The culinary styles of Chinese cuisine vary greatly across different regions. Its history can be traced back thousands of years, and it has evolved into a variety of well-known regional dishes due to differences in climate, geography, history, local resources, and dietary customs.
As early as the Shang and Zhou Dynasties (approximately 1600 BC to 256 BC), the rudiments of Chinese dietary culture began to emerge. During the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period (770 BC to 221 BC), regional culinary differences between northern and southern cuisines became apparent. By the time of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), a pattern emerged where the southern part of China developed a preference for sweeter flavors, while the northern part favored saltier flavors.
3 Main Factors of Formation
China is vast and diverse, with each region having its own unique culinary delights. Chinese cuisine’s diverse regional styles are shaped by three primary factors: cultural customs, climate, and cooking techniques.
Different regions have distinct local resources and dietary customs. In northern China, beef and mutton are commonly used in cooking due to the abundance of cattle and sheep. Southern China, known for its plentiful seafood and poultry, favors fish and meat dishes. Coastal areas, rich in seafood, primarily incorporate marine products into their cuisine.
Regional climates contribute to varying taste preferences. In general, northern China has a colder climate, resulting in cuisine characterized by rich and salty flavors. Eastern China enjoys a moderate climate, leading to dishes with both sweet and savory tastes. The southwestern region, known for its rainy and humid climate, features dishes with spicy and strong flavors.
Distinct cooking methods across different regions give rise to unique culinary characteristics. Shandong and Beijing cuisines excel in stir-frying, frying, roasting, and sautéing. Chefs in Anhui and Jiangsu specialize in stewing, steaming, and braising. Sichuan cuisine showcases skills in grilling, stir-frying, and deep-frying. Guangdong cuisine demonstrates expertise in grilling, baking, stir-frying, stewing, and steaming.
Characteristics of 8 Chinese Cuisine Styles
|Shandong Cuisine||The taste is predominantly savory and fresh. Most dishes use scallions, ginger, and garlic to enhance flavor.|
|Sichuan Cuisine||The taste is predominantly spicy and numbing. Chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, black pepper, and doubanjiang (broad bean chili paste) are the main seasonings.|
|Cantonese Cuisine||The taste is predominantly fresh and aromatic. The main and accompanying ingredients are abundant, with the goal of bringing out the freshness of the main ingredients.|
|Jiangsu Cuisine||The taste is predominantly light and delicate. Emphasis is placed on soups, retaining the original flavors while achieving a fresh and rich taste without being greasy.|
|Fujian Cuisine||The taste is predominantly fresh and aromatic. Skillful knife techniques are employed, with a wide variety of soups and unique seasonings, resulting in delicate and flavorful dishes.|
|Zhejiang Cuisine||The taste is predominantly light and delicate. Careful ingredient selection and unique cooking methods are employed, emphasizing the original flavors and meticulous preparation.|
|Hunan Cuisine||The taste is predominantly savory and spicy. The cuisine features heavy use of oil, bold colors, and a focus on complementary ingredients to create rich and permeating flavors.|
|Anhui Cuisine||The taste is predominantly fresh and spicy. Exquisite control of cooking heat results in a unique combination of crispiness, tenderness, fragrance, and freshness.|
Shandong cuisine, one of the four major traditional Chinese culinary styles, is known as a self-developed cuisine (compared to the influential styles of Sichuan, Cantonese, and Jiangsu). It has the longest history, the richest culinary techniques, and is considered the most demanding cuisine that tests the skills of chefs.
5 Flavor Characteristics
Shandong cuisine, one of the four major culinary traditions in China, is known for its distinctive flavor profile.
Salty and Fresh Flavors
With an emphasis on salty and fresh flavors, Shandong dishes are often enhanced with the aromatic combination of scallions, ginger, and garlic. Scallions play a significant role in many dishes, particularly in scallion-braised preparations like Scallion-braised Sea Cucumber and Scallion-braised Pork Tendon.
