If your takeout order always consists of Egg Foo Young, Lo Mein and Chop Suey, or you’re absolutely addicted to Dim Sum, chances are you’ll love Cantonese cuisine. In 1870s, the first wave of Chinese immigrants departed from Guangdong and arrived at California. Their mission was to help Americans build railroads. Most of them later stayed, and in order to make a living, they modified their food and invented most of the popular the American Chinese food we know of today, becoming the mother of American Chinese takeout.
Traditional Cantonese cuisine is famous for its bold ingredients and western influences. A quick tour at any eatery in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, you’ll find localized Portuguese egg tarts, ham sandwiches and Wonton on the same menu, and if you walk into a big restaurant—tanks after tanks of live seafood, birds and wild animals will be the first thing you’ll see right at the entrance.
Guangdong province and Hong Kong are located on the South China Sea coast. Historically, these two places were where China connected with the rest of the world. They’re the largest importer and exporter of goods in China, and the largest group of Chinese immigrants in the world.
The benefit of being the connector is experiencing fusion of all kinds of culinary influences. Cantonese were the first to localize and incorporate the concept of baking and developed its own baking style. They’re also the first to use fish sauce, ketchup and mayo in its cooking. An american chinese food favorite, Orange Chicken is a copycat of the traditional recipe Pineapple Sweet & Sour Pork, which is deep fried pork chunks coated with a ketchup vinegar sauce and stir-fried with canned pineapples.
The misconception that the Chinese eat almost everything began as early as 139 B.C. in the Cantonese area. In the book HuaiNanZi, it documented that “Canton region people regards snakes as delicacies.” Yet even to date, the majority of mainland Chinese people still can’t get close to eating snakes. As a classic proverb jokingly describes, “no matter if it flies, walks or flies, as long as it’s alive, people in Canton region will eat it.” Some classic cantonese dishes in this regards are deep fried pigeons (image below), steamed chicken feet in fermented black bean sauce, and steamed tripe with soy sauce and scallion.