These are eight distinct culinary styles found in Chinese cuisine, and each style is linked to one of the country’s regions. Here’s an overview of the cooking methods, popular ingredients and popular dishes for each of the eight culinary styles:
Cantonese cuisine originates from the Guangdong province in southern China. Food is sautéed or stewed slowly and tender meat dishes are served with slightly sweet sauces, such as plum sauce and hoisin sauce. Cantonese dishes are often flavoured with sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and spring onions. Chicken is a popular meat, but due to the coastal location of the Guangdong province, seafood is also popular. Slow cooked beef brisket with daikon radish, shrimp with yi mein noodles and jellyfish salad are popular Cantonese dishes.
Originating from the Chengdu province, Sichuan cuisine is known for its hot and sour flavours. Steaming and stir-frying are popular cooking methods and dishes are flavoured with Sichuan pepper, star anise, chillies, garlic and ginger. Sichuan pepper has a slightly sour yet citrusy flavour that can leave your mouth feeling numb. Kung pao chicken and Sichuan hot pot with organ meats are two dishes not to be missed.
The Hunan province is home to a number of rich, creamy dishes that are sautéed, steamed or smoked. Red chillies, soy sauce, cinnamon and fennel are used in abundance, and dishes are served with fresh vegetables, rice and pickled vegetables. Spicy Hunan beef and broccoli, steamed bacon with smoked bean curd and sweet and sour pork ribs are popular dishes.
Lu cuisine from the Shandong province has a strong focus on fresh seafood, but pork is also popular, and dishes are often flash-fried or deep-fried until crispy. Peanuts, maize flour and vinegar are often used, but dishes are only lightly seasoned in order to retain the natural flavour of the seafood. Fried sea snails with steamed bread and pork and shrimp soup are commonly enjoyed Lu dishes.
Soups, scintillating spices, seafood and regional wild mushrooms characterise min cuisine from the Fujian province, and food is typically sautéed with red wine, stewed or baked. Dishes tend to have an umami taste profile and fermented fish sauce, mustard, star anise, pepper and qiaotou, which is similar to spring onions, are used abundantly. Popular dishes include Fujian fried rice that’s served with a rich soy and chicken broth sauce and drunk crab, which involves marinating crab meat in sorghum wine and vinegar.
Hui cuisine from the Anhui province is heavily influenced by the wild food and herbs found on the region’s Yellow Mountains, such as bayberry, dates and woodland mushrooms. Dishes are hearty and stewing is the preferred cooking method. Pork is the most popular meat in the region, and traditional dishes include egg dumplings stuffed with pork, ginger and mushrooms and Li Hongzhang stew, which contains sea cucumbers, squid, chicken, ham, pork tripe and mushrooms.
The Jiangsu province in eastern China utilises seafood from the surrounding coastal waters and freshwater fish from the Yangtze River, which flows across the region. Water bamboo, Chinese chestnut, lotus and meaty broth are often included in traditional dishes, and slow baking over an open fire is the traditional method of cooking. Popular Jiangsu dishes include sweet and sour Mandarin fish and duck encased in shark fins.
The Zhejiang province is south of Jiangsu and the Yangtze River also passes through this region, so fish dishes feature prominently alongside locally cultivated bamboo shoots. Zhe cuisine focuses on serving fresh food, so dishes are often only lightly sautéed to retain their nutritional quality, and seafood is often cured in brine. Popular dishes include salty crab with orange roe, fish ball soup and shredded eel.
The next time you visit your local Chinese restaurant, such as Han Palace, ask your server about the culinary style and region associated with your favourite Chinese dishes. They’ll also be able to recommend traditional dishes based on your taste preferences.