Additionally, Shandong’s coastal location contributes to the abundance of high-quality seafood, which is prepared to maintain its natural taste. Ginger and vinegar are commonly used to complement seafood dishes such as shrimp, crab, shellfish, and clams. Premium ingredients like bird’s nest, shark’s fin, sea cucumber, dried abalone, fish skin, and fish bones are skillfully cooked with flavorful broths to enhance their exquisite flavors.
Mastery of Cooking Techniques
Shandong cuisine showcases remarkable skills in various cooking techniques, particularly in “bao” (quick-frying), “pa” (braising), and “ba si” (candying). The art of “bao” includes different variations like oil-frying, sauce-frying, garlic-frying, scallion-frying, soup-frying, and fire-frying. These techniques demonstrate the mastery of Shandong cuisine in handling high heat and imparting unique flavors to the dishes. The emphasis on precise cooking techniques has earned Shandong cuisine the reputation of “Food in China, Fire in Shandong.”
Refined Soup Preparation
Soup is considered the essence of Shandong cuisine, and the tradition of making and using high-quality broth has been passed down through generations. Shandong cuisine excels in the creation of clear and milky soups. Clear soups are transparent and have a clean appearance, while milky soups possess a smooth and creamy texture. The preparation of these soups involves long simmering periods using ingredients like mature chickens, ducks, bones, premium meats, pork elbows, and pig stomachs. Skimming off any impurities ensures a clear and flavorful soup.
Skillful Seafood Culinary Techniques
Shandong chefs demonstrate exceptional skills in preparing and cooking various seafood delicacies. Whether it’s sea cucumbers, shark fins, bird’s nests, scallops, or a variety of fish, local chefs possess the expertise to transform these marine treasures into exquisite and flavorful dishes.
Emphasis on Dining Etiquette
Reflecting the region’s simple and hospitable culture and influenced by the teachings of Confucius, Shandong cuisine places great importance on dining etiquette. Formal banquets often feature distinguished spreads like the “Ten Perfect Dishes,” “Grand Banquet,” “Shark’s Fin Banquet,” “Abalone Banquet,” “Sea Cucumber Banquet,” “Bird’s Nest Banquet,” and “Four-Four Banquet,” showcasing the elegance and grandeur of Shandong cuisine.
4 Traditional Famous Dishes
This section highlights some of the renowned traditional dishes in Shandong cuisine. Each dish has its unique characteristics and flavors that exemplify the culinary excellence of the region.
Sweet and Sour Carp (糖醋鲤鱼)
The Sweet and Sour Carp is a visually stunning dish with its raised tail and amber-like color. The fish is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Its flavor profile is characterized by a perfect balance of sweetness and sourness, symbolizing the joyous occasions in life such as achieving success or celebrating a wedding.
Braised Sea Cucumber with Scallions (葱烧海参)
This dish features tender and smooth sea cucumber accompanied by a rich aroma of scallions. Not only does it offer a refreshing and delicate taste, but it is also a healthy and nutritious delicacy as it is rich in collagen and cholesterol-free.
Nine-Turn Intestines (九转大肠)
Known for its vibrant red color and tender texture, the Nine-Turn Intestines boast a unique combination of sour, sweet, bitter, spicy, and salty flavors. It is a remarkable dish that encompasses all five tastes, making it a rare and famous culinary masterpiece in Chinese cuisine.
Soup-Braised Double Delicacies (汤爆双脆)
Soup-Braised Double Delicacies showcases the technique of pouring boiling special broth over the pointed tip of pig’s stomach and chicken gizzards. The result is a dish with a crispy and tender texture, clear and mild soup, and a delightful and aromatic taste.
Sichuan cuisine, known as “Chuan Cai,” is renowned for its wide range of ingredients, diverse flavors, and distinctive cooking methods. It features a unique combination of freshness and richness, with a particular emphasis on the skillful use of spicy and numbing seasonings. Sichuan cuisine is famous for its incorporation of local flavors and its ability to blend the characteristics of various culinary traditions from different regions. It excels in absorbing and innovating upon the strengths of different culinary styles from all over China.
3 Culinary Highlights
Embark on a culinary journey with Sichuan cuisine, known for its rich and diverse flavors. Explore the tantalizing world of Sichuan dishes, celebrated for their unique taste profiles and bold seasoning.
