Yu Chu gives comfort Cantonese cuisine a royal makeover
Chances are that if you’ve had Chinese food outside of China, it’s been a version of Cantonese cuisine. In the 1800s, a large number of mainly Cantonese immigrants journeyed overseas to work on the railroads in America or to follow the gold rush in Australia. They brought with them their cuisine which combined with local ingredients and outside flavors to produce the “pseudo-Chinese” comfort food most of us know and love. However, in search of authentic Cantonese and Peking cuisine with a sophisticated twist, we headed to Yu Chu (First floor, InterContinental Saigon Hotel & Residences, Corner of Hai Ba Trung and Le Duan, D1).
Yu Chu means “Imperial Kitchen” and the name is fitting as Cantonese food is viewed as China’s “haute cuisine” for its wide range of fresh, flavorful ingredients. Cantonese cuisine originates from Guangdong Province (whose capital city is Guangzhou, or Canton), known for its winning combination of superb agriculture from the Pearl River Delta and its rich aquaculture, thanks to its proximity to China’s southern coast. We have a taste of both in the Deep-fried garoupa fillet (VND350,000), the lightly breaded fish being a vehicle for the tartly sweet passion fruit sauce. The Deep-fried whole garoupa (market price) was also a winner for both taste and presentation. Served on an oversized plate for maximum wow factor, the body of the fish surrounded by a garden of colorful garnishes overlooked tender chunks of meat carefully removed and lightly sautéed with crunchy broccoli florets and juicy mushrooms, all topped with delicate threads of dried ginger for a touch of mild tanginess.
Unlike cuisines from other parts of China where food is buried in spices, oil, and heavy seasoning, Cantonese cuisine is all about treating the ingredients with the lightest of touches to showcase their natural flavors. Steaming is the least intrusive of all cooking techniques and Yu Chu employed it well on the Steamed chicken with Chinese sausages (VND190,000). Simple yet packed with flavor, we could taste each and every ingredient—the earthiness of the sliced mushrooms, the umami from the sausages, the hint of sweetness from the red dates. Also addictive were the Steamed shrimp dumplings, delicately encased in spinach-tinged wrappers. Together with the Fried dried shrimp and pork dumplings (each VND70,000 for 3 pieces), whimsically presented as trompe l’oeil carrots complete with parsley tops, we vowed to return for Yu Chu’s popular all-you-can-eat dim sum lunches and dinners, taking a page from the beloved Cantonese tradition of yum cha, a leisurely meal of dim sum and tea.
Benefiting from Canton’s long history as a major port city, Cantonese cuisine also embraces ingredients and flavors from near and far. The Fried crab in shell (VND190,000) was pleasantly surprising in its non-traditional flavors with firm chunks of crab meat, enoki mushrooms and sweet onions simmering in a rich, velvety white sauce, topped with a layer of very light breading. There was a smear of tart French dressing to cut through the richness, but we preferred the unapologetic indulgence of the dish just as it was. The Sizzling wokfried beef (VND258,000) was a delight as the waiter opened the cloche to unleash a heavenly cloud of aromas featuring familiar flavors but with the addition of mandarin skin and shiitake mushrooms.
Besides being light and mellow, Cantonese cuisine is very much about the “mouth feel” or texture of foods. This was evident in the Deep-fried prawn with salted egg (VND278,000), an intriguing pairing of ingredients that takes simple prawns to the next level by adding the grittiness of salted egg yolk, as well as the Bird’s nest soup with winter melon and seafood (VND750,000). The viscosity of the melon soup was superb—thick to extract all the flavor of the melon yet still translucent and light. The shrimp and scallops were served separately, prettily wrapped up in an omelet pouch, further showcasing the texture of the soup.
We finished with a luscious Mango pudding (VND95,000) with a dollop of strawberry puree for a perfectly light ending to an authentic Cantonese feast where the freshest of ingredients and naturally good flavors were the star of the meal.
Prices are subject to 5% service charge and 10% VAT
Images by Vy Lam and InterContinental Saigon