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The Eight Major Regional Cuisines of China

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Chinese food is widely eaten throughout the world. It is a favourite cuisine of many – from kids to adults. Be it a day out with friends, a family dinner or a sumptuous lunch for our kids, we opt for some Chinese food without second thoughts. It is our all time favourite and we never get bored of it. When we order Chinese food, the things that come to our mind are the noodles, fried rice and Manchurians; but there is much more to it.

The Chinese cuisine consists of diverse style of cooking, which incorporates different methods and ingredients.  Each cuisine has a distinctive flavour that differentiates it with the rest. Some of them are mild and sweet, while the others are hot spicy, there are also cuisines that taste bland and salty. The assortment of flavours the Chinese cuisine offers to appease the cravings of your taste buds, undeniably makes it everyone’s favourite.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular Chinese cuisine.

Regional Cuisines of China

  1. Cantonese

This is the traditional cuisine of China’s Guangdong province and is also called the Guangdong or Yue cuisine. This cuisine is popular worldwide; the Cantonese cuisine has introduced the taste of China to many countries.

This cuisine offers an assortment of innovative recipes made of almost all edible meats. You might witness strange meat like snail, snake, and duck’s tongue in a Cantonese menu. The food is seasoned with ingredients like soy sauce, cornstarch, spring onions, sugar, vinegar, and scallions that impart very mild and fresh flavours. Although the cuisine aims at retaining the original flavour of the meat, spices like pepper, five spice powder, garlic and chilli are sometimes added to combat the pungent flavours of certain variant of meats.  Small amounts of sauces like plum sauce, sweet sauce and oyster sauce are splashed over the meat that gives the dishes a mild refreshing flavour.

Some of the popular Cantonese dishes are egg tart, steamed frog leg on lotus leaf, beef fried noodles, BBQ cantons pork tenderloin etc.

  1. Sichuan

The Sichuan cuisine also known as the Chuan cuisine, originating from the Sichuan province, is the most widely eaten cuisine in china. This cuisine belongs to the south western parts of china – Chengdu and Chongqing that were a part of the Sichuan province.

The dishes of this cuisine are known for their hot, spicy and mouth – numbing flavours. If you are someone who enjoys tongue clicking, spicy food then the Sichuan cuisine is definitely a treat for you. The cuisine uses a range of aromatic spices and ingredients like clove, star anise, cinnamon, fennel, broad bean chilli paste, shallots, garlic and their famous Sichuan pepper that is unique of its kind. This pepper adds a special touch to the dishes giving it a hot and numbing flavour. Although the dishes are predominantly hot and spicy, you will be surprised by the composition of varied flavours like sweet, bitter, salt and sour offered by other ingredients like sesame, walnuts, peanuts etc.

There isn’t one particular method to cook the dishes. Several cooking methods like braising, stir-frying, baking, steaming and fast-frying are used depending on what method a particular dish calls for.

Pork is one of the most popular meats in a Sichuan cuisine, but other meats like fish, beef and even vegetables and tofu are used in the dishes.  Some of the authentic Sichuan dishes include – Kung Pao chicken, Mapo tofu, dry stir fried green beans, Dan Dan noodles, tea-smoked duck.

  1. Jiangsu

Also known as Su cuisine, the Jiangsu cuisine is one of the least popular cuisines among the eight culinary traditions of china. This cuisine follows gourmet style of cooking, where the ingredients are carefully picked and added in the right quantity and are carefully presented. The food looks aesthetically alluring.

A typical Jiangsu cuisine consists of an array of seafood, where fish is a common ingredient. The meat is cooked soft and tender making it easy to bite and melts in your mouth.  The dishes consist of oysters, plant ingredients and even the most uncommon kind of meat you’d have never heard of. The Jiangsu style of cooking brings the rich aromatic flavours of meat and vegetables; therefore, it is mildly seasoned with spices.

The chefs carefully pick the ingredients and spices according to the season, making healthy recipes that enable you to combat the climatic conditions. Some of the common spices and ingredients used are – lotus, ginseng, Chinese chestnuts, root crops, winter bamboo shoots etc. These ingredients are incorporated in the diet based on the health benefits they offer.

