Chinese tea once represented part of the mystery of the Orient to Westerners, with tea in Europe being prized almost as much as gold. Nowadays, of course, tea remains a global phenomenon, drank in cups on every continent and country, with Chinese tea a staple for many the world over.
Why is tea traditionally served with meals in China?
First of all, most Chinese dishes are greasy. That is why it’s best to drink tea with your meal, especially for those, whose digestions tend to be weak because of greasy food, as the tea can in fact work with the food to leave your mouth feeling refreshed.
In Macao, some good Cantonese restaurants offer a separate tea menu. Indeed, some particularly high-class restaurants may also offer a tea professional, who is there specifically to provide patrons with the best quality tea and to recommend teas that go well with your meal.
Types of Chinese Tea
Here are a few of the best kinds of tea that are particularly worth a sip.
Thanks to the fermentation process, a unique scent arises in this tea. Unless it’s your very first time with Chinese tea, Oolong tea will leave you captivated and wanting more.
This is the best example of Chinese green tea and is a renowned specialty of Hangzhou, near Shanghai. If you see the shape of its tealeaves, which are dried flat, you can easily tell it apart from other types of tea. Its delicate flavor leaves the mouth refreshed.
It’s from Yunnan Province of China, and is a fully-fermented tea. It’s black in color and is particularly loved by Cantonese people. It makes you feel relaxed and works really well at removing grease from the body especially after eating. That might be why Macao locals generally order Puer tea after eating Dim Sum or to go with their meals.
It’s a tea from Wuyi Shan that goes through a process called Hongbei, giving it a deeply smoky flavor, which somehow, in the tea itself, lends a delicacy to its taste, meaning even beginners can enjoy it.
This is, simply, black tea. It differs from English black tea, which is a blended mix of various tealeaves, whereas, in Chinese black tea, what is enjoyed is the tea leaf itself. You can try out the different black teas that each region specializes in; it’s generally best to stick to Keemun black teas, which are the most accessible black teas and are widely popular.
Dim Sum, a staple of Cantonese cooking
As the basic Cantonese dish, some people say that Dim Sum is the flower of Cantonese food. Most Macao locals have a light breakfast or lunch of Dim Sum and enjoy a meal for dinner. Locally, they call it Yumcha. Take the time to enjoy Dim Sum for lunch while staying in Macao.
A chewy half-transparent cover filled with shrimp and pork. You will be surprised by the size of the shrimp and the sweet juice which oozes from the shrimp when you chew on it. It’s one of the most popular Cantonese Dim Sum dishes, with a taste you can never forget.
This Dim Sum has a pork and shrimp filling, covered with a thin layer of dough mixed with eggs. Some expensive Siu Mai have fish roe, crab roe, or are decorated as a swallow’s nest. It’s divided into Southern style Siu Mai, which is the one available in Macao, and the Northern style.
This is Shanghai-style Dim Sum. With its thin cover, it’s stuffed full with succulent pork filling. You put the Dim Sum on the spoon and open the cover with the chopsticks, sipping on the juice from the meat first, and then enjoying the Dim Sum after. Adding some thinly cut ginger and vinegar really enhances the flavor.
Chicken feet boiled with Cantonese sauce, which are full of fruitful collagen; it has become popular among female travelers recently.
This is chicken with chewy rice, all covered in a lotus leaf. If you enjoy the unique smell of the lotus leaf, you will definitely like this.
Beef is minced well and steamed into the shape of a ball. The combination of cilantro, dried orange peel and sesame oil give the beef an amazingly fresh flavour.
This Dim Sum features a puree of ground white radish that’s mixed with sauteed preserved pork, small dried shrimps, and dried mushrooms, and then steamed before finally, it is slightly grilled.
This Dim Sum has a thick outer layer, akin to steamed buns, and is stuffed with a sweet pork filling which has been boiled in soy sauce and sugar. As it’s bigger in size than other Dim Sum, it’s particularly popular with those who prefer to travel on a full stomach.
Deep-fried shrimp dumplings, have a cover that’s as crunchy as nachos. It’s classified as Dim Sum, but some restaurants simply label it as a dish.
This is a big Dim Sum, served within a soup. It’s a type of high-quality Dim Sum, accompanying soup made from chicken bone which has aged 10 years. In Macao, it’s a hugely popular health food. The flavor of the soup is quite thick.
A Dim Sum which includes minced pork and chives. Thanks to the unique flavor of the chives, it’s not as greasy as the other Dim Sum.
This Dim Sum features steamed pork ribs marinated with soy sauce and garlic. The taste of sweet marinated sauce and a delicate pork taste is well harmonized.
Grind the rice very finely and, after thinly spreading it, steam it. The thinly spread cover is then filled with shrimps, meat, or vegetables and then wrapped. It is often served with soy sauce. The soft cover helps with digestion, which is perhaps why it’s a breakfast staple in Macao. It’s served in a variety of different ways, such that it may seem that every restaurant has its own particular special recipe.
