Chinese cuisine is generally divided into eight regional cuisines based on their geographic location.China’s regional cooking styles are as diverse as its terrain and its people. Naturally, they are also strongly influenced by the staple crops that grow in each specific region.
The eight greats
Anhui Cuisine (Hui Cai)
The regional cuisine of Anhui in eastern China is considered to be healthy and visually interesting with simple flavors. Anhui cuisine is characterized by an ample use of fresh herbs, mushrooms, berries, tea leaves, bamboo shoots and other wild plants that grow in the region surrounding Huangshan mountain. The methods used to prepare the dishes are simple, mainly consisting of braising and stewing. Special attention is given to the appearance, color, taste and temperature of the dish. Cooking is done in a way that preserves the nutrients of the food.
Some of the best known Anhui dishes include: Stewed Soft-shelled Turtle in a Clear Soup, Bamboo Shoots with Sausage and Dried Mushrooms and Stinky Tofu.
Fujian Cuisine (Min Cai)
Fujian cuisine is often further divided into the four subcategories of Southern Fujian, Western Fujian, Fuzhou and Quanzhou cuisines.The food is usually only lightly seasoned and the main flavors are sweet and sour. The most common ingredients include various types of seafood, including mussels, shrimp and fish. Pork, duck, chicken and beef are also commonly used. Some dishes get additional sweetness and texture from peanuts and sugar, along with fish sauce, shrimp paste, shacha sauce and preserved apricot. Typical Fujian dishes are prepared by first chopping the ingredients finely and then quickly boiling or stir-frying them or adding them to soup. The local cuisine in this part of China is heavily based on stews, broths and soups. In Fujian custard or orange juice is often used to bring a touch of sweetness to the dishes.
Some of the most famous Fujian dishes include: The Monk Jumps Over the Wall, Fried Xi Shi’s Tongue and Jade Pearl Abalone.
Guangdong Cuisine (Cantonese)
The Chinese say that people from the southern province of Guangdong will eat almost anything that walks, crawls, flies or swims. Being a coastal province means that there is a strong emphasis on seafood, although their way of seasoning the food sets them apart from other coastal cuisines. Cantonese cuisine is influenced by both Oriental and Western cooking traditions. Typical ingredients include different kinds of meats and vegetables, such as onion, garlic. The main seasonings are sugar and spiced salt. The rich flavor of Cantonese dishes is the result of using a variety of flavorsome ingredients such as peanut oil, rice wine, anise, cassia bark, licorice root, ginger powder, dried tangerine peel, oyster sauce, fish sauce, clam oil and curry, among other things. The methods used to prepare Cantonese dishes are sometimes quite unconventional and include salt-roasting, steaming with wine and slow-cooking.
The most famous Cantonese dishes include: The Dragon and Tiger Fight,
Hong Kong egg custard tarts, wontons and spring rolls.
Hunan Cuisine (Also called Xi’ang cuisine)
Hunan in southern China is dominated by rolling hills and beautiful valleys, which provide a fertile ground for growing a wide range of crops, especially rice. Hunan cuisine is famous for its spiciness, deep colors and fresh aromas. Smoked and cured foods are typical in this part of the country. The main cooking techniques include braising, stewing, smoking and steaming.
The most famous Hunan dishes include: Dong’an Chicken, Crispy Duck, Orange Beef and Spicy Frog’s Legs
Jiangsu Cuisine (Su Cai)
The cuisine of Jiangsu is divided into the subcategories of Suzhou-Wuxi style, Zhenjiang-Yangzhou style and Nanjing cuisine. Jiangsu food is generally characterized by light and fresh flavors and tender textures and an emphasis on soup. Jiangsu cuisine is especially popular in regions along the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. Most popular cooking methods include stewing, braising, stir-frying and pickling. Sugar is often used to round off the flavors. More often than not the dishes are carefully arranged to make a visual impact.
Famous examples of typical Jiangsu dishes include: Jinling salted dried duck (Nanjing’s most famous dish), crab shell meatballs (pork meatballs in crab shell powder), Yangzhou steamed Jerky strips (dried tofu, chicken, ham and pea leaves), Farewell My Concubine (soft-shelled turtle).
The cuisine of the eastern coastal province of Shandong is divided into Huai-Yang, Yangzhou, Jiaodong and Jinan style cooking. One of the main characteristics of this type of cuisine the tendency to eat bread instead of rice and the use of onions as a seasoning. The corn grown in Shandong is especially famous for its chewy and starchy texture and grassy aroma. The most popular ingredients include seafood such as scallops, prawns, clams, sea cucumbers and squid. Millet, wheat, oat and barley are used used to make a variety of delicious breads. Common vegetables include potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, mushrooms, onions, garlic and eggplants. Roasted or salted peanuts are also often used to add a bit of crunchiness and flavor to dishes. Typical Shandongese dishes include lightly seasoned seafood, soups, and stir-fried, braised and deep-fried foods.
The most popular Shandong dishes include: sea cucumber with meat balls, braised shark’s fin with shredded chicken and bamboo shoots.
Out of all these wonderful regional cuisines, Sichuan cooking stands out as very unique. The cuisine of this southwestern province is best known for its use of strong spices. The main seasonings include chili and garlic, as well as locally produced Sichuan pepper. Sichuan cuisine makes big use of freshwater fish, but also your typical chicken, duck and pork meats. Shark fins, bear paws and other unconventional ingredients are also used. Typical spices and condiments include Sichuan peppercorns, chili, crushed garlic, fish sauce, ginger juice and soy sauce. Sichuan-style cuisine is mainly prepared by stir-frying, braising or stewing.
The most popular Sichuan dishes include: Kung Pao chicken, Twice Cooked Pork and Tea Smoked Duck.
Zhejiang Cuisine (Zhe Cai )
Ningbo cuisine, which is generally described as being very salty, is the best known subcategory of Zhejiangese cuisine. Seafood is very popular here, but spices are used quite sparingly. Since this southern province is bamboo country, almost every dish contains bamboo shoots. Zhejiang dishes are usually prepared by stir-frying, braising or steaming. Meat is often marinated in a mixture of vinegar and sugar.
The most famous Zhejiang dishes include: Dongpo Pork and Shelled shrimp in Longjing tea.
In addition to these eight major regional cuisines, many articles about Chinese food also make specific mention of the cooking traditions of Yunnan, Mongolia, Shanghai, Beijing, Dongbei, Hubei regions and of the Uygur ethnic group.