Chiu Chow, known as Chaozhou（潮州）in Mandarin, is located in Northeastern Guangdong Province, near the border with Fujian Province. Not well known in the West, Chiu Chow food is actually a subcategory of Cantonese cuisine, considered by many food experts to be the best of China’s Eight Great provincial cuisines. Because of its location, it bears similarities to Fujian cuisine.
The district of Chiu Chow includes farmland, fishing villages and a deep-water seaport at Swatou, or Shantou （汕 头）, which was a treaty port during the 19th century. A wide variety of high-quality fresh produce and seafood has traditionally been available in the district, and the people there – many having travelled abroad – have long been exposed to Western cultural influences. This includes ingredients and cooking styles.
As with other Cantonese chefs, Chiu Chow chefs prize freshness. Not only that, they also take the way food looks seriously. They are, in fact, known for their skill at carving vegetables into edible works of art! Preparation and ingredients are additional aspects that set Chiu Chow cooking apart from other types of Cantonese cuisine. Cooking times tend to be longer. As a result, gravies tend to be thicker.
Dipping sauces – ranging from pungent to sweet and sour to spicy – are a distinctive feature of Chiu Chow cuisine. They are used at the table. They are also used in the kitchen in the preparation of many dishes. Instead of using salt, Chiu Chow chefs use fish sauce to add the desired amount of saltiness in their dishes.
Chiu Chow restaurants are scattered all over Hong Kong, mostly in working class neighborhoods. But there has been a trend in recent years for Chiu Chow eateries to go upmarket, with snazzier surroundings – and more professional service.
Copyright: Michael Taylor
Pictured: Chan Ah Kin, Chinese chef at the Xingli Chinese Restaurant, The Ritz-Carlton Shenzhen, China