A list of the best easy Cantonese recipes that you can cook at home, and are better than takeout! From Congee, fried rice, Dim Sum and Char Siu to Wonton Soup, Sweet and Sour Pork, Egg Tarts, Pineapple Buns and even drinks such as Yuan Yang Milk Tea, I have the Hong Kong recipes for you!
What is Cantonese Cuisine?
Cantonese cuisine, also known as Yue cuisine (粤菜 yuè cài), is 1 of the cuisines of China's Guangdong province in Southern China. It is specific to the Cantonese speaking parts along the Pearl Delta River: Guangzhou (its capital), Hong Kong and Macau. (Guangdong has 2 other groups- Hakka and Chao Zhou- which have their own cuisines, but Cantonese cuisine is the most famous of the 3.)
Fun fact: If you've ever eaten in a Chinese restaurant in America, Canada or UK, it's 99.9% likely that you're eating Cantonese food. (The majority of Chinese restaurants outside Asia are Cantonese.)
Chinese culture is big on food and Cantonese cuisine is considered 1 of its 4 great traditions of Chinese Food (in addition to Chuan, Lu, and Huaiyang i.e. the cuisines of West, North, South & East China.)
It is also 1 of its 8 modern culinary treasures:
- Anhui (徽菜; Huīcài)
- Guang Dong/ Cantonese (粤菜; Yuècài)
- Fujian (闽菜; Mǐncài)- where my family is from!
- Hunan (湘菜; Xiāngcài)
- Jiangsu (苏菜; Sūcài)
- Shandong (鲁菜; Lǔcài)
- Sichuan (川菜; Chuāncài)
- Zhejiang(浙菜; Zhècài).
Note: if you're wondering why I'm sharing a post on Cantonese recipes when my ancestors are from Fujian, that's because the dominant Chinese cuisine in Singapore is Cantonese!
How do you tell if the food is Cantonese?
- Scallion, ginger and garlic are considered the Holy Trinity of Cantonese recipes, similar to mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery) in French food
- Please do not substitute for onion or garlic powder!
- Emphasis on preserving the taste of the ingredients (a little like Italian cooking): the flavor is from the freshness and quality of the food used, so there is little application of spices
- It's all about the "wok hei" or breath of the wok- a somewhat smoky flavor that the best Cantonese dishes have thanks to the super hot fire
- This is why it can be hard to cook restaurant quality Cantonese food at home- our fires just aren't hot enough!
- Herbs are used in moderation, mostly as garnishes
- Preserved ingredients are used to add flavour. Some examples are:
- The Cantonese are known for its soups, such as old fire soup/ lao huo tang, silky congee and dim sum.
- As Guangdong has a coastal location, seafood is another key ingredient of Cantonese recipes
- ordering steamed fish is a great way to tell if the restaurant is worth its salt!
- You sometime see "weird" ingredients, such as chicken feet, entrails, frogs and snakes, in Cantonese recipes
- Frogs meat is delicious! It's like a really tender chicken
- Lamb and goat are uncommon though
Savory sauce is often used in Cantonese food recipes, including:
Cantonese soup is so good, I can have 2-3 bowls (of different soups) when I go to a restaurant. They're particularly good at slow-cooked soups and double-boiled soups, but I've focused on easier soup recipes below.
Vegan Wonton Soup
To make it a complete meal, you can add some wonton noodles. Don't forget the spring onion garnish!
This simple dish is very popular in Hong Kong's coffee shops, but super quick and easy to recreate in your own kitchen.
Egg Drop Soup
This is a very popular dish at Chinese restaurants, but you can make a better version, using my family recipe, if you have chicken stock at home!
Silkie Chicken Soup
Jook or congee is the ultimate Cantonese comfort food, especially when you're under the weather- if you grew up in a Chinese home, you've definitely had this one time or another!
Minced Pork Congee
Abalone is considered a premium and auspicious ingredient in Chinese cooking.
For more canned abalone recipes, click here.
Some less traditional jook recipes include this Chicken Rice-inspired recipe and this leftover rotisserie chicken congee.
If you've ever eaten in a Cantonese restaurant, you'll know that a steamed whole fish is a can't-be-missed item on the menu. In fact, good Cantonese restaurants are so big on their fish, they cook live ones (and not frozen/ dead fish.)
