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Eating Out in Guangzhou

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Given the large southern Chinese diaspora and Canton chef’s dominance in the kitchens of the world, Cantonese food is today a global commodity. Indeed, if you haven’t been to China, what you deem “Chinese food” might well be Cantonese in origin. The eclectic if distinctive fare of the Middle Kingdom’s Deep South is one (if not the) most revered of all China’s Eight Culinary Traditions, unmatched in the clarity of its flavours and its appealing presentation. Nowadays it’s enjoyed nationwide in China, from Beijing to Shanghai. But to taste the real deal you’ll need to head to Guangdong’s provincial capital Guangzhou, a city where eating out is more a religion than a means of sustenance.

In Guangzhou we eat!

There’s a saying in China. “In Guangzhou we eat” and wandering the banyan tree lined streets of the sprawling southern metropolis one gets an idea why. Breakfasters are busy slurping-up congee or sucking on sweet dim sum in whopping three-storey eateries. Backstreet cafés dish-up steaming bowls of wanton noodles for just a few kuai while Hong Kong-style tea canteens serve-up pineapple buns and milk tea to busy white-collar workers. Even vegetarians have their place in the city that “eats anything with legs apart from the tables and chairs.” Around Jinghui Lu between Guangxiao Temple and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees there’s a large fraternity of veggie markets and meat-free restaurants catering to Guangzhou’s well-established Buddhist community with vegan versions of delicious Cantonese staples. 

When one throws in the heady mix of foreign foods available in Guangzhou due to its status as an international city of trade the menu just gets bigger and better. What is certain is that the dinner tables of Old Canton’s eateries (more per capita than anywhere else in China) spoil diners for choice. To help you navigate Guangzhou’s ever broadening food and beverage scene, here’s our pick of the culinary pack.

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1) Ming Court

Located on the third floor of the Langham Place, a luxury hotel near the Canto Fair exhibition halls in Haizhu District, this high-end restaurant is somewhere to go if you want to make a serious impression. There are eight luxurious private dining rooms while the interior décor of the main dining hall is inspired by the oriental charm of Guangzhou’s unique Xiguan Mansions. However, it’s all about the food in Canton and Ming Court boasts a menu of Cantonese fusion dishes that will have you talking about the experience for months to come. For our money, sample the Steamed Black Truffle and Mushroom Dumplings or the Minced Shrimp Enrobed in Giant Grouper to get an idea of what fine dining “Canton-style” is all about.

2) Uncle

With several locations around town Uncle is an atmospheric Hong Kong-style tea canteen offering time-poor local diners Cantonese-style fast food. The place has “the look” with braised chicken and duck meat hanging in the windows, chairs cordoned into booths while the soundtrack mixes Cantopop with locals chattering in their famously tonal brand of Chinese. Lettuce Sautéed with Garlic, Fried Rice Noodles with Beef and Hainan Chicken (an import from Guangdong’s southern neighbour) are standout dishes, though almost everything on the menu combines the need for speed with Cantonese culinary panache. 

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3) Bodhi Amrita Restaurant

One of the oldest Buddhist temples in Guangzhou, Guangxiao Temple is an ancient and atmospheric site that played an essential role in propagating Zen Buddhism in the city. Thus, it stands to reason that such a hallowed place would have a characteristically revered restaurant. Bodhi Amrita, located just on the edge of the temple complex, boasts that all the ingredients used in its fine cooking are from natural plants, without any coloring or preservatives. The restaurant has more than 300 dishes with Eight-treasured soup, Aubergine cooked with lemon and crispy durian cake the stand out dishes. Plus, you can’t beat the chorus of “Amitabha!” from the staff each time you order.

4) People’s Café

OK, this is not Cantonese food per se, but this stalwart of the Guangzhou dining scene deserves a mention, not least because its eclectic menu characterises the cosmopolitan character of the city. Korean-run and serving everything from fried rice to spaghetti, sushi to salami and open 24 hours a day, this is a great place to date or simply chillax with a good book. Both locations of People’s, one in Taojin and one in Zhujiang New Town, have outdoor terraces.  

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About the author

Thomas grew up beneath heavy clouds in the South Wales suburbs. After reading too many books, he decided to see for himself what this weird world had on offer. Now an itinerant traveler, writer and photographer usually lost somewhere in East Asia, he prints his musings in a number of notable publications and has contributed to several guidebooks including Rough Guides China and Dunhuang: A City on the Silk Road. When he's not wandering, he can sometimes be found practising mandolin in Beijing.

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