Days 69-70: The Sweet Spot, Cantonese Food

You may have noticed a considerable shift in cultural emphasis from museums and concerts in Europe to other topics in Asia. These are developing and of growing interest here, as exemplified by Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House and the vacuous Guangzhou Modern Art Museum.  I didn’t go there this time, but if you are interested you can see them in the September 2014 archives from my very first world trip.

We did find one exception this week, however. A spontaneous decision to visit the Overseas Chinese Museum proved to be an interesting discovery of Sun Yet Sen and the Uprising around 1910:

The museum contained many historical relics of first overseas Chinese emigrants. They are still considered Chinese compatriots and their contributions are honored here. Bruce Lee was among the notables. Unfortunately, the exhibits are not translated into English, so you need to bring a Chinese friend who speaks English with you to make it worthwhile.

It would be unconscionable to visit Guangdong and not highlight the food. Famous throughout the world, Cantonese food can never be ignored for its freshness, simplicity and sheer elegance. While these are the trademarks of excellent Cantonese cooking, many foreigners and even Chinese Americans miss one of the key factors.

When I think about traditional Chinese cooking, I think of the glommy sauce added to the quick stir-fry dishes. A tablespoon of corn start in a cup of water, some soy sauce splashed on top, and you have the finishing touch for any dish. We seldom used this method and opted out for watery vegetables and meat instead.

However, what the sauce does do for me, is to provide the “slime factor” or glutinous means used to make eating food more pleasurable. The food is intentionally slippery, so it slides down and lubricates your throat.

The word “wat” in Cantonese describes smoothness in a dish. This characteristic is often a criteria for the quality of the dish. I have seldom heard this description in Western cooking as anything perceptible, desirable or necessary. It is a sensual experience for Chinese. That’s my two cents worth about Chinese cuisine and my “China’s Test Kitchen” analysis.

We were invited to the 80th birthday of the wife of my mother’s first cousin in Zhongshan, China. The festive dishes demonstrate what I attempted to describe about Chinese food above. The dishes were straightforward, with minimal additive flavorings or spices, but promote the freshness of ingredients and the natural sweetness of meat, fish, seafood, eel (not shown), fruit and vegetables. By the way, no rice at banquets, but long life noodles at the end for major birthdays like this celebration.

The traditional dessert of steamed bread stuffed with melon paste and a salted egg is just the opposite of Western desserts:  sugar is used as little as possible. The Western-style cake can blow it all, but it too, had only a modest amount of sugar in it. A dab of red wine at each place was used for toasting only. In addition to tea, plenty of fruit juices including coconut milk was served.

A more typical meal on the street consisted of meat and veggies over rice. These fast food joints are everywhere, unfranchised, and gives any Chinese a person to be his own boss. Not bad, considering you can make or break your own fate, your way.

This is close to the end of my fourth world travels with myself and others! It has been a fascinating experience for me, and I hope it has been for you as well!! Thanks to all of you who have traveled aling and sent comments. They were particularly appreciated during my month in Germany.

Of course the highlight was going to Morocco. I experienced Islamic culture, met a great group of people, made some new friends, and overcame my fear of drawing!! It was a life-changing event!

Please write and let me know which parts you found the most interesting. I’ll be sending a teeny weeny survey to get your feedback, so please reply!!

中 国 的 朋友们, 谢谢 你们的 客气,我们 很 高兴 有机会 看到 你们!快 来 美国 见 我们!

11 thoughts on “Days 69-70: The Sweet Spot, Cantonese Food”

  1. I have enjoyed your travel-blog: perfect lengths, no overload of information, but always something thought-provoking and something visually interesting! The sketches from Morocco were wonderful, and the notes from Hong Kong brought back fond memories of that great city. When Tee and I lived there in the 80s we would look out on to the New Territories and say to each other we must go out there for a long walk this weekend; but the weekend would come and go, and the NT would remain untouched by us! We did eventually go there, but not as often as we should have.

    When you visited us in April we mentioned the trilogy set in Canton, HK and India by Amitav Ghosh, but I just remembered there was another super book from the 80s by Timothy Mo – “An Insular Possession” – set in HK and the Pearl River delta. It was a bit hard to get into, but it then wouldn’t let go. Mo wrote fluently, and his “Monkey King” and “Sour Sweet” were also good reads (as I recall). You have probably read them all but, if you haven’t come across them, it may be worthwhile checking your local library first.

    And your recent title “Lives of Others” made me remember the German film from about 10 years ago. Did you see it? I thought it was one of the best films I have ever seen.

    All the best for the remainder of your trip and your journey back home!
    SC

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  2. Hi Vickie, I have enjoyed your travel-blog: perfect lengths, no overload of information, but always something thought-provoking and something visually interesting! The sketches from Morocco were wonderful, and the notes from Hong Kong brought back fond memories of that great city. When Tee and I lived there in the 80s we would look out on to the New Territories and say to each other we must go out there for a long walk this weekend; but the weekend would come and go, and the NT would remain untouched by us! We did eventually go there, but not as often as we should have.

    When you visited us in April we mentioned the trilogy set in Canton, HK and India by Amitav Ghosh, but I just remembered there was another super book in the 80s by Timothy Mo – “An Insular Possession” – set in HK and the Pearl River delta. It was a bit hard to get into, but it then wouldn’t let go. Mo wrote fluently, and his “Monkey King” and “Sour Sweet” were also good reads (as I recall). You have probably read them all but, if you haven’t come across them, it may be worthwhile checking your local library first.

    And your recent title “Lives of Others” made me remember the German film from about 10 years ago. Did you see it? I thought it was one of the best films I have ever seen.

    All the best for the remainder of your trip and your journey back home!

    SC

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad to hear you were able to follow along on my travels. You would particularly enjoy the HK posts as they must bring back fond memories of being here!

      I had ordered the books awhile ago by Amit Ghosh from Amazon but one of them wasn’t published yet (?). I’ll have to follow up and reorder them. They sound like material I am now even better prepared to read. We will certainly look for the book you mentioned about HK at the airport or when we return to the States.

      I did have the movie in mind as you know the similarities that struck me.

      We had such a great visit with you in Bath. You made it so special, and you are both among our favorite people! Let’s make a point to get together in the next year whether it be in Europe, Asia or the US!

      BTW, my apologies for bad texting. I’m terrible at it!

      Thanks again for the lovely note.

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    1. Definitely! Just had Shanghainese vegetarian tonite. Wanted to find Din Tai Fung here but it escaped us. It will be great to have it in the Bay Area for a nostalgic memory of China for both of us. Thanks for writing!

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  3. Vickie, I have just come back down to earth after reading your last few posts, especially Hong Kong and Guangzhou of course, since Aimee and I will be there soon! Your postings transform me into your travel world, and I am completely lost in it. Your descriptions, photos, drawings, story telling, and humor are so creatively and cleverly presented but also with humility and honesty. Thanks for sharing your world with us.

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    1. Thanks, Murp. I hope I was able to illuminate the amazing changes that have transformed China since we were there in the 80’s. I didn’t expect to be posting drawings, but they seem to express a lot of what I am seeing and feeling during this trip. I’m happy that you were able to follow the progression, not just this year, but over the other years as well!

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  4. What a wonderful travel series. Thank you for sharing these experiences. I find your writing clear consise and informing. You have a flare for bringing the reader into the story. I look forward to your posts.

    Like

    1. I must be talking out loud to an imaginary fellow traveler in my sleep! I keep my dreams alive by doing that. Thanks so much for the feedback and joining me on these forays into the curious and unknown.

      Like

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