Fun fact: if you know how to eat it, the fish head is considered a delicacy- the meat in the cheek is super tender! If you eat the head, you need to take responsibility for the tail too as, for every beginning (head), there's an end (tail.) In Chinese, this translates to "有头有尾 you tou you wei."
Eggs & Shrimp
Eggs are often scrambled with shrimp for an easy weeknight dish- click here for a 5-star recipe from Omnivore's Cookbook!
Soy Sauce Chicken
However, to get the meat super tender, it will take a few hours of poaching. (It's an easy recipe but takes a while to cook.) If you're in a rush, make the easy chicken thighs version below.
Note: Roasted goose is a little more difficult to make at home- not many supermarkets sell goose, for one!
However, if you're ever in Hong Kong, you should try the famous roasted goose- my family used to stop by Yung Kee every time we were in town to eat, but some people say the quality's gone down in recent years.
Easy Soy Chicken Thighs
An easy version of "tang chu pai gu" (sweet vinegar pork ribs, literally but usually called "sweet and sour pork" in the West), once you've made these 12345 ribs you'll never look back!
Sweet and Sour Chicken
Sweet and sour chicken- traditionally pork- is another very popular Cantonese recipe.
Char Siu Pork
Never met a person (who eats meat) that doesn't like Chinese BBQ Pork!
Note: the cuts of meat are not interchangeable. You can't switch pork belly for pork tenderloin without changing the roasting time and temperature. (If not, the meat will become too dry!)
A classic Cantonese dish, often eaten during confinement (the period after a woman gives birth), is vinegar pig trotters as it's considered to be a very warming and nourishing food.
Veggies & Tofu
Salted Ducks' Egg Yolk Tofu
P.S. The same ducks egg sauce is used to coat deep-fried prawns or chicken and pork too!
Lobster noodles is a classic Cantonese dish- my family used to eat it every time we visited Chinatown in London- but, for something easier to cook at home, try these stir-fried noodles by Woon Heng. (Use rice noodles, not egg noodles, as the flavor of the latter doesn't go.)
Despite the "Singapore" in the name, this is actually a dish invented by Cantonese chefs in the West!
Rice is a staple at any Chinese table. If you end up with too much, overnight white rice is the secret ingredient to a good plate of fried rice, such as this Cantonese salted fish fried rice by The Woks of Life. The rice grains aren't so wet and don't clump together as much.
Click here for more Chinese fried rice recipes.
Claypot rice is another delicious Cantonese dish but it's not exactly for beginners- you need to buy a claypot for one and, if you don't know what you're doing, your claypot may crack!
Having said that, these days there are hacks such as using a rice cooker, but you don't get exactly the same flavor.
My favourites include:
- char siu bao
- lo bak gao (savoury carrot cake or turnip cakes)
- Here's a RedHouseSpice recipe
- It's not really made with carrot, but turnips are called white carrots in Chinese
- sio mai
- shrimp dumplings
- If you're wondering what side dishes to serve at a dumpling party, click here
There are some Cantonese foods that we make at home but you seldom see at fancy restaurants:
- tomato omelette
- A recipe from Chinasichuanfood
- ABC soup
- Coca Cola wings
- Here's a Noobcook recipe for beginners!
- Make sure your soda doesn't contain aspartame as when aspartame is heated to above 86F/ 30C, the wood acid in it converts to formaldehyde and then formic acid which leads to metabolic acidosis (and mimics Multiple Sclerosis.) (Aspartame also loses its sweetness when heated.)
These are some popular tong sui (the Cantonese word for dessert- literally "sugar water."
Black Sesame Soup
Glutinous Rice Balls
There are several luxurious and sometimes controversial Cantonese dishes, such as bird's nest and shark's fin soup.
Hong Kong Egg Tarts are quite different from Portugese ones. Try both and let me know which you prefer!
Yuan Yang Tea
What are your favourite easy traditional Cantonese recipes? If you've enjoyed this list, please pin it or share it on Twitter/ Facebook. Alternatively, if I've left out a must-try-Cantonese-dish, do let me know in the comments below!