Chowhound Presents: Table Talk with Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh of Sweet: Desserts from London's Ottolenghi | Ask Your Questions Now ›

General Discussion

Chinese Cantonese

Developing a palate for Chinese (especially Cantonese) cuisine [moved from China board]


General Discussion 45

Developing a palate for Chinese (especially Cantonese) cuisine [moved from China board]

chloehk | Mar 7, 2011 09:49 PM

All of the posts about Michelin and Top 3 in HK, etc., keep touching on a nerve between Chinese and Western gastronomic sensibility.

I think that many Chinese gourmets who also understand and appreciate Western cuisines want Hong Kong's (and China's) best restaurants to be recognized on an international stage for their excellence (and superiority?).

However, most Western folks' palates are not adequately developed for appreciating Chinese cuisine. So we Westerners go to places like Tim's Kitchen and order properly prepared Cantonese dishes like braised pomelo skin with shrimp roe -- and kind of freak out. It's slippery, spongy, fishy (more complex than that, but...). Anyway, it's *supposed* to be that way! But Westerners generally don't like slippery, spongy, or fishy. So what to do?

For those of us who are intrigued and challenged by Chinese food, I think there's a whole step of familiarization with Chinese ingredients and important dishes. Before I can tell the difference between good braised pomelo peel and bad, I have to first understand why the dish is prized and what qualities to look for. (Someone told me that braised pomelo peel was created to simulate a type of fish or meat?) After I *get* what the dish is about, then it's worth considering whether I like the dish in general and Tim's Kitchen's version in particular. (Long process...)

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's also... The complexity of ordering (number of people, mixture of dishes, cooking methods, ingredients, symbolism, and Chinese medicine/nutrition). Then there's dexterity with eating bone-in, shell-on/the whole hassle factor. And there's understanding Chinese aesthetic around food presentation (color, form, disguise, etc.). And there's the whole encyclopedic knowledge of seafood thing.

So the question is: What are the most important things to *get* about Chinese foods and cooking in order to appreciate fine Cantonese cuisine?

For the sake of argument, here's the pomelo peel and here's a disguised Chinese dish (taro that looks like a fish).

Also, two good articles on some basic aspects of Chinese gastronomy *in English*:

Want to stay up to date with this post?

Recommended From Chowhound