I’m an amateur home chef who loves experimenting with new recipes, especially when it comes to recreating the Cantonese food that I grew up with. My family is from Guangdong, the province in Southern China where Cantonese food originates from. Cooking methods from this region typically involve steaming, roasting, or stir-frying, which result in meals that are lighter than those found in other regions of China. 

Cantonese food also influenced American Chinese takeout, which most of us know and love. Popular dishes like sesame chicken and egg rolls wouldn’t exist without Cantonese cooking. But unlike American Chinese takeout and its reputation as a greasy, heavy meal that you shouldn’t indulge in too often, Cantonese home-cooking can be healthy and eaten every day, with recipes that are high in protein and low in fat. 

If you’re worried that Cantonese food requires advanced cooking skills and deftness when juggling multiple ingredients, you’re absolutely right. Multi-page ingredient lists coupled with hours of cooking can be overwhelming. There are a bunch of complex dishes that my parents can cook with their eyes closed, but I’m still too intimidated to attempt. My cooking skills place me squarely as an intermediate beginner since I can reasonably manage only a maximum of about five ingredients.

In my search for healthy Cantonese recipes that make it easy for me to recreate the taste of home, I found exactly what I was looking for in the ones I’ve shared below. They take around 30 minutes from prep to table and require only a handful of ingredients. The process is way simpler than the wildly impressive finished product would let on. Give them a try and let me know what you think!

Steamed fish with ginger and scallion

Cantonese steamed fish is silky, sweet, savory, and pairs perfectly with white or brown rice. Serve it with a side of green vegetables and you’ve got a complete dinner. The ginger and scallion give it its irresistible smell and flavor. The fish is so tender and flaky that I can easily scarf down several servings on my own. If you have an aversion to cilantro like many of my friends do, it’s fine to leave it out or substitute it with another herb like parsley.

Ingredients you’ll need

  • Tilapia, grey sole, flounder or fluke filet
  • Scallions
  • Ginger
  • Cilantro
  • Light soy sauce
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Oil

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Poached chicken in ginger scallion soy sauce

Another healthy alternative to steaming is poaching. This low effort method helps protein retain its moisture and lowers the risk of it drying out. Similar to the steamed fish recipe above, this poached chicken is also dressed with a scallion ginger sauce. To bring out the flavors, let the chicken rest until it’s at room temperature before assembling and eating.

Ingredients you’ll need

For the chicken:

  • Chicken drumsticks or chicken thighs
  • Ginger
  • Scallion

For the sauce:

  • Scallions
  • Light soy sauce
  • Ginger
  • Vegetable oil
  • Sugar
  • Water (the water you cooked the chicken in)

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Beef Rice Bowl

This dish is like the Cantonese version of Italian bolognese sauce. Every bite feels like a warm hug. The recipe is a bit more involved and I’ll admit that there have been times when I omitted some ingredients, like the Shaoxing wine, dark soy sauce, and white pepper. It still came out delicious! I highly recommend following the recipe as it’s written though, if you’re able to. If your diet calls for less red meat, you can substitute the beef with ground turkey. 

Ingredients you’ll need

  • Ground beef
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • Chicken stock (I’ve substituted with water)
  • Oyster sauce
  • Light soy sauce
  • Dark soy sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • White pepper
  • Peas
  • Cornstarch
  • Steamed rice
  • Oil

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Yi Mein

Yi Mein, also known as Long Life Noodles, stand for a long life of good fortune and luck in Cantonese culture. They’re usually eaten during the Lunar New Year, weddings, or birthdays but I choose to eat them year round since they’re so good. The noodle texture is chewy and a little spongy, but in a satisfying way. It helps absorb the sauce and makes the dish incredibly flavorful for something that is deceivingly simple.  

Ingredients you’ll need

  • Yi Mein noodles (found in your local Chinese market)
  • Regular soy sauce
  • Dark soy sauce
  • Oyster sauce (or vegetarian oyster sauce, which is made of mushrooms)
  • Sesame oil
  • White pepper
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Chinese chives (I’ve substituted with scallions)
  • Water
  • Sugar (I’ve substituted with honey)
  • Salt
  • Vegetable oil

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Looking for options that take even less time with fewer ingredients? I completely understand. Check out some of my favorite three-ingredient recipes here

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