A list of the 30 best easy Cantonese recipes (Hong Kong) that you can cook at home!
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. 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 (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
- 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
Some sauces you often see in Cantonese food recipes include:
- soy sauce
- oyster sauce (or a lux version- abalone sauce)
- XO sauce
- sesame oil
- salted egg yolk sauce
- rice vinegar
- hoisin sauce
- plum sauce
- shrimp paste
- douchi/ dried black beans
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.
Jook or congee is the ultimate Cantonese comfort food- if you grew up in a Chinese home, you've definitely had this one time or another! It can be eaten plain- and spiced up with toppings and small plates- or flavoured with seafood, chicken etc
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
Note: Roasted goose is a little more difficult to make at home- not many supermarkets sell goose, for one!- but 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.
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.
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!
Veggies & tofu
A classic veg would be Choy Sum in Oyster sauce (here's a 10-minutes, easy recipe from Ohmyfoodrecipes.)
Salted ducks' egg yolk tofu
P.S. The same 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.
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.
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 (although these days there are hacks such as using a rice cooker, you don't get the same flavor) and, if you don't know what you're doing, your claypot may crack!
My favourites include:
- char siu bao
- Click here for a RasaMalaysia recipe (If you're wondering why I'm choosing a Malaysian recipe- there are lots of Cantonese in Malaysia. In fact, most Chinese people in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, speak Cantonese!)
- lo bak gao (savoury carrot cake)
- Here's a RedHouseSpice recipe
- sio mai
- egg tarts
- Click here for a recipe from 1 of my favorite food sites, Serious Eats
- 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
- Here's a NyonyaCooking recipe
- 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."
There are several luxurious and sometimes controversial Cantonese dishes, such as bird's nest and shark's fin soup.
What are your favourite easy 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!