Before I go on, I would like also to point out that the Cantonese value another neighbouring cuisine as much as their own, and that is the Chiu Chow/ Teochew style as these two dialect groups are neighbours in the same province. The Chiu Chow style is mainly about minimally tampering with ingredients and emphasis on clear flavours so many dishes are steamed or lightly dressed, very similar to the Cantonese less-is-more philosophy. This is the reason why many Cantonese restaurant have a menu dedicated to Chiu Chow dishes.
The other Chinese cuisine favoured here is Hunanese food. There are branches of Hunan Home all over the city, one of which happens to be at, surprise!, Victory Plaza. A large room furnished in the trendy canteen style, the restaurant was busy but not crowded the day we visited. It is also staffed by very sweet natured and pretty waitresses who came by often the pinch baby V's chubby cheeks.
The food is hearty and rustic, with very deep and in-your-face flavours, the cooks use cloves and other pungent spices with abandon, it is as as homely as Cantonese dishes are sophisticated. Portions are unsurprisingly, rather generous. I was very taken with a humble dish of boiled lotus roots, the lotus root had a pleasing "fan" or fluffy powdery texture instead of the usual crispiness and the flavours were surprisingly meaty either from its inherent composition or the meaty broth it was cooked in.
Tender beef in chilli sauce was scattered generously with garlic and chillis, the meat was cooked slow and long in a meaty stock enhanced with plenty of the same garlic and peppers as well as abundant doses of assorted pungent spices. Not too hot if one takes care to shake it free of the garnishes and most of its sauce, this was a perfect accompaniment to steamed white rice and loads of stirfried greens.
I could not resist ordering thick crab roe soup and it was a good thing I did. The soup was thick without being too starchy, and inside floated dreamlike pieces of tofu and frilly egg bit. It was similar to thick shark fins soup, with the crab roe flavours cranked up 20 fold, nice if you like crab roe like I do.
Of course we couldn't be eating Chinese food all the time. One day my palate just screamed for french fries. Off we went to the neighbourhood around Garden Hotel, and stumbled upon Madison's. We shared a chilli dog and a hamburger between us three adults. The chilli dog was fine if one overlooked the strange choice of an overcrispy sesame roll. The burgers, on the other hand, was an irredeemable failure- the patty was of the frozen horror variety while the fries reeked of heavily recycled oil.
A much better place for "western" or at least the Chinese version of "western" was the Greenery Cafe which also has branches all over the city. The menu is very broad ranging, it has flower teas, ice cream shakes, grilled lamb racks, Thai curry with rice and noodles soups. Their french fries were superb, each skinny fry crisp on the outside and fluffy without being hollow inside, good till the very last piece. Everything else we ate and drank were made with obvious care and effort, it is what our own Swensen's and Jack's Place can be like if they only try a little harder.
Around the same neighbourhood as Madison's is a tiny pizzeria called Pizzeria. The local magazines wrote that it was started by a hippie and that it was highly popular so we checked it out. The crust was of the thick variety which I am not a fan of, nevertheless the pies were freshly made and not too inedible.
I was surprised to read that Turkish cuisine ranks as one of the top 7 most popular cuisines in the city. Not Szechuan, not Mexican, not Vietnamese, not Korean, but yeah, Turkish. We had to go find out why so we took a taxi across town to Sultan Turkish Restaurant. The restaurant sits between posh La Perle and a Guangzhou Friendship Store. Once we walked through its doors we were instantly transported to the exotic Middle East. Every inch of the walls, floors and ceilings were tiled with mosaic and decorated with more gilt, azure, mirrors, tall backed European style chairs, deep banquettes, cushions and curtains. Middle Eastern customers outnumber Chinese and the restaurant had a vibrant happy vibe much like what I imagine a bazaar to be like as the local Turkish population and their friends gather together for stupendously good Turkish food. I didn't even imagine there are so many Turkish people in China, let alone Guangzhou but there we were, surrounded by middle aged Turkish businessmen and their younger compatriots.
Every table was served a complimentary garlicky dip which was very creamy, with garlic sweetness and an unexpected raw finish, this was unstoppably good especially with freshly baked flatbread.
Even better was the moutabel, a puree of smoked aubergines. If the garlic dip was unstoppably good, this was practically orgasmic. Creamy and smooth with beads of tiny seeds, the aubergine's sweetness and smokiness was maddeningly addictive. Forget pate and foie gras, give me a plate of moutabel with bread, and I would be more than happy.
As the restaurant specialises in grilled meats, we ordered a mixed platter of kebabs and were duly impressed. Succulent juicy meats charred in all the right places, with a little mound of nutty rice and a cleansing onion parsley salad on the side, everything got full marks from us.
In fact we liked the food so much we went back the next day, this time we ordered the mixed appetisers and found out that their hummus was just as irresistible as the moutabel. Garlicky, very creamy, very nutty and insanely good, it puts to shame my previous lumpy efforts. Desserts- baklavas were too stodgy and syrupy but the Rice Pudding was To Die For, seriously, the mother of all rice puddings, I had to fight with baby for my share....
Truly, this place served some of the best Turkish food I've ever eaten, and it was a shame we only discovered the place two days before we had to leave. If I had more time, I would try to eat through the entire menu, and also check out all the other Turkish hangouts in the city. So there we are, if you find yourself in Guangzhou and don't know what to eat, consider trying their Turkish food!