Cuisine

Anywhere that you go in Hong Kong and in any direction you care to look, you are bound to see a restaurant sign. Establishments that sell prepared food are as old as Chinese culture itself, and because most people live in small apartments, there is little space for home entertaining and restaurants are usually the chosen venues for special occasions and family gatherings. Nowhere in the world is cooking more varied than in this city where Cantonese cuisine, long regarded by Chinese gourmands as the most intricate and sophisticated in Asia, is joined by delights from not only other parts of China but also nearly every other culinary region in the world. Whether it is French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, or American, the deep rooted Chinese love of good food flourishes.

Gastronomically speaking, the words Chinese cuisine is as vague as saying European cuisine. China covers a large area and has many regions, hence there is a wide variety of Chinese foods each with quite different and mouthwatering flavours. Because China’s local dishes have their own typical characteristics, Chinese food can be divided into regional cuisines, the distinction of which is now widely accepted.

And of course there is the inevitable, that you will be faced with a set a chopsticks. If you haven’t used them before you are likely to fumble at first, but with practice, it becomes easier. Regardless of how skillful you become, there are some basic courtesies and customs that are associated with using chopsticks. The website “How to Use Chopsticks” gives a step-by-step introduction on how to use chopsticks and some hints on etiquette.

Cantonese

Since 94% of the population of Hong Kong come from Guangdong (Canton), this is the most popular style of cuisine. This style of cooking brings out the natural taste of the ingredients by cooking them quickly at very high temperatures, this creates wok chi, a fleeting energy that requires food to be served and eaten immediately.

Shanghainese

Shanghai is a city of immigrants not unlike New York and Hong Kong, and its cosmopolitan population has several culinary styles. The city has especially good seafood and many dishes are fried in sesame oil or soya sauce. Crabs are a winter favourite. Shanghainese flavours are heavier and oilier than Cantonese cuisine, featuring preserved vegetables, pickles and salted meats. Lime-and-ginger-flavoured “1,000-year-old” eggs are perhaps Shanghai’s best-known culinary creation.

Peking

The food of this northerly city is “substantial”, with noodles, dumplings and breads being served instead of rice. The flavours in Peking food are influenced by highly flavoured roots and vegetables such as peppers, garlic, ginger, leek and coriander. Of course Peking Duck is a favourite, and Hong Kong has many restaurants offering this unique regional food. It was originally an imperial Mongolian dish and is usually served in two or three courses.

Szechuan

One of the most well known and spiciest regional varieties, Szechuen cuisine is now a favourite around the world. Rice, bamboo, river fish, shellfish, chicken and pork dishes all with plenty of salt, anise, fennel seeds, chillies and coriander are used in this regional cuisine. All the ingredients are simmered, stirred, smoked or steamed. Garlic, ginger and fermented soybean are also used in this regional cooking process and the effect is an integrated flavour, the opposite of Cantonese food where each ingredient has its own taste.

Chiu Chow

From the area near Canton, the Chiu Chow people have a gutsy, hearty cuisine which has never caught on in the west. It begins with Iron Buddha tea and moves on to thick shark’s fin soup, soya goose, whelk, bird’s nest and irresistible steamed lobsters soaked with tangerine jam.

Dim Sum

A unique feature of Cantonese cuisine is dim sum, which literally translates as “touching the heart”. It can be enjoyed for breakfast or lunch but never for dinner. The term yum cha, which means “drinking tea”, is usually applied to a dim sum meal and refers to the endless pots of tea that traditionally accompany the food. A typical dim sum selection consists of small dumplings, buns, meatballs, spring rolls, pastries, cakes and tarts. Many of the dishes are steamed and are served in bamboo baskets, while others are fried or deep-fried.