Editor's note: Lingnan culture is an integral part of splendid Chinese culture. In this series of reports, GDToday joins hands with the Guangdong Province Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese to provide an insight into the cuisine, folk arts, customs, architecture and other factors that lay a rich foundation for Lingnan culture.
In the Republic of China period, people in Bantang Village (now the Guangzhou tourist attraction Lychee Bay) grew water vegetables in paddy fields and ponds. Among these local specialities, water caltrops, lotus roots, water chestnuts, water bamboo, and arrowheads have been hailed as 'Wushou' (五瘦) or 'Wuxiu' (五秀), literally meaning 'five great vegetables', due to their agreeable mouthfeel, nutrients, and weight loss effects.
Arrowheads were first grown in Bantang at least 300 years ago. They are usually grown in July and in season in January of the next year. As a symbol of a large and prosperous family, the arrowhead is a must-have ingredient for Cantonese people's family dinner on Chinese New Year's Eve. It has a slightly bitter taste and a starchy texture, and a better option is to cook it with meat, such as pork hock and roast pork. Fish pie with arrowhead and cured meat is a home-style dish.
Water caltrops are best harvested in June and July. They have a light sweet flavour similar to tree chestnuts and are often simmered with other vegetables, roast pork, and chicken. They can also be eaten boiled or as a stand-alone snack in the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Lotus roots come into season in autumn and winter. Those from Bantang were very much sought after due to their distinct species and crunchy mouthfeel. Lotus root soup with pork is one of the most ubiquitous dishes in both Wuhan and Guangdong. Pork hock braised with lotus root is another home style delicacy. Chef-inspiring lotus roots, with mild sweetness and a crisp texture, can be made into a stir-fry dish with a mix of other veggies, such as snow peas, fungus, and ginkgo fruit.
Water bamboo is at its best in November. It is an excellent ingredient for homemade stir-fry dishes, such as water bamboo with oyster sauce and fish floss fried with water bamboo. Shrimp braised with water bamboo is addictive as a perfect match of crisp and sweetness.
Bantang villagers harvested water chestnuts before winter solstice. They made them into fine powder by grinding on the next day after harvest and drying the powder in the sun. Bantang-made water chestnut flour was even sold in Southeast Asia. Cantonese people cut them into small cubes to add delicately sweet and fresh flavours to many dishes, such as beef shumai and meat pie. Water chestnut sweet soup is a flavourful dessert.
As Guangzhou city grows in size, Bantang is currently part of the downtown area and not a producing area of Wuxiu anymore. However, people's favour toward the delicacies made of these delicious veggies has never declined.
Author: Xiao Yunxian & Michelle
Editor: Monica & Jerry