This cuisine adopts six different styles of elaborate cooking methods aimed to retain the freshness and flavours of the meat. Some of the common methods of cooking include braising, simmering and stewing.

The Jiangsu cuisine adopts different styles of cooking according to the regions namely –

Huaiyang– The food is cooked to emphasise the aroma and is colourfully presented in a gourmet platter.

Nanjing– It lays emphasis on the cutting and preparation techniques, using fresh water fish, seasonal vegetables and seafood that are fresh, fragrant and tender.

Yangzhou – In this most dominant style of cooking, the ingredients are cut distinctively and presented colourfully. It tastes moderately sweet and salty.

Nantong – Located in the midst of three rivers, this style of cooking comprises of fresh seafood dishes.

Wuxi – The dishes are sweet and impart a caramelised flavour due to the addition of sugar and soy sauce. This style is known for its lip smacking dim sums.

  1. Hunan

The Hunan cuisine is also known as Xiang cuisine belongs to the agricultural regions of Xiang river region, Dongting Lake and western Hunan province. This is yet another cuisine that is a treat for the lovers of spicy food.

The food is extremely hot and spicy and unlike the Sichuan cuisine the food is not mouth numbing. The Hunan dishes incorporate vinegar with chillies that imparts a sour taste to the food. The hot and sour hunan food is rich in aroma and colour and is usually oilier than other Chinese cuisine.

The hotness of the chillies and the sourness of vinegar make this an ideal cuisine for the chilly winters as well as the hot arid summers. Vinegar being an essential ingredient lowers the blood pressure and cholesterol, which in turn aids in weight loss.

The hunan cuisine favours crunchy vegetables, white rice and noodles. The dishes are usually seasoned with shallots, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, tea seed oil, pepper. Honey and cinnamon are also added in various dishes as they provide necessary warmth during the cold seasons.

Their menu is known for soups and stews, which largely involves boiling, steaming, smoking and stir – frying. Another well known cooking technique they follow is fermentation. Vegetables, meats or tofu are mixed with salt and spices are fermented in pickling jars for several weeks or months. Fermented food is a must have in a hunanese menu.

Some of the authentic hunanese foods include – rice noodle soup, stew fish, sugar candy lotus, red roasted shark’s fin etc.

  1. Zhejiang

The Zha cuisine originates from the rich eastern province of Zhejiang. This cuisine is ideal for people who enjoy fresh and mildly flavoured food. Unlike other Chinese cuisine, the food is not greasy but is rather almost raw, fresh and crunchy.

The Zhejiang dishes are made of a variety of sea foods ranging from oysters and fishes to the most uncommon and unknown sea vegetables like sea cucumber. This form of cooking is simple and doesn’t concentrate on the artistic appearance of the food, but aims at retaining the freshness and flavour. The raw and mild flavour of the sea food makes this a healthy yet tasty alternative if you are in the mood to binge on some Chinese food.

The different cities in the province adopt different styles of cooking.  The major three styles of this cuisine are –

Hangzhou – This style predominantly involves sea food, soups and stir – fried dishes. Bamboo shoot is the key ingredient and is added to almost all the dishes

Shaoxing – it largely involves poultry and fresh water dishes in its menu

Ningbo – This also uses sea foods in its menu and aims at retaining the freshness and saltiness of the dishes. Ningbo is also known for its sweet confectionaries.

Some of the notable dishes of the Zha cuisine are – beggars’ chicken, dongpo pork, beef fillet cooked with peppers.

  1. Fujian

Also known as min cuisine, this is the cuisine of the wild mountainous regions of the Fuji province. The dishes of this cuisine are flavourful, yet mild; that lingers on your taste buds for a long time. The dishes prepared in this cuisine are soft and tender that vanishes in your mouth in an instant. The speciality of this cuisine is the prevalence of umami taste, which is the presence of all the five flavours – sweet, sour, spicy, bitter and salty, all in one bite. Spices are added to the dishes to give an exotic eating experience, without over shadowing the original flavour of the dish.

