Cantonese food is a delicious type of Chinese cuisine originating from Guangdong province in southeast China. It is one of the most popular regional Chinese cuisines - even outside of Asia - and is widely recognised for its use of fresh ingredients, subtle flavours, and distinct cooking methods.
At the heart of Cantonese cuisine lie a whole host of delicious dishes including the likes of dim sum and roasted meats. In this article, we'll share our list of 25 popular Cantonese dishes that we simply love and think you should definitely try!
Cantonese Dim Sum
Dim sum is perhaps the most iconic type of Cantonese cuisine, offering a variety of small plates consisting of flavour-filled snack dishes such as dumplings and buns. We find dim sum dishes great for those social occasions when you want to share and enjoy your meal with family and friends. Traditionally a morning meal, we recommend eating dim sum alongside a fresh pot of Chinese tea.
#1 Shrimp Dumpling (Har gow)
Har gow are crystal-clear, shrimp dumplings. Their smooth and translucent wrappers, are made from tapioca flour and wheat starch, and encase juicy pieces of tender shrimp. With their delicate finish, Har Gow is a true test of a chef's dexterity and ability.
#2 Shrimp and pork cup dumplings (Shu mai)
Siu Mai stands out with its open-top design, revealing a hearty filling of minced pork and shrimp. This dim sum staple, with a slightly chewy texture and savoury taste, is a perfect representation of Cantonese culinary expertise and goes well with har gow.
#3 BBQ pork buns (Char siu bao)
These buns are a delightful contrast of textures – a soft, pillowy exterior giving way to a sweet and savoury barbecued pork filling. Char Siu Bao, with its roots in the Cantonese love for roast meats, is a universally loved dim sum item and is one of our childhood favourites.
#4 Rice noodle rolls (Cheung fun)
This dish features silky-smooth rice noodle sheets, delicately wrapped around fillings such as shrimp or beef. Originating from Southern China, Cheung Fun is revered for its soft, melt-in-the-mouth texture, often enjoyed with a sweet soy sauce.
#5 Turnip cakes (Lo bak go)
A savoury treat made from grated radish and bits of Chinese sausage and shrimp, these cakes are first steamed, then pan-fried to achieve a crispy exterior. Although we love eating throughout the year, Turnip Cakes are a popular Chinese New Year dish as they symbolising good fortune and prosperity.
#6 Pork or Venison puff pastry (Char siu sou)
A luxurious addition to the dim sum menu, this dish marries tender pork or venison with flaky, buttery pastry with a touch of sesame seeds. A fusion of traditional Cantonese flavours with Western pastry techniques, it offers a unique and indulgent taste experience.
Cantonese meat dishes use an array of roasting and marinating techniques to bring out complex flavours and textures. Highlights like Roast Duck and Char Siu demonstrate the meticulous approach to preparing and cooking meats, focusing on enhancing their natural tastes. These dishes reflect the region's commitment to quality and tradition in their meat preparation.
#7 Roast Duck
A Cantonese classic, Roast Duck is prized for its glossy, crispy skin and succulent meat. This dish, often served during special occasions, is a celebration of the delicate art of roasting.
#8 Char siu (BBQ pork)
Char Siu or BBQ pork, features tender pork shoulder, marinated in a sweet and savoury sauce, then roasted to caramelised perfection. It's a versatile dish, enjoyed on its own, with rice, or as a component in various Cantonese recipes.
#9 Crispy Roast Pork
Known for its crackling skin and tender meat, Roast Pork is a staple in Cantonese barbecue. The contrast between the crispy skin and the soft, flavourful meat underneath makes it a favourite at family gatherings.
#10 Soy Sauce Chicken
This dish involves a whole chicken slowly cooked in a rich soy sauce-based marinade. The result is tender, flavourful meat with a beautiful, glossy exterior, making it a centrepiece in Cantonese dining.
#11 Sweet and Sour Pork
A harmonious blend of contrasting flavours, Sweet and Sour Pork combines crispy, deep-fried pork, or sometimes chicken, with a tangy sauce. It's a crowd-pleaser, loved for its vibrant flavours and delicious texture.
#12 Chinese Spare Ribs
Marinated in a blend of Chinese spices and sauces, these ribs are then cooked until tender. Spare Ribs are often a highlight of dinners, savoured for their rich, meaty flavours and sweet sauces.
Seafood in Cantonese cuisine is renowned for its emphasis on freshness and natural flavours. From the delicate preparation of shrimp to the expert seasoning of squid, Cantonese seafood dishes are a true reflection of the culinary sophistication and respect for ingredients that this cuisine is celebrated for.
