‘I’m so spoilt living in Guangzhou,’ says Wai Zhou, founder of Eating Adventures and a local foodie champion. ‘The cuisine here is the finest in all of China.’ The old Chinese saying ‘Be born in Suzhou, live in Hangzhou, eat in Guangzhou, die in Liuzhou’ suggests that she’s not the only one to think so.
Zhou and I are having dinner at Bingsheng Zen Tea House, a cute vegetarian restaurant on the cusp of Xiaogang Park. It’s my third meal in Guangzhou, and the tastiest I’ve had all weekend. Which is quite a statement, given I’ve had lashings of dim sum and cheung fan (a Cantonese delicacy of steamed rice noodle rolls), washed down with all kinds of exotic tea.
Guangzhou – formerly Canton – is the capital of Guangdong province, and the spiritual home of Cantonese cuisine (sorry, Hong Kong). As Guangzhou welcomed its first Michelin Guide at the end of June, it’s finally getting the official recognition it deserves.
And thanks to a high level of domestic migration over the past few decades – some estimates put the number of Chinese from other provinces as high as five million –Guangzhou’s food scene is not just limited to Cantonese cuisine. You’ll find that the city is laced with restaurants serving dishes from provinces as far away as Sichuan and Xinjiang.
Here’s a selection of the best restaurants in Guangzhou.
Bingsheng Zen Tea House
At the main entrance to Xiaogang Park, this vegetarian restaurant serves small plates in cosy private rooms overlooking the park’s trees. There’s a large selection of tea (pu’er, longjing green tea and a tasty apple and date infusion) and mushrooms trussed up in numerous different ways, including fungi-based dishes that look like salt and pepper squid and sweet and sour pork. It’s ideal for a long, lazy weekend lunch.
146 Qianjin Lu, Haizhu
Yu Yue Heen
Four Seasons’ dizzying one-Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant overlooks the CBD from the 71st floor of the Guangzhou International Finance Centre. Dishes span classic dim sum – turnip cake, char siu bao, siu mai – as well as seafood dishes and barbecued meats. The signature mango pudding is especially delicious.
Dian Dou De
Dian Dou De – which means ‘anything is possible’ in Cantonese – has several branches around town, but the Liwan outpost is the original and best. It’s decked out in traditional xiguan style (wooden benches, red lanterns hanging from the ceiling) and its signature dish is its egg tart, which some claim (controversially) is better than those in Macao.
587 Long Jin Zhong Lu, Liwan
Huangsha Aquatic Products Market
The largest seafood market in southern China, right on the Zhujiang River, is not for the faint-hearted. There are huge Boston crabs, monumental tiger prawns and wrinkled geoducks ready for consumption. Inside the main market building is a selection of restaurants that will cook the fresh seafood you’ve just bought downstairs with nothing more than a squeeze of lemon and some garlic.
15 Huangsha Dadao, Liwan
Sometimes called Liwan Famous Eatery, this super-traditional Cantonese restaurant on the old town’s Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street serves the fattest dumplings you’ll find anywhere in Guangdong (and in mainland China). If you’re not here for dumplings, there’s also wonton noodle soup, hand-pulled cheung fan and congee to try.
99 Dishifu Lu, Liwan