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The Hunan cuisine in Dongguan sticks to your ribs

Tatsushi Arita / PSA Dongguan Container Terminal Company Limited

Located between Guangzhou and Shenzhen on the east side of the Zhujiang (Pearl River) Delta in Guangdong Province, Dongguan is one of the leading industrial cities in China. Dongguan has been one of the cities symbolizing the remarkable development of China: the World’s Factory—centered on contract manufacturing—incorporating foreign companies making inroads as a result of the Chinese reform and opening up policies during the eighties.

In addition to the manufacturing industry, Dongguan is also an area where the lychee fruit is produced. During the harvest season, in June, you can go lychee picking and enjoy this delicious and inexpensive fruit. It is important to eat lychee in moderation, however, because they say that you start burning (feel hot or flushed) if you eat too many.

Although the local specialties in Dongguan include typical Cantonese fare such as dim sum and shark fin, when you leave it to those actually posted in Guangzhou or Hong Kong to introduce Cantonese cuisine here, they will introduce the cuisine that you often find here in Dongguan City—the cuisine of Hunan Province.

Why introduce Hunan cuisine in Dongguan, which is in Guangdong (Canton) Province? Of the population of seven million, only some 25% are Dongguan locals, while the remaining 75% come from neighboring provinces (such as Hunan, Hubei, and Jiangxi) in search of jobs. Migrant workers from Hunan are an important part of the labor force supporting the manufacturing industry in Dongguan, and as a result, there are a lot of Hunan restaurants in Dongguan City as well.

Hunan cuisine is also known as xiangcai, and it is regarded as one of the eight major Chinese cuisines. Reputedly the favorite cuisine of Hunan native Mao Zedong, Hunan cuisine is famous for its spiciness. When you think of spicy Chinese food, Szechuan probably comes to mind. But whereas Szechuan cuisine draws on shanjiao pepper for its mala spicy flavor—which gives a tingling sensation—Hunan cuisine has a suanla spicy flavor, which is distinctively acidic. So then, you might ask, which is spicier? Well, they have a saying—Szechuan natives do not fear spiciness; Hunan natives fear a lack of spiciness (Szechuanren bupara; Hunanren pabura). So it seems that in terms of spiciness, Hunan cuisine comes out on top.

When you actually try Hunan cuisine, you will find that it is made with simple ingredients and robust seasoning using generous amounts of hot pepper, so every dish is basically spicy. The spiciness has a rich flavor that is distinctly delicious, and not surprisingly, it affects your system when you are used to the typically light fare of Cantonese cuisine. You hardly see any Hunan restaurants in Japan, but if you have the chance, I strongly recommend that anyone who likes spicy food try Hunan cuisine.

Marubeni Group magazine "M-SPIRIT" VOL.56(March, 2010)

  • Dongguan City scenery
  • Lychee fruit, a Dongguan specialty
  • Hunan cuisine, with plenty of hot peppers

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