When I was a boy, I’d often travel with my mother back to her hometown of Shunde, Guangdong, and my grandparents and uncles would always greet us warmly. Cantonese cooking originated in Guangdong, and there’s an old saying that without chicken, there is no feast. It was a farming village, and they raised their own chickens and had their own mulberry fishponds – something quite common at the time.
So, you’d all gather for a chicken feast?
Yes, chicken was plentiful and convenient, and whenever relatives and friends would come for a visit, the celebration always included chicken-based dishes. All the chickens were free range and their feed was natural, so of course they tasted divine, even when the preparation was very simple – just adding ginger, scallions, salt, and rice wine before steaming in a big wok for fifteen or twenty minutes. It became my family’s signature dish.
Did they ever include ginseng?
Back in old times, ginseng was one of the most expensive ingredients in China, just like abalone, bird’s nest, and shark fin. We didn’t use the expensive ginseng but rather the ginseng tail.
Where does your family hold their feasts?
At my grand-aunt’s house, but we’d also dine in our favorite restaurants two or three times a year.
And of course you’d come together at holidays?
I still remember the joyful atmosphere we had at Chinese New Year. My grandmother would deep-fry mushrooms and taro with salt and then seal them in a jar for a snack we’d have with tea.
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