China is a vast and diverse land filled with a kaleidoscope of cultures and traditions. The country’s striking regional diversity has shaped local cuisine and taste to make up a wide-ranging culinary tradition. Although there are countless different sub-categories and genres that exist, it is generally recognized that there are eight regional cuisines that make up China’s cuisine.
Bold and fiery Sichuan cuisine is famed for its eye-wateringly spicy and intensely fragrant dishes. The distinct taste of Sichuan cuisine stems from the generous use of dried chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and the unique Sichuan pepper. While the bright red chili peppers bring spiciness and heat to Sichuan dishes, it is the curious numbing effect brought on by the Sichuan pepper that will linger and provides Sichuan cuisine’s signature taste.
Sichuan Boiled Fish
-Fish is served in a shallow pan filled with a red liquid consisting of a generous amount of chili peppers, garlic, and Sichuan peppers.
Hunan chef’s share their Sichuan counterparts affinity for the chili pepper, creating an array of spicy and pungent food. However, Hunan food usually does not contain the numbing Sichuan peppers, giving Hunan cuisine more of a dry, instantaneous spicy quality to it. The smoking and curing of foods is popular in Hunan, and the use of sweetened cured hams is ubiquitous in Hunan dishes. The most popular cooking techniques include many forms of ‘slow’ cooking, such as steaming, simmering, and braising.
Chicken slowly cooked in a concoction of chilies, vinegar, and other seasonings.
Due to the vast number of Chinese emigrants who hail from Guangdong province, Cantonese cuisine has become popular all over the world. With its position along the southern Chinese coast, Guangdong is blessed with a wide variety of seafood, which features prominently in Cantonese cooking. The most important qualities that a Cantonese chef strives for is freshness and balance. In a Cantonese restaurant it is common to see tanks filled with live fish and other seafood, to ensure that the seafood is at its freshest. Spices are used sparingly, and the chef’s goal is to bring out the natural flavor of the ingredients without overpowering it with seasoning. The primary cooking methods are steaming and stir-frying.
Cantonese Style Lobster
Lobster stir fried in garlic and scallions.
Anhui province is filled with wild forests, fields and mountains, and its cuisine reflects its natural landscape. Anhui cuisine is known for its use of the many wild herbs that can be found in the province. The cuisine is distinctive in that chefs pay close attention to the the medicinal and health benefits of the food they are cooking. A chef will generally try to preserve both the natural taste, and nutritional value, of anything that they cook. Simplicity and freshness are key.
Cao Cao Chicken
Chicken simmered in a combination of traditional Chinese herbs.
Shandong cuisine is very influential, with Beijing, Tianjin, and many other northern cuisines based on it. Geographically, Shandong province sits on the coast with the Yellow River cutting through it. Not surprisingly, seafood plays a central role in Shandong cooking. Shandong is also famous for the buns and breads made from the grains that thrive in the region, which is perhaps the greatest difference compared to the rice growing regions of southern and western China. Perhaps Shandong’s most famous contribution to Chinese cuisine is its production of vinegar, which is widely regarded as the best in China.
Yellow River Carp
Deep fried fish served with a sweet and sour sauce.
Described as the land of rivers, lakes, and rice paddies, it is no surprise that the two main staples of Jiangsu cuisine are fish and rice. Fresh ingredients are highly prized, and a strong emphasis is placed on eating what is in season. Seasoning is not particularly bold, and dishes tend to be somewhat sweet and oily. A popular cooking technique that is used regularly in Jiangsu cuisine is hongshao, where the dish is braised in a combination of soy sauce and sugar.
Oversize pork meatballs, braised in soy sauce and served in a casserole dish.
Zhejiang cuisine is light, fresh, and mildly seasoned. Although it is quite similar in style to its neighboring province Jiangsu, Zhejiang cuisine tends to be less oily. Flavors are usually sweet, or have a balance of sweet and sour. Meat and vegetables are often combined into a single dish. Presentation is an important component of Zhejiang cuisine, and chefs strive to give their dishes an elegant appearance.
West Lake Vinegar Fish
Poached fish with a sweet vinegar glaze
Located on China’s southeastern coast, Fujian province is blessed with access to an abundance of seafood. Seafood figures prominently in Fujian cuisine, as well as many unique fish sauces and shrimp pastes. However, Fujian chefs will never try to overpower their food with seasonings as the primary goal is to achieve a balance of tastes that highlight the ingredients natural flavors. Broths and soups are considered a vital part of Fujian cuisine, and many of its signature dishes are served in soup.
Buddha Jumps Over the Wall
Slow cooked stew with a variety of seafood and meat.