Last month, Nick and I visited Guangzhou/Canton, China for Lunar New Year. This is the biggest holiday of the year there – all homes are decorated in lucky red, streets are lined in lanterns, and businesses are closed for 1-2 weeks at a time. Children and unmarried young adults especially love this holiday, as they can go around relatives’ homes collecting red envelopes full of “lucky money.”
I was born in Canton and am extremely partial to good Cantonese cuisine. The people there place so much emphasis on eating fresh food, and spend a large portion of their income doing so. They go to the local outdoor market every day to buy ingredients for that day’s meal. My uncle frowns upon buying meat and seafood that were previously refrigerated, or veggies that don’t still have dirt on them. As a child, I absolutely loved tagging along at the market as he scurried from booth to booth, inspecting and smelling the ingredients while brainstorming dishes for dinner.
1. The Cantonese live for fresh noodles. First stop: The quintessential local dish is wonton noodle soup. We went to a shop where they beat fresh noodles (with a bamboo stick…apparently it’s an art) and fold pork and shrimp wontons every morning.
2. Left: Slurping up more noodle soup at a street-side vendor. Right: You pick veggies, meat and sauce to be braised together in a table-top pot. Hand-pulled noodles were made on the spot and tossed into the casserole. The noodles were thick and had a deliciously springy texture.
3. Dim sum (Chinese version of Spanish tapas) originated in Canton and is a beloved pastime there. I like the classic dishes, but these were tasty too: (clockwise, from right) sticky rice atop shortrib, tuna rolls, matcha green tea pudding cakes, and rice noodle with braised beef sauce.
4. Munching on spicy BBQ lamb skewers while buying festive decor for Lunar New Year…
5. If you’ve ever had dim-sum, you may have tried thin rice noodle sheets with shrimp, beef, or roast pork folded inside. This shop made every plate of rice noodles to order, and filled ’em with an ingredient of your choice. The result: delicate, paper-thin noodles hot off the steamer machine, perfect with soy and a touch of hot sauce.
6. One of my favorite photos from the trip. There’s a word in Chinese, “chan” (meaning loves to continuously eat or snack), that describes the subjects in this photo very well. My little brother’s eyes are closed in pleasure as he savors a candied fruit, and Nick is too engrossed with his egg puffs to look up. The vendors on the left are selling roasted yams.
7. This is congee or rice porridge with a savory broth, packed with mix-ins and topped with fried dough. Congee is my favorite comfort food, and this was the best I’ve ever had. On the coldest days, we’d stop by all bundled up, and warm up with a piping hot bowl of this on a shaky outdoor fold-up table.
8. Left: My pretty cousin, who is the same exact size as me. I gave her my ON rockstar jeans in “Russet” and love how she paired them with a leopard throw and mustard suede moccasins. Right: Freshly-pressed sugarcane juice.
9. Traditional Cantonese pastry – egg tarts. Melt-in-your-mouth filling with perfectly flaky crust.
10. My little brother is an absolute handful. To prevent him from running into the street or bouncing into the river, I convinced him that holding my umbrella and purse in exchange for 3 Yuan (50 cents) was a fair trade. Scarf, coat, and OTK boots here borrowed from my cousin.
11. Mickey D’s there has yummy wings (2 flavors), curly fries, and various red bean-flavored desserts like pie, sundaes, and McFlurries.
12. The Chinese (myself excluded) believe strongly in an inner system of “hot and cold.” When you eat too much of certain foods (like fried stuff), they believe your body “heats up.” A remedy for this is the unfortunate herbal or “cooling tea,” which allegedly cools your body back down. This tea is pitch black and unbelievably bitter. You can get it at many street-side shops or brew it at home using herbs and sticks (and probably dirt…because it tastes like dirt). My aunt and uncle made us drink it every few days to “stay healthy.”
13. One of the most delicious dishes I tried – crab and green onions over spaghetti in a Macau-style coconut curry sauce, served atop a mini burner to stay hot. When the noodles were gone, they provided soft Portuguese bread for sopping up the sauce…yum.
14. Left: It’s Chinese tradition to make dumplings together as a family on New Year’s eve and consume them for luck and prosperity. I’ve trained N
ick over the years to be a rather efficient dumpling-folder. Right: Chef uncle cooking up a storm on the big night. His braised pork belly dish is one of my faves.
15. Left: I put aside my fashion dignity to stay warm. ALL of us grossly under-packed for this trip. When I looked at the forecast, I scoffed at the 40 degree temps (compared to frigid Boston) and brought just a light coat. What I didn’t know was that it was a damp, constant cold that chilled you down to your bones…and the homes don’t have heat! At night, we kept our heartbeats alive with electric mattress pads or microwaveable stones for clutching on to.
We all wore my cousin and uncle’s clothes – layers upon layers of it. Hopefully that explains why my little brother is rocking a leopard scarf or why Nick looks puffy (he donned 5-6 layers of garments). Right: Rice noodle rolls with peanut, spicy sauce, and sesame seeds. I know these photos are completely unrelated.