If you're going to sum up Guangdong in one word, it might as well be ‘food’. In Joyce Li’s opinion the cuisine itself is best described as "Fresh", "Light" and "Authentic". Joyce is currently vice-president of Guangdong Branch of Singapore Chamber of Commerce.
As a Singaporean, Li has lived in Guangzhou for nearly 20 years and has become extremely familiar with the local cuisine; she knows which meat market is best, which restaurant has the most delicious black bean chicken, even if is tucked away in a seemingly hidden alleyway, Joyce can lead you right to the best of local cuisine.
A ‘Cantonese appetite’
In Singapore, near her childhood home, there was a vegetarian Cantonese restaurant, A famous dish, "Vegetarian Roast Goose", requires meticulous preparation. The chef wraps layer upon layer of tofu skin and serves the delicacy with specially prepare sauces. Every day after school, Joyce would look forward to her mother bringing her some back home.
In Singapore, Cantonese make up about 15 percent of the Chinese population, but Cantonese cuisine is more popular in Singapore than the numbers would suggest.
Shrimp Dumpling ,traditional Cantonese dim sum [File photo]
According to Li, Singaporeans and Cantonese have a lot in common when it comes to eating. For example, the much-sought-after Hainanese Chicken Rice, a Singaporean national dish, borrowed a lot from a Cantonese favourite ‘White Cut Chicken’. Modified to suit local tastes, frying white rice in chicken fat and chicken stock, the dish is accompanied by chutney and black soy sauce, and is a potent symbol of cultural integration.
In Guangdong the dish’s focus is on the quality of the meat itself, is it tender, sinewy, skin crisp and bone stock flavourful. Li, who has lived in Guangdong for a long time, has acquired this way of appraising food, "Freshness is the premise of healthy diet, walking the wet markets, seeing the live fish, shrimp, crab. You can really differentiate the taste of Qingyuan Chicken, Zhanjiang Chicken, and Pineapple Chicken, a chicken breed that only eats pineapple as it is reared, and the flavour is delicious!"
Building bridges through quality cuisine
In 2000, Joyce came to Guangzhou to get into the catering industry, and subsequently set up her own baking brand and private restaurant, and with her understanding and love of both Singaporean and Cantonese food, became committed to promoting awareness of the two great cuisines.
Li notes, "When I first came to Guangdong it was difficult to find authentic Singaporean food, but I have seen more and more ASEAN countries setting up offices here, The Singapore Chamber of Commerce, the Malaysian Chamber of Commerce and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Chambers of Commerce have also been set up in Guangdong. "
With this influx, Joyce’s private restaurant has become quite popular, attracting many of these ASEAN agencies in Guangdong to commission her for dinner parties, events and so on. Speaking of these, Li Yijing's eyes suddenly lit up, making food into a bridge for cultural exchange makes Joyce feel particularly fulfilled. "I once invited a dozen foreign consuls general to a cooking competition and they were all extremely well prepared, dressed in chef's clothes and had the help of professional chefs, producing dishes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Michelin starred restaurant!"
CGs in Guangzhou and Joyce Lee (R2) in the cooking competition [Photo provided by Joyce Lee]
Last year, Guangdong started the ‘Cantonese Chef’ initiative, working with local the catering industry and enterprises to train up Cantonese chefs. This is with the aim of Hope to improve the quality of skills training available, and create a ‘Cantonese chef’ brand at home and abroad. Li has taken an active role in helping different organizations to get underway with the project. She said that Cantonese food has a rich heritage hopes that can be shared with foreign countries, especially the 10 countries of Southeast Asia.
"In the future, the relationship between Singapore and Guangdong in the catering industry will become closer and closer." Li believes that her story is just a microcosm, she hopes to push more to go in the same direction, let them export the focus on high-quality ingredients from Guangdong and bring back technology. "It's of massive mutual benefit and I believe the scope for future collaboration will definitely be wider and wider."
Reported by Jasmine Yin
Edited by Wing Zhang, Simon Haywood
Video by Li Jiangrui