To what extent do regional cuisines provide a set of principles through which “outside” flavours, foodstuffs and techniques may be safely incorporated? This question is explored through an ethnographic account of Cantonese cuisine in Guangzhou (Canton) at the turn of the twenty-first century. I focus on a historic restaurant in the city, where managers and cooks sought to innovate with the help of “outside” tastes, but without the restaurant losing its status as a “traditional” establishment. I argue that the incorporation of “outside” flavours onto local menus was not done on the basis of culinary principles alone, but that considerations of social hierarchy and cultural identity were equally important factors. Indeed, many of the dishes and techniques introduced contradicted the alleged principles of Cantonese cuisine. Such contradictions were downplayed, however, through essentialized representations of Cantonese cuisine and its relationship to specific localities.
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