An overview of the different cuisines of China is also a way of understanding the country’s rich history. Each region of China has a unique culture, a distinctive geography, and an individual climate, and consequently its own varieties of delicious food. Here are the eight classic styles considered to be the major regional cuisines of China.
Shandong is one of the most populous and affluent provinces of China. Its location at the intersection of trade routes and as a pivotal area in Chinese history has given its culture great diversity, which is also expressed in its cuisine.
The cuisine of Shandong is clean and fresh-tasting. It features fish and seafood, because of the province’s location near the mouth of the Yellow River. Birds Nest Soup and Carp in Sweet and Sour Sauce are two of its characteristic dishes.
Sichuan is a rich agricultural region, which produces abundant grain, livestock, foodstuffs, and silk. No backwater, Sichuan is also a center for mining and industry. The cuisine of Sichuan reflects the variety of its produce, as well as its unique culture.
Many Szechuan dishes are spicy and fragrant. Chilies are prominent, as is the Sichuan pepper. This condiment, actually neither a pepper nor a chili, is a tiny fruit with a pleasant lemon-camphor flavor. It creates a tingly numbness in the mouth, something like mint or cilantro, but more intense. Kung Pao Chicken is a spicy Sichuan dish. Smoked Duck is a characteristic dish without heat.
Cantonese is the cuisine of Guangdong Province, which surrounds Hong Kong and Macao. Many Americans think of Cantonese as the only taste of Chinese food, because the style is so popular in our country. Cantonese food is fresh and healthful, with many stir-fried and steamed dishes. Delicious Cantonese dishes include Shark Fin Soup, Mock Shark Fin Soup, and Steamed Sea Bass.
Rugged Fujian is a coastal province just north of Guangdong. Sharing in the area’s rapid growth, it still maintains traditional ways, including the cuisine. Fujian dishes are colorful, intense, and savory. Featuring seafood, peanuts, and fermented fish sauce, Fujian food is also renowned for pickled or wine marinated tastes. Snow Chicken is one famous dish.
Jiangsu is the coastal region north of legendary Shanghai. Food from Jiangsu is elegantly presented, delicate, and sweet, a very subtle cuisine. Harmony is another hallmark of the cookery, which is carefully balanced and changes with the passing seasons.
Meals feature fish and seafood, because of the coastal location, and are influenced by the sophistication of Shanghai. Red braising, cooking in soy and sugar, is one popular cooking style. Characteristic dishes include Duck Triplet and Ji-Yu soup.
Zhejiang is another coastal province of China, located between Jiangsu and Fujian. Hangzhou, the provincial capital, is renowned for its beauty and refinement, and this refinement is a feature of the cuisine. The hilly province is sometimes called the land of fish and rice, and many Zhejiang dishes feature these two staples. Zhejiang is also the center of production for Dragon Well Tea, possibly the finest tea in the world.
Subtropical Hunan is south of the Yangtze River and Lake Dongting. The region grows rice, and harvests fish from lakes and rivers. The cuisine is hot and spicy. Chilies, peppers, and shallots are favorite flavors of the classic Hunan kitchen, along with abundant agricultural produce. In contrast to Szechuan cuisine, Hunan uses more smoked food, and a more direct presentation. Hot Pot is one noted Hunan dish.
The geographically and culturally diverse province of Anhui grows sweet potatoes and wheat in the north, but wheat and rice in the south. Located in east central China, Anhui is home to people of many ways of life. The cuisine features game from the forests and fields, often seasoned with wild herbs. Foods are prepared and presented simply, but with great attention to detail. Stewing is a common cooking method. Celebrated dishes include Luzhou Roast Duck, and Egg Dumplings.
The regional cuisines of China could be the study of a lifetime. Cooked with varied ingredients and in traditional ways, each style makes optimum use of quality local ingredients. This overview is only an introduction to the delightful cuisines of China.