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Guangzhou Cantonese Brunch

 2014-02-28    Sum    Food    Guangzhou    1944  

Canton (or Guangdong) is a southern province of China, closing to the South China Sea. Its unique culture distinguishes itself among the various Chinese cultures so greatly that some westerners thought Cantonese culture is the equivalence of Chinese culture. Despite the truth that Canton is just one of the 23 provinces in China, and Chinese culture is quite diverse and multi-faceted, Cantonese culture is definitely worth exploring.

One of the things I want to talk about is the culture of having brunch in Canton. Cantonese brunch is called “Yum Cha” (in Cantonese). During the weekend, it is quite common for families to go to restaurants to Yum cha in the late morning. If you translate “Yum Cha” literally, it means “to drink tea”. But don’t worry, if you go Yum cha, you will also be able to eat a lot of tasty “Dim Sum”. Normally, as I observed, people will arrive at the restaurant between 9 and 11 in the morning, and leave between 12 and 2 in the afternoon.

"Haa gaau" (shrimp dumpling)

As the name indicates, drinking and enjoying tea is an important dimension in the practice of “Yum Cha”. The first thing the waiter/waitress asks you after you sat down is what kind of tea you would like. And you can always refill the tea pot for free during Yum cha. Personally, I always go for the Iron Buddha (or tie guan yin in Mandarin Chinese). It is a kind of Oolong tea, in-between red tea and green tea. It has kind of strong but not too bitter taste.

"Siu Maai" (a kind of meatball)

In my childhood memory, most of the time dim sums were contained in bamboo steamers, stacked on trolleys pushed by old women. They pushed the trolleys between tables and waiting for guests to order. There was a card on each table, kind of like a bingo card. For each steamer of dim sums you order, the old lady would pull a hole on the card. Later when you finished, the waiter would count the holes on the card for money. And of course, the dim sums have different prices and they were categorized into price groups. Each roll of holes on the card represents a different price group. The dim sums on my must-order list are: Haa gaau (shrimp dumpling), Siu maai (a kind of meat ball), sesame cake, sticky rice chicken (sticky rice wrapped by lotus leaf), and Ma lai go (a kind of cake).

Sesame Cake

The cold dim sums were not on the trolley, such as my beloved sesame cake. They were stored somewhere else at the restaurant. They are mainly desserts. A nice memory of mine was that my parents would give me the card and let me order the cold dim sums at where they were served. And then I would happily bring back the jellies, puddings, etc. etc. As time goes by, trolleys are now gradually disappearing and replaced by waiter taking order and bringing food to the table. So did the “bingo card”. They can only be found at some very traditional restaurant nowadays. That was a pity. However, the flavor of dim sum remains quite the same, and the activity of Yum cha has been kept practicing by one generation after another. 

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