China Part 3 – The Food of China

If you think Honey Chicken, Fortune Cookies and General Tso’s Chicken are Chinese food, you are in for a little bit of a shock.  In part 3 of our China series we will have a look at the diverse cuisine and cooking styles throughout China.  While there are many styles, Chinese cuisine is generally broken down into 8 distinct school of cooking:

  • Jiangsu Cuisine (苏菜 Sūcài)
  • Zhejiang Cuisine (浙菜 Zhècài)
  • Fujian/Min Cuisine (闽菜 Mǐncài)
  • Hunan Cuisine (湘菜 Xiāngcài)
  • Anhui Cuisine (徽菜 Huīcài)
  • Shandong Cuisine (鲁菜 Lǔcài)
  • Guangdong/Cantonese Cuisine (粤菜 Yuècài)
  • Sichuan Cuisine (川菜 Chuāncài)


Jiangsu Cuisine

While most probably the least known cuisine among foreigners, Jiangsu Cuisine is very refined, colourful and artistic.  Jiangsu Province has the highest per capita income and this also comes across in their food which is more of a gourmet style.

Being located along the coast and with many rivers and estuaries Jiangsu Cuisine features a lot of aquatic creatures with duck being quite a popular options

Jiangsu Cuisine is made to precise ingredients and a strict cooking schedule.  It requires delicate and fine cooking skills.  Methods of Jiangsu Cuisine include stewing, simmering, baking over a slow fire, steaming, sautéing, stir-frying, and skilful braising in mud and baking on forks.

Popular Jiangsu dishes include:

  • Water melon Chicken
  • Brine-Boiled Duck
  • Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish
  • Duck Wrapped in Shark Fins
  • Fireside Broth

Jiangsu Cuisine can be summed up as fresh, moderately salty and sweet, with detailed cooking techniques, favouring seafood, soups and artistic, colourful presentation


Zhejiang Cuisine

Zhejiang province has been known as the land of fish and rice since ancient times and still holds true today.

Unlike most Western restaurants Zhejiang people don’t just limit themselves to the few select fish and oysters but instead eat over 500 different unique and nutritious species such as sea cucumber and varieties of sea vegetables.

Having the highlands to the Southwest and fresh water rivers to the North, Zhejiang has a wide range of ingredients they use in their cuisine apart from just seafood.

Zhejiang cuisine specializes in quick-frying, stir-frying, deep-frying, simmering and steaming, obtaining the natural flavour and taste.

Popular Zhejiang dishes include:

  • Beggars Chicken
  • Fish Balls in Clear Soup
  • Fried Shrimps with Longjing Tea
  • Dongpo Pork (Stir-Fried Pork)
  • Sliced Fried Eel

Zhejiang cuisine can be summed up as mellow, using fresh seafood, freshwater fish, bamboo shoots, and a wide variety of cooking methods.


Fujian Cuisine

Fujian cuisine can be traced back around 5000 years.  Located on the coast, Fujian cuisine once again has a strong focus and fresh seafood while also making use of exotic ingredients from the mountains and rivers.  The use of spices in Fujian cuisine is to enhance the flavour without leaving your mouth numb and burning.

Using 167 varieties of fish and 90 kinds of turtles and shellfish. It also produces edible bird’s nest, cuttlefish, and sturgeon.

The most distinguishing aspect of Fujian cuisine is that the dishes are served in soup. The cooking methods are stewing, boiling, braising, quick-boiling, and steaming.  Other methods of cooking include pan-frying, deep-frying, baking, stewing, sautéing with wine, stewing in gravy, grilling, cooking with red rice wine, simmering, stir-frying, smoking and salting.

Popular Fujian dishes include:

  • Steamed Chicken in Red Fermented Rice
  • Hot and Sour Squid
  • Buddha Jumping Wall (Sea Food and Poultry Casserole)
  • Stewed Chicken with Three Cups Sauce
  • Tai Chi Prawns

Fujian cuisine can be summed up as lighter, with a mild sweet and sour taste, using ingredients from the sea and the mountains


Hunan Cuisine

If you have tried the spiciness of Sichuan food, then just wait until you try the even spicier Hunan food.  Your taste buds will experience new tastes with the vinegar/chilli mix that is Hunan food.

Hunan cuisine mainly uses freshwater fish, like “Steamed Fish Head with Chopped Chilies” and smoked and cured goods in its dishes

Hunan food is actually hotter than Sichuan food. Sichuan cuisine uses pepper corn that numbs your mouth so the food all starts tasting the same. Instead, Hunan cuisine use vinegar with the pepper. It acts to stimulate the taste buds and make them tingle, so you can better distinguish the wide range of flavours and the rich variety of ingredients and spices.

The most popular cooking methods of Hunan cuisine include steaming and stir-frying, with strong flavours featuring a generous use of hot chilies, scallions and garlic

Popular Hunan dishes include:

  • Steamed Fish Head with Diced Spicy Red Peppers
  • Red Roasted Shark’s Fin
  • Spicy Chicken
  • Chinese bacon fried with pepper
  • Pork Tripe Soup

Hunan food can be summed up as quite spicy, with a hot and sour taste, favouring sautéing, stir-frying, steaming and smoking.