Fujian dishes explores wide range of sea food that consists of rare kinds of turtles, oysters, shell fishes, edible mushrooms, sea cucumbers, bamboo shoots, mussels, slugs and snails. These are seasoned with spices and sauces like – sea salt, pepper, star anise, cinnamon, mustard, fermented fish sauce, shrimp oil, soy sauce, shacha sauce, apricots, peanuts, rice wine and other unique spices and ingredients from the mountains giving the dishes an unusual taste.

Fujian dishes are usually dominated by aromatic and flavourful soups and broths that are versatile and can be converted or used in numerous dishes. Some of the commonly employed methods of cooking in a Fujian kitchen are stewing, boiling, steaming, simmering, grilling and braising.

Different regions of Fuji incorporate different styles of cooking. The three major styles of Fujian cuisine are – Fuzhou, known for its soups are a mild combination of sweet and sour taste. Fuzhou’s key ingredients are red yeast rice and fermented fish sauce. Southern Fujian, having a strong south Asian and Japanese influence, is a bit stronger in flavour in comparison to the Fuzhou cuisine. The dishes are mostly made of sea food, ducks, pork, rice, chicken, beef and various other vegetables. This cuisine is known for its slow – cooked soups and its range of dipping sauces. Western Fujian cuisine is different from the traditional Fujian dishes. These dishes are made of meat rather than sea food and are usually oily. The addition of pepper and mustard makes the dishes spicier and saltier than the usual Fujian dishes.

Some of the famous dishes in the Fujian cuisine include – Buddha jumps over the wall, five colour pearls, Bak kut teh, shaoxing wine.

  1. Shandong

The Shandong or the Lu cuisine is the traditional cuisine of the Shandong province, which is in the northern and coastal side of china. Since it is in the coastal region, it specialises in an array of seafood. Another speciality of this cuisine is the usage of domestic animals and birds in cooking its dishes. This cuisine is known for its fresh, salty and crispy taste of its dishes. The original flavours of the meat and vegetables are retained, while the spices and sauces just enhance the flavours.

The broths play a vital role in a Shandong cuisine. There are two kinds of broths, one is light and watery and the other is rich and milky. Spices and scallions are tossed in the broth making it a scintillating accompaniment with sea food.

There are two regional variants of the Shandong cuisine which are – Jiaodong that consists of dishes from the eastern parts of Shandong, which are usually mildly flavoured seafood; and Jinan which makes dishes where soup is the key ingredient.

The Shandong cuisine doesn’t use any exotic spices, but keeps it simple by adding simpler ones that enhances the original flavour of the meat. Salt is one of the key ingredients; other spices include green onions, scallions, ginger, garlic, onions and red pepper.

Besides sea food, the Shandong cuisine extensively uses wheat, maize, oats, peanuts and vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, mushroom and cabbages are also used. Vinegar is an important ingredient used in all their dishes. Unlike the usual kind of vinegar, the Shandong vinegar is dark and imparts a unique flavour.

In order to retain the freshness and colour of the dishes, the Shandong cuisine adopts unique style of cooking like deep frying.

Bao – The oil is boiled in extremely high temperature, where the ingredients are quickly tossed and fried which locks in the flavour and colour and prevents excessive absorption of oil.

Pa – The meat is coated in flour and is fried, after which spices and sauces are tossed and sautéed.

The dishes from Shandong menu include – four joy meatballs, lungs in milk soup, pull – out silk sweet potato, Dezhou grilled chicken.

  1. Anhui

Also known as Hui, the Anhui cuisine is one of the least popular Chinese cuisines. Originating from the Anhui province – which is one of the most poor province of shanghai, the cuisine doesn’t involve any exotic assortment of meat or spices; rather uses simpler meats and wild plants and herbs from the yellow mountains. The dishes cooked basically serve as a hearty, nutritious and fulfilling meal for a common man.

Wild caught frogs, shrimps, turtles, wild mushrooms, fungi, pork, bamboo shoots, potatoes from the wild forest and mountains are cooked using simple methods of cooking like stewing and sautéing to retain the freshness and nutrition of the meat.

The Anhui cuisine has three different styles of cooking. The Yangtze River region and Huai river region uses aquatic animals and plants from the river; whereas the southern Huai region uses wild herb and plants from the yellow mountains.

Some of the tastiest dishes from the Anhui cuisine are egg dumplings, Mao tofu, steamed stone frog, yellow crab shell cake.

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