Wide Range of Flavors
Sichuan cuisine offers a remarkable variety of flavors, boasting the claim of “a hundred dishes, a hundred flavors.” Among them, the most famous ones include “Yu Xiang” (fish-flavored), “Ma La” (numbing and spicy), “La Zi” (chili pepper), “Chen Pi” (dried tangerine peel), “Jiao Ma” (peppercorn and sesame), “Guai Wei” (strange flavor), and “Suan La” (sour and spicy).
Sichuan cuisine is known for its emphasis on the flavors of numbing, spicy, aromatic, and fresh, with generous use of oil and bold tastes. It delights in utilizing the “Three Peppers” (chili pepper, Sichuan peppercorn, and black pepper) and fresh ginger. It employs a wide range of seasoning techniques, earning the reputation of “one dish, one style; a hundred dishes, a hundred flavors.”
Sichuan cuisine is primarily composed of four categories: high-end banquet dishes, regular banquet dishes, casual dining dishes, and home-style dishes. Each category has its own distinct style while also blending with one another, forming a complete culinary system.
4 Classic Dishes
Discover the essence of Sichuan cuisine through these iconic dishes. These classic dishes epitomize the rich flavors and culinary techniques of Sichuan cuisine.
Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐)
Mapo Tofu is a popular dish featuring tofu as the main ingredient, accompanied by minced garlic, and ground beef. The “ma” (numbing) flavor comes from Sichuan peppercorns, while the “la” (spicy) flavor is derived from chili powder. The tofu is incredibly tender and the dish is known for its mouthwatering taste, making it a perfect accompaniment to rice.
Kung Pao Chicken (宫保鸡丁)
Kung Pao Chicken is prepared with diced chicken as the primary ingredient, cooked with peanuts, chili peppers, and other seasonings. It offers a balance of vibrant red color, moderate spiciness, and a rich aroma. The chicken is tender and pairs wonderfully with the crispy peanuts, creating a delightful combination of flavors.
Pork Lungs in Chili Sauce (夫妻肺片)
It is made from various beef cuts, such as beef head skin, beef heart, beef tongue, beef tripe, and beef meat. The ingredients are braised and then sliced. It is served with a topping of chili oil and Sichuan peppercorn powder. This dish is meticulously prepared, featuring a beautiful color, tender texture, and a richly flavorful and spicy taste that leaves a lasting impression.
Poach Beef with Hot Chili (水煮牛肉)
This dish is made by slicing beef into thin pieces, marinating them with salt, soy sauce, fermented rice wine, and wet starch. In a hot wok, Doubanjiang (broad bean paste), dried chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, scallions, and sliced lettuce are stir-fried until fragrant. Beef slices are then added to the boiling broth until they expand, become shiny, and are then served in a bowl, drizzled with chili oil for added spiciness.
Cantonese Cuisine, originating from the Central Plains, carries forward the culinary style advocated by Confucius, emphasizing precision and refinement in food. Consequently, Cantonese dishes are known for their complexity and meticulous preparation. Signature dishes like Clay Pot Rice and Roasted Suckling Pig in Cantonese cuisine trace their roots back to the Zhou Dynasty’s “Eight Delicacies.”
Cantonese cuisine has gained immense popularity overseas, particularly in the United States, Canada, Australia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, due to early migration of Cantonese people to these regions.
3 Culinary Characteristics
Cantonese cuisine is renowned for its culinary excellence and distinct characteristics. With meticulous attention to detail, Cantonese dishes feature a harmonious balance of flavors and a focus on high-quality ingredients. Cantonese cuisine delights in its exquisite presentation, making it a culinary treasure appreciated by food enthusiasts worldwide.
Quality and Flavor
Cantonese cuisine is known for its meticulous attention to detail in terms of ingredient selection, abundant and skillful use of condiments, and exquisite presentation. The flavors are relatively light, aiming for a balance of freshness and delicacy. The taste profiles vary with the seasons, leaning towards lighter flavors in summer and autumn, while embracing richer and bolder flavors in winter and spring. Cantonese cuisine strives to achieve harmony in color, aroma, taste, and presentation.
