Like I said, the only redeeming quality about Guangzhou is its food, especially Cantonese food. The first meal we ate after we settled into the serviced apartment was dim sum. It was nearly 2 pm by the time we walked across the road to Victory Plaza and found Upday Chao the restaurant recommended by the apartment receptionist. 2 pm is also when the restaurant, like many others in town, offers discounts on its dim sum items.
The general opinion was that the dim sum were not as elegant or refined in appearance but more than make up for this deficiency in the taste department. The "pork lard cheong fun", above, exemplified this best. When this plate of nondescript brown rice rolls was placed on our table, I looked quizzically at husband. He said it was listed on the menu as a house specialty. We tried a piece and were surprised at its incredible texture, somewhere in between soft and smooth with an elastic resilient bite. The taste was mainly of soy sauce,a very nice soy sauce with sweet-salty beany nuances, simple yet sophisticated. I was amazed that such a seemingly plain dish could be so exciting, and pretty soon the plate of rolls was polished clean, like within 10 seconds.
Later on, I observed that the locals love their rice noodles, whether in dim sum rolls or the ubiquitous stir fried horfun, the latter was the default carbo dish at most of the Cantonese restaurants we later visited.
And egg tarts, the ones we ate in Guangzhou were all fabulous, with tremblingly silky, very eggy custard barely held together by a delicate pastry shell that is flaky yet crumbles into almost nothing when bitten into. Just like the egg tarts that I used to eat when I was younger, the very old school type, i.e. world apart from today's pallid milky versions. These babies likely involved pork lard in the recipe, and were dangerously addictive. The best version I had was at a seafood restaurant, the well known five storey Dongjiang. A plate comes with 6 pieces and the two of us had absolutely no trouble polishing them off.
Upday Chao prides itself on fusion or new wave dim sum, and one particularly outstanding item was mochi balls tinged with bitter melon juice which husband was particularly enamoured of. The melon lent a slight hint of intriguing vegetal bitterness to the skin, lightening its rich sweetness while the crispy wonton skin bits add crunch and novelty.
This is the yim yau fan at a typical casual eatery Man Fook Lau that I blogged about earlier. Again, simple food done simply and very well.
One cannot miss roasted meats in Cantonese restaurants, no? The char-siew at the same place was excellent.
Having a baby limited our eating out options quite a bit, as we didn't fancy the idea of travelling all over the highly polluted city in their very dirty and ill-maintained taxies with her. The most convenient solution therefore was to eat at the neighbourhood, i.e. Victory Plaza, restaurants. There are four, of which our favourite remained Upday Chao. Freezone was another option, this is a schizophrenic place as it had waiters dressed in tartan whizzing by on roller skates, tribal-type fixtures on the walls and a menu that covers Japanese, Chinese and Western dishes as well as prominently placed advertisements with Jackie Chan's face on it. The dim sum dishes were sub-standard IMO, but this doesn't matter because the locals go there for their bargain roast pigeons. At only RMB10 per bird, every table was munching on the little birds, accompanying them with yep, fried horfun.
Only I was silly enough to order their baked crab, which was on a special price promotion, "only 50RMB" the waitress said. But she didn't tell me that this translates to the tiniest crab in the tank. Still, it was tasty enough.
Dou Dou Jun is a name synonymous with Guangzhou cuisine. Their history dates back to the 19th century, and the restaurant is crowded at all times. But the dim sum was terrible, and that is putting it mildly. Everything we tried was cold, lumpy and stodgy, but, very cheap, which may account for its popularity.
The thing to eat though, is their pastries. We bought a random selection and everything tasted very fresh and absolutely fantastic. I was at first drawn by their steamed honey cakes, these looked so inviting with their dark honeycomb cross-sections, and I overheard another lady telling her friend how much she loved them. She was right, the sponge was soft yet springy and the burnt sugar taste was nicely rounded. The popular "kai jai peng" or chicken biscuits were amazing, redolent of dried sausage meatiness and beautifully short yet crisp to bite, so sinful and so bad for you yet so irresistable. Century egg pastries was exemplary too, with the perfect pastry skin that is ever so flakey and dissolves meltingly in the mouth as it should be. "Hap tho so" or walnut cookies were faultless too, one bite and I was transported to my childhood when Chinese bakeries habitually used butter and lard instead of nonsense like margarines, flavourings and stabilisers.
Above: water chestnuts doused with a light syrup. This was an appetiser dish at the five storey Dongjiang seafood palace. They have all sorts of live sea creatures, even water beetles!
We opted for less complicated dishes like braised tofu. The tofu tasted really fresh and sweet, the braising sauce coating it lightly yet not overpowering its natural flavours.
Crab with salted egg yolk. One could have it steamed of course, but we chose to live dangerously. Worth every finger-licking bite.
We also ate at popular chain outlets like Gongfu, Cafe de Coral and Greenery Cafe, all excellent options for low to mid-priced eating. Another place we didn't try was Bellagio Cafe, a Taiwanese chain, but I went to one outlet in Beijing and enjoyed my experience- their lu rou fan was especially tasty. There are too many eating options in this big bad place, 10 days is just enough to get but a mere glimpse. In my next post, I will touch on other gastronomical possibilities.