As one of the eight major cuisines in China, Cantonese cuisine is famous both at home and abroad for its unique and skilful cooking techniques, use of seasonal local materials and rich and fresh tastes. Shunde is the hinterland of Chinese cuisine and the birthplace of Cantonese cuisine. The warm and humid climate, the flat and open land, the stable and prosperous life and the hardworking local people are the necessary conditions for the development of Shunde’s cooking skills and food culture. For Shunde people, food is not only for survival, but also for them to go to varied places to create businesses and enterprises. It is a reflection of the spirit of the Shunde people who is seeking truth and pragmatism, and always innovating.
Shunde, while holding true to the essence of its traditional food culture, is at the same time using new media and new platforms to promote its food culture. By integrating educational research, brand building and international cooperation, the Shunde District Government is creating a unique food culture and industry. Pairing culture and economy in a steady manner can bring about the development of the region. It can also showcase a unique and beautiful Shunde.
The history and style of Shunde food culture
Shunde cuisine is known for having rich ingredients and creative cooking methods. ‘Five flavors, six arts, fresh drinks, good food and natural ingredients’ is the most accurate summary of the characteristics of Shunde food culture. In olden times, people from the Central Plains migrated to Guangdong Province, and blended the Central Plains diet with Guangdong’s agricultural and fishery resources according to local conditions. This is the origin of Shunde’s food culture. If the natural environment is the soil for the growth of Shunde’s food culture, then the skills and craftsmanship are the foundations of the development of its food culture. The integrated mulberry tree and fish pond agronomy model provided the local people with sufficient fish and livestock products and rich fruits and vegetables. The developed agricultural economy allowed the well-to-do Shunde people to delve into food and cooking in their leisure time. With their flexible mind and willingness to experiment, Shunde poeple’s love for food and cooking was gradually formed. Shunde is one of four chefs’ hometown in China, and enjoys the reputation of ‘eat in Guangzhou, cooks must be from Fengcheng (Shunde)’. As early as the end of the eighteenth century, Shunde chefs began to bring their cooking skills overseas and were unanimously recognized for their proficiencies. They also brought Cantonese cuisine out of the country and made it famous both at home and abroad.
Shunde dishes are authentic and exquisite, a reflection of the pragmatic and ever-improving Shunde people. Shunde dishes showcase the most natural and most pristine taste of the ingredients. The dishes not only require fresh materials, but also precise skills and accurate grasp of the heat and time. Shunde cuisine is also known for its fascinating variations. The freshest seasonal ingredients are selected and cooked by a skillful combination of 24 traditional cooking methods. The chefs’ flair can not only retain the natural taste of the ingredients, but can also conjure up diverse tastes in distinctive presentations at different times of the year.
Chinese cuisine is known for its ‘color, aroma and taste’, and Shunde cuisine is no exception. Whether the ingredients are simple or complex, a Shunde chef’s craftsmanship can transform them into beautiful and gorgeous artworks. The Lunjiao Rice Cake, which is made from only glutinous rice and white sugar, is delicate yet unassumingly plated simply side by side. The Almond and Pig Lung Soup is presented in an earthen jar filled with spices, fresh vegetables and high-quality meat bones, while aroma from the broth tickles your senses. The Pan Fried Dace is cooked with unique culinary techniques. First, raw dace meat is minced, then mixed with vegetables and starch, and the paste is stuffed into the fish skin and then fried. The outline of the dace fish is almost unchanged, which is really amazing!
Lunjiao Rice Cake
Almond and Pig Lung Soup
Pan Fried Dace
From snacks to main dishes, Shunde cusine can satisfy all the imaginations of food connoisseurs. A bowl full of milky and smooth Double-layer Milk Custard exudes a rich sweet scent to entice the taste buds. After a bite of the sweet and tender Lunjiao Rice Cake, one cannot help but eat a few more mouthfuls. Then, nibble on a snack called Fried Glutinous Rice Balls sprinkled with sweet or salty ground peanuts and sesame seeds. Finally, slurp down a bowl of smooth hand-made Chencun Noodles, paired with pieces of refreshing braised pork.
These are just appetizers, and the main dishes are coming up. Slow-cooked on a small fire, Rice Porridge is usually eaten with fresh pork or fish, and spring onion and ginger are added for extra flavour. The smoothness of the meat complements the sweetness of the porridge. Then savour the Deep-fried Pork Rolls. Fatty and lean pork is mixed, wrapped in flour and then fried and steamed. You can’t stop eating the crunchy meat rolls.