The hallmark of Cantonese cuisine lies in its rich variety of ingredients and clever use of condiments. From delicacies sourced from mountains and seas to a wide array of local and foreign foods, Cantonese cuisine can be considered the pinnacle of culinary diversity. It emphasizes the natural flavors of ingredients and offers a wide range of seasoning options, including sour, sweet, bitter, spicy, salty, and umami. However, it uses only a small amount of ginger, scallions, and garlic as “base ingredients,” while limiting the use of pungent spices like chili, resulting in dishes that are not overly salty or sweet.
Cantonese cuisine excels in steaming, stir-frying, pan-frying, baking, braising, deep-frying, clay pot cooking, simmering, and inverted pan cooking. It places great emphasis on precise cooking times, the essence of wok hei (breath of the wok), and the concept of cooking and serving dishes immediately. The resulting dishes exhibit an exquisite balance of color, aroma, taste, and presentation.
4 Famous Dishes
Cantonese cuisine boasts a repertoire of famous dishes that have garnered worldwide recognition. These famous dishes embody the essence of Cantonese culinary traditions, combining skillful cooking techniques with quality ingredients to create memorable dining experiences.
Crispy Roast Goose (脆皮烧鹅)
The roasted goose boasts a golden and crispy skin, enhanced by a subtle smoky flavor that adds depth to its aroma. The thin layer of fat beneath the skin infuses the meat with succulent and savory flavors, elevating its taste.
Honey Glazed BBQ Pork (Char Siu) (蜜汁叉烧)
Made from tender pork belly, Char Siu features a visually appealing marbling pattern of fat. The roasting process melts the fat, resulting in a tender and aromatic meat that is rich in flavor without being greasy.
Red Braised Squab (Young Pigeon) (红烧乳鸽)
Using squab as the main ingredient, this classic Cantonese dish is characterized by its crispy skin, silky meat, tender bones, and succulent juices, delivering a perfect combination of color, fragrance, and taste.
Poached Chicken (White Cut Chicken) (白切鸡)
Often served as a cold dish at banquets, Poached Chicken showcases an attractive presentation with its yellow skin and white meat. The meat is tender, juicy, and flavorful, complemented by the fragrance of scallion oil and enjoyed with ginger, garlic, and soy sauce. It preserves the freshness and original taste of the chicken.
Jiangsu cuisine excels in stewing, braising, steaming, and stir-frying techniques. It places great importance on soup-based dishes, preserving the natural flavors of the ingredients. The cuisine is known for its delicate and fresh taste, being rich without being greasy, and light without being bland. It achieves a balance where dishes are tender and boneless yet maintain their original shape, offering a smooth, tender, and crispy texture while retaining their distinctive flavors.
4 Culinary Characteristics
Jiangsu cuisine, known for its diverse regional flavors, offers a unique culinary experience. With a focus on techniques such as stewing, braising, and grilling, the cuisine emphasizes original flavors and meticulous ingredient selection. Whether it’s the delicate Xu-Hai flavor, refined Huaiyang style, flavorful Jinling dishes, or the exquisite Sunan taste, Jiangsu cuisine captivates with its balanced and harmonious combinations of flavors and textures.
The Xu-Hai flavor is characterized by a moderate level of freshness and saltiness. It values the incorporation of the “Five Pungencies” and the harmonization of the “Five Tastes.” The dishes are neither bland nor heavy, striking a balance between lightness and richness. Regardless of the ingredients used, attention is given to their therapeutic and nourishing properties.
The Huaiyang flavor emphasizes meticulous ingredient selection, focusing on freshness and highlighting the main ingredients. It excels in stewing, braising, roasting, and grilling techniques. There is an emphasis on soup-based dishes, preserving the original flavors. Additionally, intricate food styling, including lifelike fruit and vegetable carvings, is highly regarded.
Jinling cuisine showcases expertise in stewing, braising, grilling, and roasting. It particularly emphasizes the “Seven Flavors”: sour, sweet, bitter, spicy, salty, aromatic, and pungent. The dishes aim for freshness, tenderness, crispness, richness, and a melting texture.
