago, ice cream, tapioca, glutinous rice balls, and many more can be added to create a light, sweet treat.
9. Lanzhou Lamian (Lanzhou Hand-pulled Noodles)
Lamian is a type of Cantonese style noodle that is made by twisting and stretching the dough, using the weight to create perfect, delicate noodles. The process is actually really cool to watch and can be seen from many clear storefronts. The result? Perfectly smooth and slurp-worthy noodles bathed in broth and topped with anything from ground beef to freshly chopped parsley.
Probably the most popular breakfast food for millions of locals, congee is basically just rice porridge. Think oatmeal, but with small, customizable side dishes comprised of everything from pickled vegetables to dried pork to century egg. This is the quintessential example of Cantonese homestyle cooking; I can’t count the number of mornings I’ve woken up to a piping hot bowl of congee sprinkled with scallions for breakfast.