Next is the Jun’an Steamed Whole Pig, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside; then we have the Three-cup Chicken, which is sweet, flavourful and full of aroma; next is the golden-colour Crispy Roast Goose; and the Sautéed Water Snake Slices, which are brightly colored, sweet and fragrant, yet not too greasy. The star of the show is the dace fish. As a well-loved ingredient in Shunde, it can be cooked in many varied ways: Hand-shredded Fish Soup, Fried Fish Cake, Steamed Fish, Fish Balls, Sashimi…It can be fried, stewed, steamed and braised into cakes, balls, soups and desserts, the choices are dizzying!
Fried Fish Cake
The tradition of learning and researching about food and cooking is the foundation of Shunde cuisine. It is not surprising that dishes on the banquet tables are exquisite and delicious. What is valuable is that home-cooked dishes in Shunde also maintain the same authenticity and taste, and the level of mastery is not compromised. Even if it is a simple dish of meat and vegetable stir-fry, the freshest vegetables and meat are used, and the homemade recipes are followed strictly. The rustic taste conveys the unique warmth and taste of the family. ‘Going home to eat’ is a manifestation of the close bonds of the Shunde people. It is also this cohesive force that allows Shunde people scattered around the world to reunite. Food is not only a way of survival for the Shunde people, but also a continuation of the spirit and the inheritance of culture.
With the advance of modern lifestyles, Shunde people is appreciating Western cuisine with an open and inclusive attitude. In the blend of Chinese and Western food cultures, Shunde people is fusing the spirit of traditional dishes with the goodness of Western food, gradually developing a new era of Shunde cuisine that is suitable for both Chinese and Western people, and for young and old.
Flourishing food industry
In recent years, Shunde has actively participated in domestic and international food exchange activities, and has won the reputation of ‘Hometown of Chinese Chefs’ and ‘Famous Food City’. In 2014, it was awarded the title of ‘UNESCO City of Gastronomy’. Taking this as an opportunity, Shunde constantly innovates and advances on its traditional food culture, and strives to create a modern food industry that integrates elements of catering, tourism, culture and media. There are currently 36 food outlets acknowledged as ‘Chinese Restaurant Brand’ in Shunde district, ranking top among all county-level cities in China. There are more than 13,000 catering businesses in the region, with more than 100,000 employees. The business income in 2018 is about 12.6 billion yuan. Among them, Shunfeng Group, Wumi Porridge and Baizhang Garden are not only famous for their authentic Shunde flavour, they have also expanded their businesses to other cities and regions in China.
In terms of culinary heritage and research, Shunde has 23 ‘Chinese Culinary Masters’, 22 ‘Chinese Culinary Chefs’, 26 ‘Guangdong Culinary Chefs’, 19 ‘Guangdong Outstanding Young Cooks’ and 110 ‘Shunde Chefs’. From 2011 to 2013, three batches of representative Shunde cuisine and the English translation of 94 Shunde dishes were announced. In 2012, the Shunfeng Culinary Institute at UCSI University in Malaysia was established, and Shunde’s culinary training business began to spread overseas. In 2014, the Chinese Culinary Institute officially opened in the Shunde Vocational and Technical College to promote professional chef training and industry research.
In terms of branding, the Shunde District Tourism Bureau combines traditional folk activities with Shunde cuisine to develop unique ‘flower banquets’ and ‘maid cuisine’ to give Shunde cuisine a new twist. After several rounds of food culture seminars and demonstrations, the characteristics of Shunde’s food culture are finally defined as ‘five flavors, six arts, fresh drinks, good food and natural ingredients’, which is concise and meaningful. In addition, the Tourism Bureau also plans to launch a series of brochures, such as ‘Guide to Shunde Cuisine’, ‘Sentimental Shunde’, ‘Gourmet Style’ and ‘Walking around Shunde for Gourmet’, which fully record the development process of Shunde cuisine and also promote the development of Shunde food culture towards integration and systematization.
In the era of the integration of traditional and new media, the Shunde people know how to meet this trend. On the one hand, they actively cooperate with well-known domestic and foreign TV media to produce popular documentary films and variety shows such as ‘A Bite of Shunde’, ‘A Taste of China’, ‘The Story of the Eels’ and so on. At the same time, Shunde also promote these shows on the new media platform by driving up online traffic and enhancing interaction with the audience, so as to promote the Shunde food culture. Especially after the documentary ‘A Bite of Shunde’ was broadcast, the yearly online visitors reached 2 billion people, setting off a wave of domestic and foreign diners travelling to Shunde to ‘seek the taste of Shunde’, which drove the development of the local tourism/catering industry.