The Sunan flavor excels in stewing, braising, simmering, and steaming techniques. It emphasizes maintaining the original flavors, presenting dishes with intricate aesthetics, using seasonal and fresh ingredients. The taste profile leans towards a balanced sweetness and saltiness, while the texture is tender, succulent, and refreshing.
4 Classic Dishes
Jiangsu cuisine boasts a rich selection of classic dishes. These dishes exemplify the culinary artistry of Jiangsu cuisine. With their unique flavors, textures, and exquisite presentation, these classic dishes showcase the gastronomic delights of this regional Chinese cuisine.
Salted Duck (盐水鸭)
After simmering at a low temperature for about an hour, the salted duck becomes savory, slightly sweet, and fragrant, with a smooth and tender texture. The skin is glossy, the fat is flavorful, and the meat is exceptionally fresh and delicious.
Braised Shredded Tofu (大煮干丝)
The preparation of this dish is meticulous. Dried tofu is sliced into thin strips, then combined with shredded chicken, bamboo shoots, and other ingredients, and cooked in chicken broth. It is garnished with cooked shrimp, pea sprouts, and shredded ham when served.
Crab Meat Stewed Meatballs (蟹粉狮子头)
The main ingredients are crab meat and minced pork formed into meatballs. They can be braised or steamed, offering a soft and tender texture, rich flavor, and high nutritional value.
Squirrel-Shaped Mandarin Fish (松鼠鳜鱼)
The chef debones the mandarin fish and carves decorative patterns on the fish meat. After marinating, the fish is coated with egg yolk batter and deep-fried until crispy. It is then served with a hot sweet and sour sauce, resembling a squirrel in appearance. The dish has a crispy exterior, tender interior, and a delightful sweet and sour taste.
Due to the frequent maritime activities of the people in Fujian, a unique culinary style with an open character has gradually developed. Fujian cuisine is renowned for its preparation of delicacies from both the mountains and the sea. With a focus on achieving excellent color, aroma, taste, and presentation, it is particularly known for its emphasis on fragrance and flavor. The distinct characteristics of Fujian cuisine include its freshness, harmony, richness, and non-greasiness.
4 Main Characteristics
The culinary characteristics of Fujian cuisine include clear soups, light flavors, and crispy stir-frying. It excels in preparing seafood delicacies and features cooking techniques such as steaming, pan-frying, stir-frying, braising, deep-frying, and stewing.
Emphasis on Seafood
Fujian’s geographical location, with mountains in the north and a coastal region in the south, has fostered generations of renowned chefs and culinary practitioners who are adept at working with seafood ingredients. They showcase their expertise in steaming, boiling, stir-frying, braising, stir-blasting, and deep-frying.
Focus on Knife Skills
Fujian cuisine is renowned for its delicate knife work, described as “thin as paper, hair-like threads, and finely carved patterns.” Through the mastery of knife techniques, the true essence and texture of the ingredients are highlighted.
Famous for Soup Dishes
Fujian chefs have long connected cooking with ensuring the freshness, purity, and nourishment of ingredients. Based on their accumulated experience, they believe that soups best preserve the essence and original flavors of ingredients. Therefore, soup dishes are diverse and meticulously prepared.
Attention to Seasoning
Fujian cuisine strives to maintain the original flavors of dishes. Skillful use of sugar removes fishy and gamey tastes, while vinegar adds a refreshing acidity. The light and mild flavors help preserve the freshness of the ingredients. Fujian cuisine is renowned for achieving a balance of sweetness without being overly rich and a lightness that is not bland.
4 Signature Dishes
Fujian cuisine is renowned for its signature dishes that showcase the region’s culinary excellence. These dishes highlight a harmonious combination of flavors and ingredients.
Buddha Jumps Over the Wall (佛跳墙)
This dish is prepared with 18 ingredients, including chicken, duck, meat, sea cucumber, squid, fish maw, dried scallops, dried shrimp, pork tendon, ham, lamb shank, pigeon eggs, and more. It is cooked with Shaoxing wine, peanuts, winter bamboo shoots, rock sugar, white radish, ginger slices, cinnamon, and fennel, following the ancient method of simmering in a Shaoxing wine jar over a gentle fire.
