It has been another landmark year for Chinese cuisine.
The Michelin Guide, perhaps the world’s most lauded food critic, recently launched an edition dedicated solely to Cantonese fine dining.
Of the 291 restaurants listed in the new guide, 78 are Michelin starred – including four with three stars, the highest Michelin status – 68 are Bib Gourmands and 151 are recognised as Michelin Plates.
This is the first time The Michelin Guide has dedicated a guide to a regional cuisine rather than a geographical area. The International Director of the Michelin Guides, Gwendal Poullennec, attributes this to the global acclaim of Cantonese gastronomy, “appreciated both in Asia, Europe, North America and in the Pacific”.
Photo credit: Langham Hotels
While its northern cousins – such as mouth-numbing Sichuan stir-frys and Shanghainese soup dumplings – are rapidly gaining worldwide popularity, Cantonese cuisine also has a rich history both in and out of China.
Having its roots in a culturally rich trading region in southeast China, Cantonese food is characterised by its multitude of flavours, hearty sauces and liberal use of both preserved and fresh seafood. While common techniques include braising, shallow- and deep-frying and steaming, an essential component that gives Cantonese stir-frys their signature charred zing is wok hei, which translates literally to “breath of the pan”.
Photo credit: Lung King Heen
These cooking techniques trickled down to Hong Kong, only a stone’s throw away and home to a sizeable Cantonese population, and became the city’s signature staples: dim sum, char siu, roast duck and more. It’s no surprise that Hong Kong has the most Michelin-recommended restaurants per capita and two (of the four) three-starred Cantonese restaurants around the world: Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons and T’ang Court at The Langham .
Although Asia unsurprisingly dominates this list, Europe and Northern America are also prominently featured. For its historical Chinese ties, Cantonese gastronomy has become an integral part of the world. Starting from the Gold Rush to the late 1990s, widespread migration from southern China brought Chinese culinary skills around the world.
The sweet, tangy and rich flavours of classic Cantonese condiments – oyster, plum and sweet-and-sour sauces, for instance – were a hit with Western palates, leading to fusion creations such as General Tso’s chicken, honey walnut shrimp and the like. The adaptability and versatility of Cantonese cooking are keys to its popularity.
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