In addition, as a famous hometown of overseas Chinese, Shunde has not forgotten to promote its food culture while attending to overseas Chinese affairs. During the 2016 Shunde Worldwide Friendship Association meetings, Shunde launched a special food promotion event for more than 1,000 Shunde folks from more than 20 countries and regions on five continents. Using the platform of economic and trade cooperation, Shunde also conducts food promotion, cooking demonstrations and other activities in Canada, South Africa, Germany, Singapore, Malaysia and other countries.
In terms of hardware and facilities construction, the Shunde International Food Culture Exchange Center, undertaken by the Shunde District Tourism Bureau, is expected to be opened in 2019. The project covers an area of about 2,500 square meters and includes many functions such as food culture display, cooking performances, conferences, etc. It is expected to become an important platform for Shunde’s food industry.
Shunde Food Festival
Since 2006, Shunde has been successfully organizing thirteen editions of Food Culture Festival (formally renamed in 2015 as World’s Food Capital—Shunde Food Festival). The event is centered on a food show held during China’s National Day and lasts for nearly half a year. It consists of a series of activities such as culinary competitions, food shows, and tourist food tastings. During the event, people from all walks of life, such as the native people, tourists, media, and catering industry practitioners were brought together to share food, chat about culture and compare cooking.
With the active promotion and enthusiastic participation of the government, residents, enterprises, media and other parties, the Shunde Food Festival has made a name for itself, becoming a unique and shining representative of Shunde. In 2018, the varied themes of the Food Festival, such as ‘Finding Shunde’, ‘One Belt and One Road’ and ‘International Cuisine’ were oriented to the market and closely followed the trends of the times. In just five days, it attracted more than 1.1 million participants and achieved more than 40 million yuan in sales.
The 2018 Shunde Food Festival
The participation of towns and streets, the linkage of industry and festivals, and the market-oriented operation are important components for the Shunde Food Festival to gradually become larger and more established. The participation of the various towns and streets has ignited the enthusiasm of the residents in partaking in the revelries. The establishment of events at the towns and streets not only adds color to the festivities, but also provides a rare opportunity for the grassroots culture to be exhibited for all to see. The Food Festival is also giving a fillip to the standardization of Shunde cuisine, accelerating the pace of regional tourism and catering industry upgrades, and consolidating Shunde’s leading position in the national food industry. In the early stage of the Food Festival, the government was the organizer. After attracting and maintaining many participants and encouraging the business community and the media to join, the Food Festival has now become a market-oriented operation. In recent years, well-known enterprises such as Midea, OCT, Macro and Haitian have joined the event in the form of title sponsors and sponsorships. On the one hand, they have achieved good advertisement through the platform, and on the other hand, they have saved fiscal expenditures for local governments. It also encourages more enterprises to participate in the events and is a model for cooperation between government and business.
UNESCO City of Gastronomy
In 2014, Shunde officially became a member of the UNESCO Creative City Network — City of Gastronomy, and actively participated in related activities organized by the network. Shunde was frequently invited to share its development experiences at international conferences, and Shunde cuisine were promoted around the world. In 2016, Shunde was invited to present the development of its strong food brand and to showcase the influence of Shunde city at the Macao International Food Forum. In the same year, at the Beijing summit of UNESCO Creative City Network, Shunde presented the report ‘The Power of Food – The Role of Creativity in Cities in the Belt and Road Initiative’. This report once again showed the world the open and inclusive nature of Shunde. In 2017, Shunde was the only Chinese city to be invited to share its achievements and experience as a food capital at the 10th Summit of UNESCO Creative City Network.
Shunde is also actively participating in activities between cities in the Creative City Network and looking for cooperation opportunities. On the one hand, Shunde participated in food tours to Parma in Italy, Jeonju in South Korea, Macau, Thailand, Spain, Brazil and other cities. On the other hand, mayors of cities in the Network were invited to visit Shunde. In 2018, during the visit by the Turkish representative, the international cooperation project ‘The Food Culture of the Silk Road’ was launched. It was supported by the Shunde government and other Network member cities.
Superior natural conditions and a developed regional economy are the sources of nourishment for Shunde’s food culture. Under the dexterous hands of the Shunde people, ordinary ingredients can be turned into delicious works of art. Food also conveys the beautiful hopes of the Shunde people who love life and respects historical traditions, and having a strong sense of belonging to their ancestral roots. In the process of inheriting and promoting the food culture of Shunde, Shunde has skillfully integrated the elements of food, culture, education and training to create a unique and beautiful Shunde food industry. They have also actively promoted Shunde cuisine by participating in international exchanges and cooperation.