Lunar New Year in Canton, China (pic-heavy food tour)

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 Nick 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.

Readers – I hope you enjoyed my travel diary. Thank you for letting me share part of my “hometown” and culture with you. Next stop…the Philippines!
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  1. Christy wrote:

    Everything looks delicious! Haha, this post made me so hungry 🙂 xx

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  2. Florence wrote:

    Love your food post! Fresh thin rice noodles are my absolute favorite. There's one street cart in NYC Chinatown that I go to religiously for this.

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  3. I studied abroad in Shanghai last year and the McDonald's there had taro flavored and pineapple flavored pies! I would have loved to try the red bean one though.

    Also, the rice crepes look absolutely delicious!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  4. I actually already went last month : ) Should have asked for recommendations prior!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  5. maggie wrote:

    When I go to Xindian, Taiwan, I do the exact thing you do — eat eat and eat! My grandma is like your uncle, even in her old age she gets fresh ingredients everyday with my cousin helping, although when need be, she will go to the grocery store. I just love rice noodles and soy sauce nothing else, and street vendor food!

    My grandma makes me drink the bitter health drink when I'm sick, and it's horrendous! My face looks like your little brother's when I drink it. I'm so sorry that you had to drink it every few days!

    xx maggie

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  6. Kat, thank you for sharing! I look forward to checking out your posts.

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  7. Contrary to my high expectations, I found absolutely no petite-friendly clothes in China (that aren't the same brands available for sale in the US). I think Hong Kong may have better options. I went into lots of stores in Guangzhou and they were mostly very low quality pieces, or super expensive (hundreds of USD) for average quality items that were only available in one size. Hope you have better luck!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  8. Hi there – unfortunately, I'm not that impressed by Boston's Cantonese offerings but perhaps I just haven't explored enough yet! For butchery items like roast duck, I like that little place to the left of Hei La Moon dim sum. I forget what it's called, and its NOT a restaurant…just a take out roast duck, pork, and chicken place. I usually get dim sum at HLM or Great Taste in Chinatown. Unfortunately, I used to live hear Victoria's Seafood and was repeatedly, sorely disappointed by them (and their sanitation practices). I also used to like Hong Kong Eatery very much but wasn't impressed the last time I went. Will check out South Garden sometime!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  9. Hi Bethany! Thank you – I speak and read Mandarin, but unfortunately very little Cantonese. I came here around age 5. You just have to be brave and practice speaking it with everyone without fear. I admire everyone who came here later who can do that with confdience : )

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  10. oh goodness. the dreadful health drink that almost feels like it can kill you! lol. must've been a great trip! nice pictures of all the food 🙂

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  11. Anonymous wrote:

    reading your blog for a long time.
    I'm from china as well.
    Have you got time to do some research about clothes for petites in China market?

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  12. Hi K! What a coincidence : ) Yes, I love lychee/longan (and watermelon, too) and am always restrained due to the "hotness." I don't believe it one bit, though!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  13. How fun! Looks like you all had such a great time! The pictures are amazing! I shouldn't have read this at 11:30 at night because now I'm hungry! I've NEVER had freshly made noodles but I CRAVE them because I can only imagine what they'd taste like – somewhere along the lines of a sweet, sweet heaven.

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  14. I didn't know Justin was 1/4 Cantonese! I did pretty much no shopping. I had high hopes after hearing that things "ran so much smaller" in Asia…but truth of the matter was, although Asians are generally short, most of them were still wider and thus the clothes did not fit and were of poor quality (except for foreign brands).

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  15. Scarlett wrote:

    Oh you guys went back to China?! How happy!!! Enjoy!!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  16. Thank you, but I am wearing concealer and some eyeshadow stick in all the photos but the last. When I didn't wear any makeup, I was approached as a grade school student.

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  17. OohLookBel wrote:

    Jean, I loved this post! My dad was from Canton, though I've never visited there. Isn't it fascinating how customs like the heating/cooling foods cross over into other cultures? I have a cold and cough today that's due to the fried fish and chips I had yesterday 😛

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  18. Oh, how fun! You're going to have a great time in both countries.

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  19. Kat wrote:

    I really enjoyed this post Jean. I have never been to Canton. I'm Cantonese too (3rd generation) and have just traveled to Hong Kong last October. That in itself was a huge treat; the food & fashion/shopping, & the food 😛

    I linked my posts of my HK trip in case you are interested. Anyway, it's great seeing some culture posts on your blog. It's inspiring. Oh and "yeet hay" I know what you're talking about! Thank you!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  20. Phoebe wrote:

    #5 is totally making my mouth salivate. I love the kind with bbq pork and slightly sweet soy sauce. My brother is more partial to Cantonese food than I am (I lean towards Taiwanese), but hand me a bowl of wonton soup any day!!!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  21. Anonymous wrote:

    Hi Jean,
    I'm usually a silent lurker…but I can't help but comment how cute 😛 yoou look in the last picture with the layers of clothing! Thank you for sharing your trip with us :)!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  22. CynthiaC wrote:

    Mmmmmm, I love egg tarts. Though I think they are a Hong Kong specialty, not mainland (though influenced by Portuguese/Macau).

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  23. Toni wrote:

    JEAN. you're going to the philippines?!?! LOVE IT THERE. (i might have some bias though, i am filipino 🙂 just know the right places to go so you wont get caught by a whirlwind of street vendors or onlookers pondering over you because you and nick are pale. one of my favorite places is bohol because of their beautiful beaches and famous monkey, the tarsier! but i assure you this isnt the only breathtaking place! have lots of fun jean!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  24. Michelle wrote:

    Aww! My favorite picture is definitely the one where your brother is in food heaven while leaning up against Nick…at least it looks like he is leaning. Too cute!! 🙂

    That crab and green onions dish looks amazing!!