Drunken Ribs (醉排骨)
Made with ribs, water chestnuts, tomato sauce, yellow wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, minced garlic, sugar, and vinegar, this dish has a sweet, sour, and slightly spicy flavor. During festivals and celebrations, almost every household in Fuzhou prepares this dish.
Lychee Pork (荔枝肉)
Named after its resemblance to lychee due to the presence of white water chestnuts and cross-cut pork, this dish is prepared with red fermented rice, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, wet cornstarch, and other seasonings.
Chicken Soup with Boiled Razor Clams (鸡汤汆海蚌)
This dish features Zhanggang razor clams and chicken as the main ingredients, along with beef and pork tenderloin as secondary ingredients. Fresh razor clams are boiled in hot chicken broth, resulting in a savory and briny taste.
Zhejiang Province is located along the coast of the East China Sea. It is known as the land of fish and rice due to its extensive waterways in the northern region. The southwestern part of the province is characterized by rolling hills and abundant wild delicacies. The eastern coastal areas are dotted with fisheries, providing a rich abundance of aquatic resources, including over 500 species of economically important fish and shellfish.
4 Key Features
With an emphasis on fresh and seasonal ingredients, Zhejiang cuisine offers a harmonious balance of flavors, maintaining the authenticity and natural taste of the ingredients. Its exquisite presentation and attention to detail have earned it recognition and admiration from food enthusiasts worldwide.
Meticulous Ingredient Selection
Zhejiang cuisine emphasizes the use of high-quality ingredients that are in season, highlighting the tender texture and crispness of the raw materials. Whether it is seafood or fruits and vegetables, the emphasis is placed on using seasonal produce. Poultry and livestock ingredients also prioritize local specialties, showcasing the meticulous ingredient selection principle based on the “four seasons” concept.
Distinctive Cooking Techniques
Zhejiang cuisine is renowned both domestically and internationally for its rich and diverse cooking techniques, with a particular emphasis on stir-frying, deep-frying, braising, simmering, steaming, and stewing. By applying these techniques to different ingredients, Zhejiang cuisine achieves a wide range of flavor profiles.
Focus on Authentic Flavors
The cuisine values clean, fresh, and tender flavors, aiming to preserve the original taste and essence of the ingredients. Seasonings such as scallions, ginger, garlic, Shaoxing wine, and vinegar are used to remove any undesirable odors, enhance the aroma, and balance the flavors of the ingredients.
Zhejiang cuisine pays great attention to the aesthetics of its dishes, characterized by delicate and beautiful appearances. Skilled Zhejiang chefs demonstrate their expertise in knife skills, creative pairing of ingredients, delicate cooking methods, and meticulous plating. The delicate and varied knife techniques, along with the elegant color combinations, have earned high praise from food enthusiasts both domestically and internationally.
4 Signature Dishes
With an emphasis on fresh and seasonal ingredients, Zhejiang cuisine showcases a harmonious balance of flavors, often featuring seafood and local produce. The cuisine’s signature dishes, such as West Lake Vinegar Fish and Dongpo Pork, reflect the region’s culinary traditions and are celebrated for their vibrant colors, tender textures, and enticing aromas. Zhejiang cuisine has captivated food enthusiasts both domestically and internationally with its refined and elegant culinary creations.
West Lake Vinegar Fish (西湖醋鱼)
Fresh live grass carp is carefully selected and allowed to fast for 1-2 days to remove any muddy flavor before being cooked. The dish features a vibrant red color, tender and succulent flesh, a delightful balance of sweet and sour flavors, and a hint of crab-like taste, offering a unique culinary experience.
Dongpo Pork (东坡肉)
Using a combination of fatty and lean pork, the meat is cut into square-shaped pieces, approximately two inches in size. The dish boasts thin crispy skin, a rich red color, a savory and concentrated taste, tender and melt-in-your-mouth texture, and a satisfyingly sticky and non-greasy mouthfeel.
