Guangzhou is located in southern China in the middle of Guangdong Province, north of the Pearl River Delta. The city also lies close to the South China Sea, Hong Kong and Macau. Guangzhou is historically both the starting point of the Maritime Silk Road and the center of Lingnan Culture. It boasts a rich variety of folk customs, such as Cantonese morning tea (yum cha), Cantonese slow-cooked soup, Cantonese dialect and Cantonese Opera, and so on.
Cantonese Morning Tea (yum cha)
Guangzhou residents have a very old tradition of tea drinking. They drink it in the morning, at noon and in the evening. Some friends and relatives gather in a teahouse to enjoy themselves with a pot of tea and dim sum. There are many teahouses in Guangzhou, doing a brisk business from morning till night. Some people go to the teahouse right after they get up, to drink tea and have breakfast. The typical breakfast for Guangzhou residents is composed of a bowl of rice with spare ribs and two pieces of pastry. Afternoon tea and evening tea are very common too, and they may be a gathering of family members or of business partners for a dinner.
Many hotels and restaurants are famous for their tea and dim sum, such as the White Swan Hotel (Guangzhou), Panxi Restaurant and Guangzhou Restaurant, etc. It is a great joy to have tea in Guangzhou.
Cantonese Slow-Cooked Soup
Guangzhou residents believe soup improves their health and they are very good at cooking soup. Soup is a daily must at the dinner table. The ingredients vary along the change of the seasons. Cooks select them as meticulously as they do those for a formal dish. The method is to put the raw materials in the water after it is boiling, then turn down the heat and cook the soup on a mild fire. Some soup may take half a day or even a whole day to be prepared; and the essences are all in the soup. If you want to have a typical local dinner in Guangzhou, never miss the soup.
The local dialect of Guangzhou is very different from other local dialects in China. Although Cantonese shares much vocabulary with Mandarin Chinese, the two languages are not mutually intelligible because of pronunciation, grammatical and also lexical differences. If you have never been to Guangzhou, you may be puzzled when you hear local residents speaking Cantonese. A frequently used phrase in Guangzhou is “um gai”, which means “thank you” or “excuse me”. You can learn just a few of these expressions, which will be helpful when you are in Guangzhou. For example, when you need someone to help you do something, you can say “da rao sai”. You will surprise the locals!
The Cantonese Opera is one of the major categories in Chinese opera. First appeared in Guangdong and Guangxi in the Ming Dynasty, it combines the characteristics of the operas in the Central Plains and the folk tunes in other parts of Guangdong Province. Most of the subject matters are based on stories from history and folktales with distinctive features in the Lingnan Region. The Cantonese Opera, sung in Cantonese dialect, is called the “Red Bean of South China” and popular in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hongkong and Macau.
Cantonese Opera originated from its lyric singing without music accompaniment. Over the past century, it has developed gradually by incorporating other opera forms of a divergent nature and absorbing elements from various sources. For example, it uses tunes of bangzi and erhuang music (two major Chinese opera tunes), Cantonese dragon boat songs, Southern Tune (a form of theatrical song), yue’ou (a kind of Cantonese love song), wooden fish songs, Cantonese music and instrumental music. Local residents are often seen in public parks and neighborhoods singing Cantonese Opera accompanied by music.