Many people lump Chinese food together under one appellation. The regional differences in food, as well as cultures, are distinct. Even within the regions, there are many techniques and methods of cooking employed. There are eight regional cooking styles.
1. Sichuan (Szechuan – Szechwan) – Located in Southwestern China. The area is large and diverse with a rich history. Its spicy local history dates back to the Song Dynasty (420 – 478 CE). The food, up until the last century was sweet and mild. In the last century, the food has taken on the “common people” flavors, which include Sichuan crushed peppercorns, finely ground red, or cayenne peppers, dried chilies, ginger, mustard, onions and chives. The Kung-Pao chicken is a superb example of the spicy-hot dishes. The cooking techniques use steaming, stir-frying and dry braising.
The Yiyuan Sichuan Cuisine Restaurant in Guilin, China, 106#, Nanhuan Road. An excellent restaurant that welcomes foreign visitors. Recommendation is the Hot Pot served with condiments. It comes with half spicy broth/ or chicken broth.
2. Guangdong (Cantonese cuisine) – It is also known as “Yue Cai”(cuisine) located in Southern China. The history of this regional food is long and distinguished. The food is a combination of different ethnic minorities. Historians noted mentioned records from the Western Han (206 BCE – 009 CE) Dynasty. The cuisine uses milder spices than Sichuan cuisine. The spices used are ginger, garlic (to mask the smell of entrails), five-spice powder, white pepper. The main ingredients in Guangdong cuisine are ginger, spring onion, sugar, salt, soya sauce, rice wine, corn starch and oil. The methods of cooking are steaming, stir frying, and deep frying. In Guangdong (Canton), chef use the freshest foods. They kill animals on the same day they are cooked. Commonly known dishes are shark fin soup, wonton soup, roast duck, and dim sum.
Chaotai Beef Restaurant, Shenzhen, China. The beef broth is highly recommended. It is stewed for ten hours and made fresh each day. You put the vegetables into the broth as well as the beef before eating. They also have a beef chafing dish, which has beef meatballs. The food is high quality.
3. Hunan (Xiang) is in Xiangiiang region of the western area of China. The food is similar to Sichuan. The main difference is that Hunan cuisine is spicier. Hunan dishes have a flavored brown sauce. The use of honey, sweet and sour sauces characterize Hunan cuisine. The cooking techniques are stewing, frying, pot-roasting, braising and smoking. Commonly known dishes are sweet and sour chicken, crispy duck and hot and spicy chicken.
Jiangyouji Restaurant, Nanjing, China. It is located in Longmen Street of Confucius Temple, #12 of Gongyuan West Street, Qinhual District. Recommended is the beef fried Jiaoji, which is goden, fragrant, and juicy.
4. Shandong cuisine (Lu) takes in Jiaodong and Jinan styles.
* Jiaodong style is the Shandong Penisula and is predominately seafood. Marine fish usually have a delicate taste so the seasonings are mild and gentle. The seasonings used bring out the flavors of fish and do not overwhelm them.
* Jinan style, because it is in the mountains, uses wild game and fresh lake fish. The region also has the valley areas that grow fruits and vegetables. The region also raises domestic livestock such as pigs and lambs. Jinan is famous for their soups and broths in preparing dishes.
The two areas combine as Lu cuisine. Three general characteristics define the cuisine.
a. Modern day refrigeration allows the foods to be transported between the two areas. Seafood, fresh and marine, are the main dishes. The cuisine uses grains in baking and cereals. The grains include barley, millet, oats, wheat and sesame seeds in breads and pastries. The vegetables that are prevalent in the menus are bell peppers, cabbage (including sweet cabbage), eggplant, garlic, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, and tomatoes. Corn raised in this province is not sweet like American corn. The corn is starchier, has a grassy aroma and chewy texture. The corn and peanuts are a key part of the menu.
b. The cuisine uses flavor combinations. For example, onions added to broths.milk and/or cream added to soups make a richer dish.
c. The aromas and tastes are crisp and clean. The chefs master different cooking methods to bring out the flavors of each type of food. The chefs use boiling, stewing steaming, sauteing, roasting, baking and stir frying.
Lu cuisine is the prevailing cuisine all over China. Beijing, Tianjin, and Northeastern parts of China adapted this style to their regions.
Jinan Daguan Roasted Duck Restaurant, Jinan, China. #230 Shanda Road. This restaurant offers food from Jiaodong as well as its own Jinan food, and offers delious vegetarian dishes.