Longjing Shrimp (龙井虾仁)
Fresh river shrimp is cooked with the newly harvested West Lake Longjing tea, typically obtained before the Qingming Festival. The dish showcases a beautiful combination of white and green colors, offering a tender, fragrant, and refreshing taste with distinct local characteristics.
Steamed Turtle in Rock Sugar Soup (冰糖甲鱼)
This medicinal dish features soft-shelled turtle as the main ingredient, accompanied by soy sauce, scallions, rock sugar, and ginger. Slowly stewed, it is believed to have various health benefits, including improving blood circulation, replenishing vitality, and addressing nutritional deficiencies.
Xiang cuisine, also known as Hunan cuisine, is famous for its abundant and well-balanced spiciness, meticulous preparation, and emphasis on the original flavors of the dishes. The rich spiciness of Xiang cuisine has attracted many who were initially not accustomed to chili peppers, making them develop a liking for both chili peppers and Hunan cuisine.
3 Regional Features
The cuisine’s wide variety of flavors and cooking techniques reflect the diverse geography and regional preferences of the province. Hunan cuisine’s bold use of chili peppers has attracted many enthusiasts who have developed a fondness for both spicy food and the distinctive flavors of this cuisine.
Xiang River Basin
Centered around Changsha, Hengyang, and Xiangtan, it is the main representative of Hunan cuisine. It is known for its meticulous preparation, wide variety of ingredients, and diverse flavors. Its characteristics include rich colors and flavors, emphasizing affordability, and a taste profile that highlights sourness, spiciness, and freshness. It is renowned for its cooking techniques such as stewing, braising, smoking, steaming, and stir-frying.
Dongting Lake Region
Specializing in the preparation of river fish, poultry, and livestock, this region often employs cooking methods such as stewing, braising, steaming, and smoking. Its distinguishing features include thickened sauces, ample use of oil, and flavors that are salty, spicy, and fragrant.
Western Mountainous Region
Xiangxi cuisine excels in preparing wild mushrooms, smoked cured meats, and various preserved meats. The taste profile leans towards savory, salty, and spicy flavors. Charcoal is often used as fuel, contributing to the distinct rustic mountainous flavors.
4 Classic Dishes
These classic dishes represent the essence of Hunan cuisine, with their use of ingredients like chili peppers, fermented soybean sauce, and aromatic spices. From the succulent Steamed Fish Head with Chopped Chili to the fiery Spicy Stir-Fried Pork, these dishes showcase the unique combination of heat and rich flavors that make Hunan cuisine so distinctive and beloved.
Steamed Fish Head with Chopped Chili (剁椒鱼头)
Usually made with fish head, chopped chili, fermented soybean sauce, ginger, scallions, and garlic, this dish is steamed to perfection. It features a vibrant red color, rich flavor, and tender texture. It is both fatty and light, with a soft and chewy mouthfeel, offering a delightful balance of freshness and spiciness.
Spicy Stir-Fried Pork with Chili (辣椒炒肉)
This dish primarily consists of pork and chili, accompanied by ingredients such as fermented black beans, garlic, soy sauce, cooking oil, salt, monosodium glutamate, ginger, dark soy sauce, and light soy sauce. It delivers a fragrant and spicy taste that is sure to please the palate.
Dong'an Chicken (东安子鸡)
After boiling the chicken in a pot, it is partially cooked and then cooled before being cut into small strips. In a hot wok with oil, the chicken strips are stir-fried with ginger, vinegar, shredded ginger, and sesame oil. Fresh meat broth is added and simmered until the sauce is reduced. Finally, it is garnished with scallions and served.
Zuo'an Fish Maw Soup (组庵鱼翅)
This dish features soaked fish maw, fatty chicken meat, and pork knuckle as the main ingredients. It is simmered slowly over low heat with dried scallop broth, Shaoxing wine, and refined salt. The resulting dish has a light yellow color, clear and glossy broth, tender and smooth texture, delicious savory taste, and a rich aroma that is perfectly balanced.
