Varied Cuisines Across a Varied Land
An understanding of Chinese cuisine requires an understanding of its many diverse geographic and linguistic regions. From the Yangtze River, to the timeless Northeast, and to the arid steppes of the Northwest, its cuisines have evolved over centuries to reflect the natural bounty afforded to its inhabitants. And while there are some similarities between neighbors, the range of ingredients and dishes varies widely.
Chinese cuisine is typically classified into eight primary cuisines. Each of these 'core' cuisines has many regional variations, though, and together they fully capture the essence and character of modern Chinese cooking.
- Anhui – This beautiful region has become a culinary nexus for the cuisines of the Yangtze River region and the wild Northwest. With its emphasis on powerful flavors and fermented and preserved ingredients, it is far from the stereotypical Chinese food found in Western restaurants.
- Cantonese – Cantonese, or Guandong cuisine is known for dishes that highlight the flavor and freshness of single ingredients. Whether seafood, poultry, or pork, traditional flavorings well known to Westerners are often used, including soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, and spring onion.
- Fujian – Fujian cuisine is actually two, with the north and south separated by mountains and a rugged coastline. Northern Fujian dishes are often sweet, with wine enriched sauces. Southern Fujian dishes emphasize broths and soups to enhance the flavor of fresh vegetables and seafood.
- Hunan – Hunan cuisine is all about intensity in flavor, spice, and color. Smoking and curing are often used to achieve this style and dishes emphasize the use of poultry, pork, and fermented beans.
- Jiangsu – “The land of water” as it is often called, defines the cuisine of Jiangsu. Seafood plays an important role in most dishes and bright seasoning is heavily emphasized, adding to the multi-layer dimensions of its native dishes.
- Shandong – At the mouth of the Yellow River in the Northeast of China, this province is known for its savory and rich dishes. Highlighted by deep flavors, this cuisine makes great use of rice wine, soy sauce, caramelized sugar, and fresh ginger.
- Sichuan – Sichuan cuisine is known for its bold flavors, making great use of both chilies and strong flavorings, such as garlic and Sichuan pepper. Given its land-locked location and rugged terrain, preserved and cured foods are often the foundation of its tasty and spicy dishes.
- Zhejiang – This cuisine bridges the savory themes of the Northeast and the fresh cuisine of the Southeast. It places great emphasis on seafood, but not wholly at the expense of pork and chicken which is prepared with great care.
Clearly, to fully appreciate Chinese cuisine requires the time and commitment to understand and experiment with many regional variations. We encourage you to rise to this challenge, seeking out interesting ingredients and pushing yourself to places you haven’t been before. Enjoy the journey!
Our favorite Chinese recipes: Pan-Fried Black Sea Bass with Ginger and Scallion, Grilled Layered Lamb Pastries, Five Spice Beef Short Ribs with Parsnip Purée, Red-Cooked Lion's Head (Chinese Pork Meatballs), Laughing Doughnut Holes, Kung Pao Chicken