Towns built on canals are a dime a dozen in China, so much so that at least 10 places in the country have been nicknamed “Venice of the East.”
But there’s something special about Fengjian, a so-called water town in southern China’s Guangdong Province.
For one, there are very few water towns left in this region, where industrial development has turned many of them into factory towns.
Fengjian, with its network of canals, centuries-old bridges, and maritime way of life, has been preserved as a tourist destination.
While most come for the scenery, the food is also renowned for its simplicity and freshness.
Fengjian is part of Shunde District, which is famous for its cuisine. This is where the Pearl River meets the ocean, so it has year-round access to fresh seafood and seasonal ingredients.
Local chefs are skilled at bringing out the natural umami flavor of fish, which they call 鲜 (xian). These subtleties make Shunde cuisine one of the best examples of Cantonese cuisine.
In Fengjian, you can sample a lot of Shunde fare on the street. Here are our five favorites.
Steamed pork 蒸猪
This dish is one of the main reasons why locals visit Fengjian.
Pork is marinated in a mix of wine, five-spice powder, sugar, and salt for 10 hours. It’s then steamed inside a wooden box for 40 minutes, resulting in tender, fragrant, melt-in-your-mouth meat.
Come on a weekend, and you can see shops steaming a whole pig.
Fish cakes 鱼饼
Fish is a staple ingredient in this part of China, and the catch of choice is a breed called mud carp that’s native to the waters of the Pearl River.
A common way to prepare mud carp in Fengjian is grinding the fish into a meat paste and frying the cakes on a rotating pan, which gives them an even cook.
The dish is so popular here that shop owners say every family in Shunde knows how to cook fish cakes.
Fish skin salad 凉拌鱼皮
This cold dish is another example of how locals make the most out of mud carp.
The fish skin is first cooked until it has a gelatin-like consistency.
It’s then mixed with chicken powder, pepper, sesame oil, and chilli oil.
Cucumber, carrots, onions, pickled ginger, and Chinese onions are thrown in, and it’s all topped with peanuts and sesame seeds.
Ginger milk curd 姜撞奶
This dessert is a local favorite, and it’s also easy to make.
Buffalo milk is mixed with sugar and gently brought to a boil.
It’s then poured into a bowl of freshly squeezed ginger juice.
As the two mix, the whole thing thickens into a curd, making for a sweet, pillowy delight.
Hammered nut mix 木槌酥
Although this dish isn’t actually from Shunde—some trace its origins to Hunan Province—the town of Fengjian offers a rare opportunity to see it freshly made.
Malt sugar, peanuts, walnuts, sesame seeds, and monk fruit are cooked on high heat for about 10 minutes.
The mixture then takes a literal pounding from wooden hammers.
When the paste is mashed into a thin sheet, it’s cut into small nut brittles—the perfect palate cleanser after a full day of eating.