This is an "Ode to the Goose" by Chinese poet Luo Binwang (AD 619–684), one of the first poems Chinese learn in the early years of their childhood:
"Goose, goose, goose,
You bend your neck toward the sky and sing.
Your white feathers float on the emerald water,
Your red feet push the clear waves."
Goose, an important theme in Chinese poetry, is also an essential part of regional cuisines.
If Nanjing is the capital of duck cuisine in China, Guangdong Province is no doubt the capital of goose cuisine, where the waterfowls are stewed, braised and roasted to make dishes that are loved by many.
In Shanghai, a goose is called bai wu ju (白乌居), because in Shanghainese dialect, the pronunciation of goose, e, is the same as me, wo, so kill the goose sounds like kill me.
Although Shanghai doesn't have many special local goose delicacies, the Shanghai people love to eat goose, especially the Cantonese roast goose served in most Cantonese restaurants and Hong Kong-style tea restaurants.
The shitou goose
Foie gras, the fattened liver of goose, has long been a staple of luxury dining. But the price tag of the goose's head can be far ahead.
The stewed goose head of the shitou goose, or lion-head goose, which is specifically bred in Chaoshan (Chaozhou-Shantou) region of Guangdong Province, can now cost between 400 to 500 yuan (US$61-76) each in Guangdong and up to 1,000 yuan in upscale restaurants elsewhere.
This top dish in Chinese cuisine has grown more popular in recent years as people across the country are learning about this expensive delicacy.
The shitou goose is the largest cultivated goose breed in China. Adult geese can weigh between 9 to 12 kilograms and they are especially known for the large dewlaps and black crown, hence the name lion-head goose.
The head is also the most valuable part of the goose. The size is much larger than regular goose head and contains a lot more meat.
The expensive shitou goose head comes with its neck and both are sliced before plating. The meat is dense and rich, especially the crown part.
The secret of the Chaoshan stewed goose is the richly spiced brine made with pork bone, chicken, ham, dried scallops, as well as more than a dozen spices like star anise, cinnamon, bay leaf and lemongrass. The brine is carefully maintained and aged so the quality becomes better and better.
The Cantonese roast goose
In Guangdong, roast goose is among the most popular siu mei dishes. It uses the mid- to small-sized dark brown goose from Qingyuan, and unlike the Chaoshan stewed shitou goose that favors older birds, the roast goose is preferably cooked with younger ones that age between 3 to 4 months.
The bird is marinated and air dried before roasting in the oven, so the succulent goose has crispy skin and tender, moist meat.
The Cantonese roast goose is usually paired with a sweet and sour plum sauce to tone down the richness with the fruity flavors. The original sauce from making the roast goose can also be a dip on the side.