Anhui Cuisine

Anhui Province is a poorer inland province just west of Shanghai.  Anhui Cuisine is basically known as hearty mountain peasant food.  Anhui cuisine is known for integrating wild ingredients from the local mountains.

Anhui cuisine incorporates wild and cultivated fungi and muchrooms, herbs and vegetables which include bamboo shoots, bayberry and tealeaves.  Rice and wheat prodcuts are staples and if you like ham and pork then you will love Anhui cuisine as that is one of their meats of choice.

The most popular cooking methods of Anhui cuisine include braising, stewing and steaming rather than sautéing or frying.

Popular Anhui dishes include:

  • Stewed Turtle with Ham
  • Ham and “Whippy” Bamboo Stew
  • Salted Mandarin Fish
  • Honeycomb Tofu
  • Snowy Winter Roast Chicken

Anhui cuisine can be summed up as using many wild plants and animals as ingredients, favouring stewing and more oil.


Shandong Cuisine

Shandong Province has a large coastline and once again uses an abundance of both salt water and fresh water ingredients.  Shandong is also lucky to have very fertile plains where they make the use of it growing wheat and is one of China’s largest wheat growing producers.

A wide variety of seafood is used in Shandong dishes, and the people also like to eat pork. An ancient medical/science text describes the people in the area as savouring both fish and salt, and the people still do.

Shandong style of cooking is different to say Sichuan and Hunan food where they like to preserve the cut, colour, and taste of the main ingredients.  Relatively little spice or sugar is used generally and stir fry is used often.

Popular Shandong dishes include:

  • Diced Pork Cooked in a Pot
  • Dezhou Grilled Chicken
  • Braised Colon in Brown Sauce
  • Braised Sea Cucumber with Onion
  • Chicken Ball in Milk Soup

Shandong cuisine can be summed up as salty and crispy, favouring braising and seafood


Guangdong/Cantonese Cuisine

Cantonese food is the most widely served Chinese food in the world.  Originating in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong, Cantonese cuisine became popular overseas when Chinese migrated abroad and started setting up restaurants.

There is a saying that “They eat everything with four legs except tables and everything that flies except airplanes”.  While this is not entirely true, you will find animals like snakes, cats, dogs and sea life which you may not have considered eating before.

The goal of Cantonese food is to preserve the natural flavour of the ingredient so very little spice or oil is used actually making Cantonese food quite healthy compared to the Chinese food in the West.  Instead, a little sugar and spice is generally all that is needed.

In order maintain the original flavours of food, cooking methods of Cantonese cuisine are mainly steaming and stir-frying while using lots of vegetables and all kinds of sauces.

Popular Cantonese dishes include:

  • Barbequed Pork (Char Siu)
  • Tea-Smoked Duck
  • Shark Fin Soup
  • Steamed Frog on a Lotus Leaf
  • Soy Sauce Chicken

Cantonese food can be summed up as sweeter, favouring braising and stewing, adding various mild sauces.


Sichuan Cuisine

Three words usually come to mind with Sichuan cuisine – hot, spicy and numbing.  While Sichuan food is known for it hot and spicy flavour, it can also contain sweet and sour flavours as well.

Sichuan cuisine would not be Sichuan cuisine without Sichuan pepper.  Other ingredients used in Sichuan cuisine are pork, beef, fish, vegetables, tofu, chilli, broad beans, shallots, ginger and garlic.

The cooking methods of Sichuan cuisine varies depending on texture and spice level required for each specific dish. The variety of cooking methods include stir-frying, steaming, braising, baking, and the most popular of which is fast-frying.

With the origin of Sichuan cuisine dating back to 221BC and over 5000 Sichuan dishes it is hard to narrow it down to a select few, however, some popular Sichuan dishes include:

  • Sichuan Hotpot
  • Twice Cooked Pork
  • Dandan Noodles
  • Steamed Pork with Spicy Cabbage
  • Kung Pao Chicken

Sichuan cuisine can be summed up as spicy and bold, often mouth-numbing, using lots of chili, garlic, ginger, and peanuts.


While this concludes the list of the main 8 Chinese cuisine styles there are many more worth exploring such as Xinjiang and Tibetan Cuisine.

Xinjiang Cuisine

Xinjiang Province is in the remote Western region of China is inhabited by many ethnic groups, and about half of the population belongs to the Uyghur minority. Xinjiang Cuisine generally refers to Uyghur cuisine. The food is predominantly halal food due to most Xinjiang people being Muslims.


Tibetan Cuisine

Tibetan cuisine is a wonderful mix of Nepalese, Indian, and Sichuan cuisine.  It also has its own original dishes, influenced by its severe climate where they farm yaks, e.g. yak fat tea.

For part 1 of our China special click here

For par 2 of our China special click here


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