#13 Steamed Fish with Ginger and Scallions
This dish exemplifies the Cantonese culinary philosophy – fresh fish, lightly seasoned and steamed to perfection. The ginger and scallions add a fragrant touch, highlighting the fish's natural sweetness.
#14 Salt and Pepper Squid
A popular Cantonese dish, salt and pepper squid features crispy, fried squid seasoned with a mix of salt, pepper, and a hint of five-spice. It's an irresistible combination of crunchy texture and spicy, savoury flavours.
#15 Shrimp in Lobster Sauce
Despite its name, this dish doesn't usually contain lobster. It's a luxurious mix of succulent shrimp in a rich, egg-thickened sauce with a hint of fermented black beans, offering a depth of flavour that's both comforting and sophisticated.
Cantonese Soups and Broths
The soups and broths of Cantonese cooking are nourishing and full of depth. Such dishes, ranging from the light and invigorating Wonton Soup to the hearty, soul-warming Beef Brisket Soup, are testament to the quality and refinement in Cantonese cooking.
#16 Wonton Soup
A soul-soothing broth brimming with delicate wontons, each a parcel of minced meat and shrimp. Wonton Soup is a testament to the Cantonese pursuit of perfection in simplicity. It’s a popular starter, setting the stage for a sumptuous meal.
#17 Beef Brisket Soup
This hearty soup features tender, slow-cooked beef brisket in a rich, aromatic broth. Often paired with noodles, Beef Brisket Soup is a comforting, satisfying dish, perfect for chilly evenings.
Cantonese Vegetables and Tofu
Vegetables and tofu are central to Cantonese cuisine, often bringing balance and nutrients to the meal, by showcasing the fresh, natural flavours of the ingredients. Emphasising simplicity and wholesomeness, these dishes are a testament to the versatility and importance of vegetables and tofu in the Cantonese diet.
#18 Choy Sum in Oyster Sauce
A simple dish showcasing tender choy sum (a leafy green vegetable) dressed in a savoury oyster sauce. This dish is a testament to the Cantonese ability to elevate greens to a gourmet level.
#19 Braised Tofu with Vegetables
Soft, silky tofu cooked alongside a medley of vegetables. This dish not only offers a variety of textures but also embodies the Cantonese penchant for fresh, lightly cooked vegetables.
#20 Stir-Fried Bok Choy with Garlic
Fresh bok choy stir-fried with aromatic garlic – a dish that’s both nutritious and bursting with flavour. It's a common side dish, balancing the richness of the main courses.
Cantonese Rice and Noodles
Rice and noodles are more than just staples in Cantonese cuisine; they are the basis for a variety of inventive dishes. From Beef Chow Fun with its distinctive smoky "wok hei" to the comforting Congee with Lean Pork and Century Egg, these dishes are central to daily dining in Cantonese culture.
#21 Beef Chow Fun (Stir-Fried Noodles)
Wide rice noodles stir-fried with slices of tender beef, onions, and bean sprouts. This dish is a perfect example of wok hei, the unique, smoky flavour achieved through high-heat wok cooking.
#22 Congee with Lean Pork and Century Egg
A comforting rice porridge, often eaten for breakfast or when recovering from a cold. The optional century egg adds a unique, strong flavour, contrasting with the mildness of the congee.
#23 Little Pot Rice
A traditional dish where rice is cooked in a clay pot until it develops a crispy bottom, then topped with meats such as chicken or pork, as well as vegetables. It’s a warming, homely dish, perfect for winter nights.
Despite not being the most renowned part of Cantonese cuisine, Cantonese desserts can still be an exciting part of the dining experience, offering a refined and subtle end to the meal. Varieties like Egg Tarts and Red Bean Soup are not overly sweet, providing a light and satisfying conclusion to the rich flavours of the cuisine.
#24 Chinese Egg Tarts
These pastries feature a flaky, buttery crust filled with a smooth, sweet egg custard. Egg Tarts are a beloved dessert and tea-time snack, a legacy of the British influence on Hong Kong's culinary scene.
#25 Red Bean Soup
A sweet, creamy dessert made from red beans, often enhanced with orange peel and lotus seeds. It’s a soothing end to a Cantonese meal, particularly in colder weather.
Exploring these 25 classic Cantonese dishes is like embarking on a culinary expedition through Guangdong province. Each dish has its own unique story of flavours, techniques, and traditions, showcasing the diversity and creativity of Cantonese cooking. Whether it's the intricate layers of a dim sum or the robust warmth of a traditional roast, these dishes invite both connoisseurs and newcomers alike to experience the authentic spirit of one of China's most celebrated cuisines.