This is a deep-fried Dim Sum that’s filled with vegetables and meat, wrapped with several covers made out of flour. It’s like one of the spring rolls you can find on the menu at Vietnamese restaurants. The crispy, yet soft texture of the filling makes for a great combination in terms of tastes and textures. Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that increasingly these days, the meat filling is being replaced with shrimp, instead.
Enjoying Real Cantonese Dishes
If Dim Sum is a kind of appetizer for Cantonese food, now let’s try the main course, by stepping into the world of delicacies, and getting to the real dishes. In fact, the basic structure of Cantonese food is surprisingly similar to that of Western food.
Meals are often served first with a soup, while this is sometimes either accompanied or followed by the appetizer and the main dish. Depending on the cooking style and ingredients, it’s served with either barbeque, swallow's nest, abalone, seafood, poultry, meat, or in-season vegetables.
This is Cantonese-style steamed fish. Pour hot oil over a slightly cooked fish to make the outside crispy and then add a dash of special light soy sauce. You can eat the meat with the soy sauce and enjoy the flavor of clear spring onion from the soy sauce.
This is a spicy dish of fried-crab. It’s best when made with big Vietnamese mud crabs. Some restaurants have a tank of crabs, so you can pick the one you want to eat directly.
This is known as gold shrimp. It’s a deep-fried dish of shrimp roe batter with eggs covering the shrimp. In other words, it’s fried shrimps, but the cover itself is shrimp roe. It’s a delicacy with the unique flavor and texture of shrimp roe.
This is one of the finest Cantonese seafood dishes. Every abalone dish uses dried abalone, which, depending on its size is called in units of Tou. 1 Tou is the biggest, which barely comes out once a year; 2 Tou is half the size of 1 Tou. Restaurants generally have sizes between 12 Tou to 24 Tou. This is about the size of a child’s hand. The name of the dish varies according to the origin of the abalone, the type of sauce used, and also the preferences of the restaurant itself, meaning it might be difficult to order the exact name listed above.
Sea cucumber is considered a high quality ingredient in Cantonese cuisine, along with abalone and swallow’s nest. It has saponin, which is also found in ginseng, and thus boasts great credentials as a healthy dish, full of nutrition with which to help you recover from fatigue.
This is Cantonese-style crispy chicken. A boiled chicken is marinated in starch syrup and has boiling oil poured on it to make the skin turn nice and crispy. If you are a fan of chicken dishes, you will definitely enjoy it.
Sweet and sour pork has always been a popular dish. The sauce is very appetizing and the dish is also very appealing, with a very colorful combination of ingredients.
This is one of the best Chinese poultry dishes, together with Beijing duck. It’s boiled goose marinated in starch syrup, done in the same cooking style as with Deep-fried Crispy Chicken mentioned above. However, roasted goose is cooked first over a wooden fire, sometimes even up to three times, with sauce being applied in each time. This makes for an extraordinarily special texture for the fully marinated meat.
Chinese-style fried rice is a kind of art in Chinese food. The egg coating between every rice, fine diced meat and vegetables forms a fantastic ensemble.
It’s skewered pork barbeque. After grilling, apply malt to give it a gloss, and use a torch to heat it once again. It’s a humble meat dish with a sweet and smoky flavor.
These are noodles fast-fried over high heat with various vegetables and soy sauce thrown in, which means that, even without many ingredients, the taste is mouth-watering. Similar dishes are flatly sliced beef with rice noodles.
This is one of the best of Cantonese meat dishes. It’s a barbequed newly born baby pig, between 2 and 6 weeks old, and is renowned for its crispy skin and lean meat. Some like to savour only the skin and don’t even touch the meat. It’s a dish which shows huge variation according to each restaurant.
Dessert is the finale of a meal. Macao has developed its dessert culture for a long time, meaning there are so many different types of desserts, more than you can imagine.
Some travelers say they come to Macao just for the desserts. Let’s journey into a sweetness that can never be escaped.
For your reference, some Cantonese restaurants have dessert menus on the Dim Sum menu. If you can’t find the dessert you want, make sure to check with the waiter.
Normally it’s called Sago. It’s a dessert with mango juice mixed with coconut milk and grape fruit pulp and various sliced fruits, eaten with a spoon. The taste varies by restaurant, with some places adding a lot of coconut milk in to enhance the smoothness and some places adding sour fruits like pineapple to make it more refreshing.
It’s a Dim Sum-style dessert full of custard cream inside a steamed bun. Recently, it has become more high quality, with milk cream added to custard.
It’s a glutinous rice ball made out of ground old pumpkin. It has the sweetness of old pumpkin and the softness of glutinous rice - it’s a comfort food.
It’s an unfamiliar tofu dessert. It’s soft tofu covered with ground almond sweet sauce. The soft texture of tofu and almonds make for a harmonized flavor.
This is well known as milk pudding to travelers. It’s translated as pudding but it’s closer to heated milk. Many people are crazy about it, with its soft texture and the unique sweetness of the milk flavor.