Shunde Cuisine: Savor the Unique Flavors Passed Down for Centuries

“Eat in Guangzhou, with chefs from Fengcheng.” Fengcheng, now known as Shunde, is not only recognized as a gastronomic capital of the world, but also one of the three major chef hometowns in China and one of the birthplaces of Cantonese cuisine. “A Bite of China” has shown a special preference for this region, and CCTV has produced a show called “In Search of Shunde’s Flavors” to showcase its culinary delights.

 

Since ancient times, Shunde has been a prosperous land where people take great pleasure in using local ingredients to create exquisite dishes, critiquing each other’s culinary skills and thus maintaining a high overall level of cooking expertise. By the early 20th century, an increasing number of Shunde chefs were working in Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau, and Southeast Asia, leading to the growing fame of Shunde cuisine abroad. The cooking techniques of the people of Shunde hold a unique advantage within the Cantonese cuisine family.

 

As a primary birthplace of Cantonese cuisine, Shunde’s dishes are renowned for their rich and diverse ingredients, their cooking skills that draw from a multitude of strengths, and their distinctive features of being clear, fresh, refreshing, tender, and smooth. Shunde’s fish sashimi, congee hot pot, double-layer milk custard, and ginger milk custard… each dish is mouthwatering!

 

**Shunde Fish Sashimi**

A visit to Shunde is incomplete without trying the fish sashimi, which has gained widespread recognition since being featured on “A Bite of China.” Even the famous Hong Kong food critic, Choi Lam, is a fan, highlighting its high appeal.

 

The preparation of Shunde fish sashimi is a test of the chef’s knife skills, requiring the fish to be sliced thinly and transparently, looking as if it could break at the slightest touch. “Feng Sheng Shui Qi,” a famous Shunde dish, involves everyone participating in mixing and eating together, symbolizing an auspicious year with abundance and prosperity.

 

The dish, primarily made with fish sashimi and salmon, also includes ingredients like peanuts, shredded ginger, scallions, onions, carrots, knotweed, and pickled peppers, all dressed with peanut oil and soy sauce for a harmonious blend of flavors.

 

 

**One Fish, Three Ways**

 

While Guangzhou banquets are incomplete without chicken, Shunde feasts are incomplete without fish. In the hands of Shunde chefs, a single fish can be transformed into a variety of dishes, with no part going to waste. From the head to the tail, each part can be made into a separate dish, including the fish head, meat, belly, skin, tail, and even the bones, not to mention the intestines.

The fish head can be made into chopped pepper fish head, fish head soup with gastrodia elata, or braised fish head; the fish meat can be steamed or boiled to retain its original flavor; the belly and tail are slowly cooked with ginger slices and green garlic for a flavorful and tender dish; and there are also dishes like fish intestine omelet and baked fish bones.

Fish raised in reservoirs are free from mud flavor, with tender, smooth, and boneless meat, making them a worry-free delicacy. Skilled chefs, following the fish bone’s pattern, cut thick slices and cook them in clear water to preserve their freshness and taste.

 

**Congee Hot Pot**

Since the early 19th century, people in Shunde have used rice-less congee water to nourish their bodies, a practice with a century-long history. Authentic Tai Gen Fortress rice-less congee is made from natural well water rich in minerals from ancient wells in Shunde City and high-quality Qingyuan chicken essence, carefully simmered into a broth. Selected Thai fragrant rice, soaked in cooking oil, is then added to the concentrated and aromatic broth, cooked in a large clay pot until the rice is completely soft and mushy. The rice residue is then strained through a fine mesh to extract the congee water, resulting in a milky white, smooth, and fragrant top-quality congee. The term “rice-less” implies “having rice essence without the rice.”

 

The traditional way of eating rice-less congee hot pot is meticulous; one first drinks a bowl of cooked congee water to invigorate and warm the stomach. Then, food is boiled in the order of seafood, meat, and vegetables. Seafood is valued for its freshness, so it is boiled first to release its flavor, which blends with the congee water. The thick congee water better locks in the freshness.

Of course, Shunde’s culinary offerings extend far beyond these dishes. Braised eels, double-layer milk custard, Jun’an fried fish cakes, Jun’an steamed pork, Daliang fried milk, Daliang fried shrimp cakes, Daliang wild chicken rolls, Fengcheng stuffed节瓜, Lecong fish paste, and Daliang bangsha… the countless delicacies are overwhelming, as if one is in a paradise for food lovers. Even with three days and nights, it would be challenging to taste all of Shunde’s gastronomic delights.

 

Shunde cuisine, with its century-old unique flavors, attracts countless food enthusiasts. Here, you can not only taste a variety of rich and diverse dishes but also feel the passion and dedication of the people of Shunde towards their cuisine. As I speak, I am tempted to visit Shunde again to savor its flavors. How about you? Please feel free to leave your valuable suggestions in the comments section.

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