Varying from region to region, Chinese cuisine is rich, elaborate and diverse. Chinese cuisine dates back thousands of years, and has evolved with shifts in climate, culture and produce. These differences across the country have given rise to eight distinct regional cuisines, Sichuan, Hunan, Cantonese, Fujian, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui and Shandong.
Sichuan cuisine distinguishes itself with bold flavours, pungent aromatics and spiciness. It is heavy on oil, salt and spices, and predominantly uses a marriage of spicy red chillies and numbing Sichuan peppercorns.
Popular Sichuan dishes include Mapo Tofu, Sichuan Hot Pot, Kung Pao Chicken and Dan Dan Noodles.
Much like Sichuan cuisine, Hunan cuisine is also heavy on oil, salt, spicy chillies and garlic. If you’re into spicy food, but are not a fan of Sichuan peppercorns and their numbing effect, then Hunan cuisine is the way to go. Humble, modest and seasonal, Hunan cuisine is mostly described as home-cooked style food, exhibiting a dry spicy profile, and also using a lot of aged and salted ingredients.
Some firm favourites of Hunan cuisine are Steamed Fish with Salted Chillies and Pickled Long Beans with Minced Pork.
Arguably the most popular of all Chinese cuisines, Cantonese cuisine is adored world wide for their dim sum treats and so much more. Blessed with a bountiful supply of fresh seafood and imported meats, Cantonese cuisine incorporates almost all edible meats into their food, using a wide variety of cooking techniques. Oily without being greasy, fresh while also being refined, this cuisine has it all.
Well known dishes include Dim Sum, Cantonese Roast Pork. Cantonese Steamed Fish and Char Siu.
Fujian cuisine hails from the southeastern coastal province of China, Fujian, and profits from the best the land and sea have to offer. In the capital city of Fuzhuo, the offerings are light and fresh. Further away from the coast, you’re more likely to find meat-heavy dishes compared to seafood. The quintessential staple of meals from this region is soup, without which a meal would not be complete. Bursting with flavour, Fujian cuisine also uses rice wine to make “drunken” dishes, fermented rice wine to make brines, and fermented red yeast rice sauce to braise, and is also well known for their seafood-based condiments like fish sauce and shrimp paste.
Popular offerings include the “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall” soup.
Commonly using brining and braising techniques, Jiangsu cuisine is renowned for its refined sophistication. In this cuisine, knife skills are also important, as chefs carve food into intricate shapes as part of their elaborate presentation. Flavours from this region are moderately salty and sweet, and most of all, fresh.
Notable dishes include Nanjing Salted Duck, Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish, and Yangzhou Fried Rice.
Much like the other coastal regions of China, Zhejiang is famous for its fresh seafood. Further inland, meaty dishes are more popular, but the consistent theme throughout this cuisine is its light and salty flavour.
Memorable dishes are Dongpo Pork and Xiao Long Bao
Originating from the inland, mountainous region of Anhui, the cuisine uses many wild plants and animals in their food, and is described as hearty mountain peasant food. Renowned for its simple and elegant style of stewing and braising, Anhui cuisine carefully controls flavours of spice to preserve the natural taste of its ingredients.
Examples include Stinky Mandarin Fish, Red Braised Civet Cat and Soft-Shell Turtle Braised with Ham.
One of the main food traditions of China, Shandong cuisine is famous for its dumplings, noodles, braised and stir-fried dishes. Also home to a long coastline, seafood is the cuisine’s forte. Known for its complexity, difficulty, and stringent adherence to the freshness and quality of ingredients, Shandong cuisine was prominent in emperors’ courts, and those who cooked it were highly respected.
Noteworthy dishes include Sweet and Sour Yellow River Carp, Dezhou Braised Chicken and Braised Sea Cucumber with Scallion.
A culinary exploration through China offers boundless opportunities to satisfy your taste buds. How many of these cuisines have you tried?