BY SILVI WRITER
Maybe you haven’t heard of its name, but this small town is a must of the must-visit destinations for food goers, especially those who love Cantonese food.
Located in the heart of the Pearl River Delta region, Shunde (顺德) is considered the home of skilled Cantonese cooks who like to use fresh and seasonal ingredients and preserve their original flavor.
With the recent opening of the High Speed Railway, travel time from Hong Kong to Shunde is cut from up to four hours by coach to within one hour, with just one seamless change at Guangzhou South Station.
It will be an ideal destination for people in Hong Kong for this coming National Day break. Once you get there, you will find the city has more attractions than its tasty food.
Sitting in the centre of Shunde’s Daliang district is the lovely, boutique Qinghui Garden.
Qinghui Garden was built in the last period of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Today’s it has become a typical traditional South China Garden with Lingnan style of construction.
The garden is dubbed one of the ten famous gardens in China and one of the four famous gardens in Guangdong Province. Other three famous in Guangdong are Liangyuan Garden in Foshan, Sanbanggulsa in Panyu District of Guangzhou and Keyuan Garden in Dongguan.
Qinghui Garden, which was built to be a mansion of a scholar back in Ming dynasty, integrates Ming and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties culture, Lingnan ancient gardening style, Zhujiang Delta Region Watertown scenery together, as the typical representative of Lingnan gardening culture.
Inside the Garden, there are clear water and flourishing woods. And, water, trees, stone hills, small bridges are blended with booths and pavilions, presenting a kind of distinctive scenery. Fine courtyards are built inside the garden and scenes can be seen beyond scenes.
Decorative details may deserve to savor in the garden. There are a lot of ceramics, gray plastic, wood, glass as adornment. Among them, the brick carvings, wood carving and stained glass are particularly beautiful.
A half-an-hour drive by taxi will take you to Fengjian Village, a lovely village built on a small river.
The village has a long history and historic sites of watery regions spread all over the village. It has three stone arch bridges, namely Juji Bridge and Mingyuan Bridge, built in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), and Jin’ao Bridge, built with permission from Emperor Kangxi in the Qing Dynasty. Ancient temples, shrines and houses are numerous amid inland rivers and streams. Liu Ancestral Hall, Liang Ancestral Hall and Li Ancestral Hall all have large-scale sizes and great influence, and they are famous for their delicate building structure and the consummate skill in their carvings.
Shunde cuisine is a must of the must.
When you get there, visit the Sister Huan Lunjiao Rice Cakes restaurant, where you can sample traditional rice cakes and other dainty pastries.
The owner Liang Guihuan says that in the old days she and her father used to hawk Lunjiao rice cakes before dawn. Then, the locals didn’t have much money, so they would exchange their sweet potatoes for the cakes because they liked the snack very much.
Like many old restaurants in Shunde, the family’s recipe for Lunjiao rice cakes has been handed down. And Liang Guihuan is the fourth generation to carry on the business.
The history of the sweet rice cakes can be traced back to 1855 to the Lunjiao quarter of Shunde, where pastry vendor Liang Licheng accidentally invented the cakes when he forgot to stoke the fire during the steaming process.
Then, there’s the unique hotpot from the Song Ji Restaurant. The hotpot is famous for its soup base – just water with a few green onion and ginger.
Song Ji sells about a dozen ingredients for the hotpot such as pork, fish and chicken – and all are fresh, tender and of good quality.
A waiter then ensures that the food is cooked just right. The ingredients are cooked in a particular order – based on the strength of the flavors.
To enjoy Shunde’s signature sashimi, you have to visit the Yu Shan Fang Restaurant. There, chef Li Yongzhao has 400 kinds of salt from all over the world, ranging from Himalayan pink salt to Persian blue salt.
Different types of salt produce different flavors. And a few drops of peanut oil, salt and other ingredients such as garlic and pickles make the white pure sashimi taste delicious.
Shunde’s famous pheasant rolls are best when made by a chef who’s adept at cutting up meat. The rolls are actually made from pork. And chef Shao Zili from the Sheng Ji Restaurant is an expert.
To prepare the rolls, he carefully cuts a large paper-thin piece of fat from under the pig’s waist, without cracking it. He then dips both sides of the fat into starch and puts a layer of pork fillet on it, which has also been dipped with starch.
He later makes a roll out of it, steams for 20 minutes and puts it in the fridge. He then cuts the stuffed piece of fat into pieces and fries them, to prepare the mouthwatering pheasant rolls.
Shunde also pays tribute to new trends in the catering industry.
For instance, while Shunde is well-known for its traditional double-layer steamed milk and fried milk, you can also taste something new at the Bantian Chuxin dessert shop – a custard made from buffalo milk and coconut juice.
Separately, influenced by the West, some high-end Chinese restaurants have now started to pay attention to wine and food pairing. And they present dishes in the sequence of a starter, a main dishes and desserts.
As part of this trend, Hennessy Cognac from France has organized visits to different Chinese cities including Shunde to explore how to match the cognac with traditional Chinese dishes.
Food critic He Weisheng says one can pair Hennessy V.S.O.P with many dishes like sashimi, water snake soup with chrysanthemum and pheasant rolls due to its fruity flavor.
“Hennessy X.O is also a good match for dishes with high fat content, including Song Ji’s hotpot and roasted goose. And, Hennessy Paradis with its silky richness is suitable with seafood too,” he says.