5. Jiangsu (Su) cuisine covers three principal cities of the Jiangsu Province. Nanjing (known since BCE) as the “Emperor’s Domain”; Suzhou, known as “Paradise”; and Yangzhou, which historians refer to as “Most Affluent City under Heaven”. These cities have the popular cuisine in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. The most famous Chinese chefs come from this region. The “traditional” Chinese cuisine is the Su. The three cities married together to create these characteristics.
* The cooking time is regulated. In other words, instead of sauteing until onion is transparent, they give the amount of time it will cook to bring out the optimal flavor.
* Their cooking methods use gentle heat for stewing, simmering, steaming, sauteing, stir frying.
* Su cooking uses thick sauces but no greasy flavor is detectable. Its light sauces are not watery.
* Their meats use their own juices for flavor. They use moderate saltiness and sweetness in the preparation. The chefs use meat juices in their light and delicate soups and broths.
The typical Su cuisine dishes are diced chicken and carrots, Mandarin fish in squirrel shape, wind dried chicken, sparrow in hot sauce, braised turtle, dove with spice powder.
Lingeng Hall, Suzhou, China. #3 Weidao Guangian, Pingjiang Road. This restaurant is an old historical house. The food is typical Su cuisine. The main attraction at this restaurant is the Pintan performances during your meal. Pintan is an ancient entertainment of ballad singing and storytelling that dates back several thousand years.
6. Zhejiang (Zhe) cuisine developed from the four cities in the Province: Hangzhou, Ningbo, Shaoxing and Wenzhou. The cuisine is crisp, tender, and fresh. The Province is in the heart of the Yangtze River delta, surrounded on the north, and east by Hangzhou Bay and the East China Sea. There are three different styles combined into unique culinary dishes. The chefs use ingredients from all areas of China as well as abroad. As a result, the chefs can create a variety of dishes. Taking a cue from French chefs, Zhe chefs present fish dishes that do not smell fishy. They are strong and robust without being greasy. The chefs learn how to cut so that their dish presentations are a work of art. The cooking methods are Hangzhou style of stir-frying, braising, and deep frying. The Ningbo style brings in the subtle flavors of seafood, as well the subtle spices that bring out the taste of the fish; but does not have a fishy smell, or taste. This style uses steaming, stewing and baking. The Shaoxing style, renowned for its hearty soups using fish stock as a base. The soups have robust flavors, wonderful aromas, and perfect blend of crispness melded with tenderness.
Penglaichun Restaurant, Yantai, China, #13 Dingxi Road. Penglaichun is famous for its excellent seafood. Locals love this restaurant. It serves Fried Oyster and Scrambled Eggs with Agarics (grilled mushrooms).
7. Fujian cuisine developed from the local food of the three cities of the Province: Fuzhou, Quanzhou and Xiamen. They have perfected the art of seafood menus. The food is usually steamed, fried, or braised. They have the reputation of pickling ingredients before cooking. The main difference among the different Province styles is the Fujian use of red rice-wine in their cooking. The red rice-wine adds a deep rose color and an enticing bouquet.
Haoqingxiang Restaurant, Xiamen #8 Jianye Road of North Hubin. This restaurant has been in business for 60 years. The cuisine is southern Fukien. It has many flavored “snacks” (hors d’ oeuvres) which are served on a lazy susan.
8. Anhui (Hui or Wan) uses three geographical regions: South Anhui, coastal areas of Yangtze and Hui Rivers. It is the cuisine of South Anhui that serves as the flagship for Hui cuisine in the international levels. It is on the coastal areas of the Yangtze River. The food is extremely fresh because the local produce is fresh picked. The chefs serve fish dishes fresh. It uses local wildlife in its dishes. It uses low, medium, and high heat depending on the food. The cooking methods include flambeing, braising, steaming, deep frying and stir-frying. The most intriguing part of this cuisine is the use of “medicinal herbs” for health.
Lao Jie Yi Lou, Huangshan – #247 Tunxi Old Street. The restaurant boasts of Anhui style of architecture. It has a variety of food. It serves a variety of tofu recipes.
These are the eight best known cuisines and cooking schools in China. Each has a unique method of cooking, ingredients, techniques used in cooking. Beijing, the tourist hotspot, has many restaurants that carry each variety of the foods mentioned. The guides in China are knowledgeable and can help you find restaurants with the regional cuisines within the city.
Note: Restaurants listed are based on various reviews.