    I loved hearing about your uncle's tradition of going to the market daily. Such a healthy lifestyle!

    Thanks for sharing Jean! Looking forward to the Philippines!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  25. Jackie wrote:

    Can't wait to see your Philippines pics! I enjoy reading about your travels. I can't believe they have curly fries!! That's like McDonald's here meets Checkers T^T They look so tasty….! I love my junk food! lol

    You've made me hungry =/

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  26. Ping wrote:

    i forgot to say, i'd die without a heater!!! i will stay away from china during this time of the year.

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  27. wrote:

    We have the same ethnic background and both live in Boston. What are some of your favorite Cantonese places to eat in the area? I like South Garden in Quincy and Victoria's Seafood in Allston. I have taken family to both places and they approve.

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  28. Bethany wrote:

    Dear Jean:
    Could you speak or read Cantonese? How about Mandarin?
    Do you mind if i ask you at which age you come to the U.S.?
    I am a Chinese and live in the U.S. now, i just hope i can speak and write as fluent English as you someday!

    I think you do not have Chinese accent in your English at all… How did u manage to do it?
    PS:I really love your blog.

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  29. Hellen wrote:

    A more tasty "cooling tea" is chrysanthemum tea! My parents and I always drink it to cool our bodies down from being too "hot" and it definitely works…and tastes delicious! You can feel the refreshing effect as you drink it 🙂

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  30. Ping wrote:

    omg your little brother's face is priceless!!!! i liked that he's sporting the animal print scarf, that made me laugh so hard!!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  31. Mary Ann wrote:

    Heh, this is great Jean! I love all the food pics. Looks like you had a fabulous (albeit cold) time! When I was in Europe in November, I just wore jeans, winter boots, and puffy jacket for 10 days and threw away the notion of "fashion," lol! 😉

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  32. Sabrina wrote:

    Awesome! Lovin' the delicious and wonderful food pictures. 🙂 Aside from shopping, I'm definitely looking forward to eating whenever I get around to visit China! I'm glad you had a great time in Canton, especially during New Year's!

    Sabrina x

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  33. Angie wrote:

    what fun! i really enjoy these travel with jean posts because we get an insight on your exciting life & foooood. back to the good ole roots!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  34. K wrote:

    Hi Jean! This may be my first time ever commenting on your blog, content as I am usually with being a silent lurker, but in this case, I got all excited by your post, as Guangzhou is also my hometown. 🙂

    I'm surprised to hear that Guangzhou was so cold. Then again, the last time I was in Guangzhou during the winter, I had just flown in from Shanghai, and the cold there had just about finished me. Compared to Shanghai, Guangzhou felt like a cool fall day.

    And I remember that herbal tea! I forget why I tried it, but yes, it was pretty nasty stuff. I think I had thought that it would taste like that grass jelly drink. Needless to say, I was quickly corrected, but being a good Asian, I did at least finish my drink. No wasting!

    I'm afraid I always ignore my Cantonese relatives' warnings about lychee (or is it longan?) being a "hotness"-inducing food. Some foods are just too good to eat to be worrying about whether they will cause pimples on your face …

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  35. elleandish wrote:

    Delicious! 😀 Coincidentally I was just eating some steamed rice noodle sheets with soy sauce and sesame oil.. now I'm getting hungry again -_0 ! Justin is 1/4 Cantonese and we plan on going to HK & Macau in the future so he can finally get in touch with his roots. I cannot wait for the food!! Thank you for posting such beautiful photos :] And.. did you do any shopping? I remember the last time I went to Shanghai/Beijing I didn't buy much. Just wondering if you found anything of interest!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  36. Anonymous wrote:

    Oh my goodness, that looks so wonderful…I can't even stand it.

    Are you wearing any makeup in those pictures? Your skin looks so natural and beautiful!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  37. Katherine wrote:

    OMG these post made me so hungry – everything looked delicious and thank you for the noodle photos! Noodles are hands down my favorite dish in the whole world 🙂

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  38. leen wrote:

    Red Bean Pie!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  39. jenny wrote:

    yay for Cantonese cuisine!!!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  40. Lindy wrote:

    I love your blog! I use your styling ideas and try to adapt them to my wardrobe. Next month, I'm headed to the Philippines and China too spending a week in Canton to visit the village that my dad grew up in. I can't wait for your next installment. Lindy

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  41. Arts wrote:

    looks like u had lots of fun, can't wait to see ur next trip photos

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  42. Anonymous wrote:

    YUM!! Thanks for sharing!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  43. JCHokie wrote:

    OMG, seriously I love every single food item that you posted. I was born in Taiwan and miss all of that! I love fresh noodles and the wontons look sooo good!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  44. Oh man….that food looked so amazing! Thanks for sharing and I can't wait to see more!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  45. Helen wrote:

    Oh I am so full from dinner, but reading your post made me crave some good authentic Chinese food!

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  46. Anonymous wrote:

    i think, im in love with you <3

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  47. TINA wrote:

    So yummy! I wish I had a bowl of congee now.

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  48. Ida wrote:

    Ugh, why did I look at this post? I'm so hungry now! The wontons look so yummy – those are one of my favorite foods.

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  49. I've always wanted to go to China for the new year! It seems like you guys hard a fun time. The food looks delicious…even the Mickie D's!! lol

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply
  50. omg this looks so delicious!
    xo, Tina

    Posted 3.25.12 Reply

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