Anhui cuisine is characterized by its predominant salty and savory flavors, highlighting the natural taste of ingredients. It emphasizes the mastery of fire techniques and focuses on nourishing the body through food. The main cooking methods include braising, stewing, simmering, steaming, and smoking. Notable dishes include grand banquet dishes, the “Five Trays and Eight Plates” with ten major bowls, the “Nine Bowls and Six Plates,” the “Eight Bowls and Twelve Dishes,” the “Six Big Pots,” and popular home-style dishes.
4 Culinary Features
Anhui cuisine is known for its distinct culinary features. With an emphasis on local sourcing and utilizing the abundant resources of the region, the cuisine highlights the freshness and regional characteristics of the ingredients. Skillful control of cooking time and mastery of techniques such as braising and stewing contribute to the unique flavors and textures of Anhui dishes. Additionally, the cuisine places importance on nutritional value, incorporating a variety of locally available ingredients.
Anhui cuisine takes advantage of the abundant local resources, including wild mushrooms, river fish, and poultry, to highlight the regional characteristics and ensure freshness in the dishes.
Skillful Control of Cooking Time
Different cooking techniques, such as high heat, medium heat, and low heat, are applied according to the texture of the ingredients and the desired flavor of the final dishes.
Mastery of Braising and Stewing
In addition to various cooking techniques like stir-frying, braising, simmering, deep-frying, sautéing, boiling, roasting, and steaming, Anhui cuisine is particularly renowned for its braised, stewed, smoked, and steamed dishes.
Emphasis on Nutritional Value
With a mild climate and moderate rainfall, the Huizhou region is rich in agricultural produce, including tea leaves, bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms, wood ear mushrooms, Chinese yam, stone chicken, stone fish, and soft-shelled turtle, offering a wide range of nutritious ingredients in Anhui cuisine.
4 Classic Dishes
Anhui cuisine features classic dishes that epitomize the region’s culinary traditions. From the fermented Mandarin fish to the braised bamboo shoots with salted pork, these dishes showcase unique flavors and techniques. Highlights include the stewed pigeon from Huangshan and the stinky tofu with “tiger skin”, reflecting the rich and diverse culinary heritage of Anhui.
Salted and Fermented Mandarin Fish (腌鲜鳜鱼)
Fresh mandarin fish is selected and salted for fermentation, allowing it to develop a distinctive aroma. The fish is typically fermented for three days in summer and seven days in winter. After special cooking techniques, the dish exhibits a rich color, a fragrant and savory taste, and tender, melt-in-your-mouth fish with a unique flavor.
Braised Bamboo Shoots with Salted Pork (问政山笋)
Salted pork and bamboo shoots are commonly stewed together, resulting in a dish with red shoots and white meat. The bamboo shoots are tender and flavorful, enhanced by the seasoning during the cooking process. The finished dish is crisp, tender, and subtly sweet.
Stewed Pigeon from Huangshan (黄山炖鸽)
Huangshan pigeons and Huangshan yam are stewed together, creating a clear and flavorful broth. The pigeon meat becomes tender and succulent, while the mountain yam adds a refreshing and fragrant element. This dish is a nourishing and wholesome delicacy.
Stinky Tofu with "Tiger Skin" (虎皮毛豆腐)
Tofu is artificially fermented, allowing white fungal filaments (similar to mold) to grow on its surface, giving it a “tiger skin” appearance. This unique tofu has a delicious flavor surpassing regular tofu. After being fried, it develops a striped pattern resembling tiger skin.
Chinese cuisine is a rich tapestry of flavors and culinary traditions, with each of the eight major regional cuisines offering a unique and diverse gastronomic experience. From the bold and spicy dishes of Sichuan to the delicate and seafood-centric offerings of Guangdong, and the intricate balance of flavors in Jiangsu cuisine, Chinese food reflects the country’s vast cultural and geographical diversity. Exploring these regional culinary delights allows one to embark on a delightful journey through the tastes and aromas that have been perfected over centuries, making Chinese cuisine a true culinary treasure appreciated worldwide. So, whether you’re a fan of fiery spices or subtle umami, there’s something to satisfy every palate within the realm of Chinese cuisine.