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Nov 2, 2007 07:20 AM

What to eat at Cantonese/HK restaurants that I haven't tried yet?

I think I know Cantonese restaurants pretty well. Over the years I've eaten at hundreds of them, mostly in New York City. I've explored just about every corner of the menus and when I can I usually order from their second, secret menu written only in Chinese. But Cantonese just might be the most varied cuisine on earth, so I'm sure I'm missing something. And I think this discussion will be useful for those readers who've never before ventured to a Cantonese place that doesn't serve fortune cookies. So I'll start by listing the things I love. (I should add that I almost never order stir-fried dishes. For me, a stir-fry is a stir-fry, though those in the know can see a huge difference between a dish made with good wok air, by an expert chef, and one thrown together by a novice.)

Casseroles. I love 'em. Lovely fresh ingredients, each lovingly prepared in advance, carefully assembled in a big clay pot with a bit of sauce on the bottom, and put on a flame to boil the sauce. Fish head, seafood and dofu, chicken, I love them all. I like sizzling plates too, and stuff served in a mini wok with a burner underneath. And rice casseroles too, with the edge of the rice seared by the clay pot.

Anything steamed. What a great way to cook a fish. Or chicken with mushrooms on a lotus leaf, or fish head with bean sauce, or anything else. Or that lovely dish with slices of steamed chicken alternate with country ham and mushrooms.

Anything braised. Juicy duck, dripping with a light salty gravy, topped with seafood and mushrooms and chicken.

I'd love crab if I ever figured out how to eat it. Served in a sauce made with eggs, or steamed over rice so the juice seeps into the rice.

Modern stuff. XO sauce, shrimp with mayonnaise, any of the more creative HK dishes I can find in NY.To give you an idea of which such dishes are available in NYC, here's my review of the most creative restaurant here, which I think compares favorably with restaurants just about anywhere.. Most of the dishes I tried are described in my replies to my own post.

Noodles are great too, though I usually order one of the above instead. And yeah, there's dim sum... but I just about never do that.

So what am I missing?

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  1. There are several sub-cuisines within Cantonese cooking that have their own distinctive characteristics. You may want to try these different cuisines. I am not sure if NYC has the best choices in each of them. If you want to explore, you may need to travel to Vancouver, or even HK and the mothership, Guangzhou itself.

    1 Reply
    1. re: PeterL

      You're right. There are a few places in NYC that claim to offer Chaozhou cuisine, but they barely scratch the surface. You can't get Hakka food. Most of the earliest immigrants to NY came from Taishan, aka Toisan, and some dishes served here come from there.

      Wikipedia has a good article on Cantonese,
      and an article on Chaozhou too

    2. Just to make clear... I said I never ordered stir-fries. But that can change so if you can recommend a lovely stir-fry I'd be happy to try it. I actually had a wonderful stir-fry the other day. Pig's stomach, surprisingly abalone-like (and expensive), with gleaming red, orange and green pepper slices, and a tiny bit of a thin but rich-tasting XO sauce.

      1. duck stuffed with shrimp paste?

        1. Crab in clay pot is great. I love it when the vermicilli just soaks up all the juices. Better than over rice as the latter can get mushy w all the sauce.

          There is a style of stir fry called Harbour Style. Used to be how they make it in the harbor, when people ride a boat out to catch a cool breeze, and little floating kitchen sampans go around selling food. They will stir fry the crabs, shrimps, whatever w a generous helping of scallion, garlic, and pepper (spicy though not overly as Cantonese food never is). Flavorful and the fast stir frying ensures that meat is not overcooked.

          The Chinese style BBQ is also one HK specialty too. Like duck, roasted pig and char-siu.

          1. Agreed, I would recommend clay pot dishes and cantonese BBQ deli meats like roasted duck, char siu, and soy sauce chicken, roast pig. All those dishes, when done well, over rice or rice noodles, are some of my favorite lunch options.

            And clay pots (like the classic salted fish with chicken and tofu or other meat) are great on a chilly evening with a bowl of rice. One of my faves.

            And once you've gone through all those...there's always Shanghainese food (love it!!!).