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Regional Cuisines

Shaped by vast and diverse historical, geographical, climatic, cultural, and specialty variations. Chinese cuisine encompasses a wide array of regional cuisines, each possessing distinctive flavors and characteristics, accompanied by different cooking techniques, and incorporating different ingredients.

Among these distinctive regional culinary styles, the “Eight Great Regional Cuisines” are the most well known and renowned today, which include: 鲁 lu (Shandong), 川 chuan (Szechuan), 粤 yue (Cantone), 闽 min (Fujian), 苏 su (Suzhou), 浙 zhe (Zhejiang), 湘 xiang (Hunan), and 徽 hui (Anhui).

However, not only can each of these major regional cuisines be further split into half a dozen smaller regional styles and classes, there are also sixty-some-odd other cuisine styles that are not included in the “Big Eight”, which includes countless ethnic cuisines, religious cuisines, imperial cuisines, aristocrat cuisines, and much more; Each with a colorful history and story to tell!

Shandong cuisine, one of China’s traditional Four Great Cuisines (and also part of the Eight Great Cuisines), is a self-developed cuisine with the longest history, richest techniques, and most profound culinary skills. It represents the culinary culture of the Yellow River basin.

Over 2500 years ago, the Confucian scholars in Shandong laid the foundation for China’s culinary aesthetics, emphasizing refinement, harmony, and health. In the late Northern Wei dynasty, around 533–544 AD, the book “Qi Min Yao Shu” summarized the culinary techniques in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, establishing the framework of Chinese cooking methods such as steaming, boiling, roasting, fermenting, pan-frying, stir-frying, simmering, braising, deep-frying, curing, using salt, fermented black beans, vinegar, soy sauce, wine, honey, and peppers. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, many Shandong chefs and dishes entered the imperial court, elevating the style of Shandong cuisine to be elegant, dignified, balanced, and health-oriented.

Shandong cuisine can be divided into Ji Nan-style, Jiao Dong-style, Kong Bureau Style, and other regional styles. Among them, Ji Nan cuisine is considered the most typical, featuring over 50 cooking methods such as frying, stir-frying, deep-frying, braising, steaming, boiling, smoking, marinating, etc.

Ji Nan cuisine is renowned for its refreshing aroma, tender texture, and rich and pure flavors. It excels in stock-making with a clear and distinct separation of classes and types.

Jiao Dong-style cuisine, also known as Fu Shan-style, encompasses coastal flavors from regions like Yan Tai and Qing Dao. This style specializes in seafood, showcasing exquisite marine delicacies. Dishes are often prepared with minimal seasoning to accentuate the ingredients.

Kong Bureau cuisine is characterized by intricate craftsmanship, comprehensive culinary techniques, and excels in techniques such as roasting, stir-frying, simmering, frying, and braising. The preparation process is typically complex, often requiring multiple stages of preparation and cooking processes to complete.

 

Sichuan cuisine, building upon its original foundation as one of China’s original four major culinary styles, incorporates the strengths of both northern and southern dishes, as well as the merits of official and commercial banquet cuisine. This fusion gives rise to the distinctive characteristics of Sichuan-style northern cuisine and Sichuan-flavored southern cuisine, earning it the renowned reputation of “Eating in China, Tasting in Sichuan.”

Renowned for its extensive and profound taste profile, Sichuan cuisine emphasizes color, aroma, taste, and presentation, showcasing seven main flavors: numbing, spicy, salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and aromatic. It boasts dozens of distinctive composite tastes such as numbing-spicy, sour-spicy, red oil, and white oil, offering a diverse array of flavors described as “one dish, one style; a hundred dishes, a hundred flavors.”

Drawing upon ingredients such as mountain delicacies, aquatic products, and local vegetables, Sichuan cuisine employs various cooking methods. Among the 38 traditional Sichuan cooking methods throughout history, over 30 are still popular today, including stir-frying, pan-frying, deep-frying, braising, pickling, stewing, sautéing, and marinating. Notably, Sichuan cuisine excels in techniques like shallow-frying and dry-frying.

Sichuan cuisine is divided into three schools – the Rong Style (Shanghe Gang), the Yu Style (Xiahe Gang), and the Yanbang Style (Xiaohe Gang) – each representing different regional flavors of Sichuan cuisine. Together, they constitute the highest artistic level of Sichuan cuisine development, blending characteristics from all directions of the country and adeptly absorbing and innovating.

Throughout history, Sichuan cuisine has evolved, incorporating chili peppers in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties to shape its distinctive flavor characteristics. Over the last century, it underwent innovative development, from home-cooked dishes to high-end options, featuring diverse flavors like fish-fragrant, numbing-spicy, and more, totalling 24 distinct tastes. Representative dishes such as Mapo Tofu, Kung Pao Chicken, and Chongqing Hot Pot showcase the rich regional flavors and culinary diversity that define Sichuan cuisine.

Cantonese cuisine, commonly referred to as Yue cuisine, is one of China’s Four Great Cuisines and Eight Great Cuisines. It encompasses three main branches: Guangzhou cuisine (also known as the original Cantonese cuisine), Chaozhou cuisine (Teochew cuisine), and Dongjiang cuisine (Hakka cuisine). Cantonese cuisine is renowned worldwide, often mentioned alongside the French haute cuisine.  Cantonese cities such as: Macau, Shunde, and Chaozhou, have been designated as “World Gastronomy Capitals” by the United Nations.

Originating from the Central Plains, Guangzhou cuisine spans the Pearl River Delta area. It inherited Confucius’ advocated dietary style, emphasizing refinement and meticulousness in cooking. It showcases complexity and precision in techniques, with dishes like clay pot rice and roasted suckling pig tracing back to the Zhou Dynasty’s “Eight Treasures” cuisine. Roast goose, another famous dish, has roots in the Song Dynasty’s renowned roasted duck. Dim sum, originating from the Central Plains, evolved into Cantonese dim sum after arriving in Guangdong.

Chaozhou cuisine serves as the backbone of modern Cantonese cuisine, with its culinary techniques listed as “intangible cultural heritage”. It can be further split into three branches: Namely, local Chaozhou cuisine, Hong Kong cuisine, and Macau cuisine. Renowned internationally, it’s considered by many as the “best Chinese cuisine internationally,” and has been designated three times as the sole representative of Chinese culinary culture at the World Exposition.

Dongjiang Hakka cuisine, predominantly popular in Meizhou, Huizhou, Heyuan, Shaoguan, and Shenzhen, serves as a cultural and economic bridge in the Greater Bay Area of Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macau.

 

Min cuisine is one of China’s Eight Great Cuisines, formed through the amalgamation of Central Plains Han culture and Min-Yue ethnic culture. Originating in Fuzhou, it is based on Fuzhou cuisine and later incorporates the flavors of Min Dong (Min East), Min Nan (Min South), Min Xi (Min West), Min Bei (Min North), and Putian-Xianyou, forming a diverse culinary system. Narrowly speaking, Min cuisine refers to Fuzhou cuisine, which originated in Min County, Fuzhou, Fujian. It later developed into three larger schools: Fuzhou, Minnan, and Minxi, which now collectively known as the Min cuisine.

Fuzhou cuisine is light, refreshing, and emphasizes the freshness of the broth, excelling in various land and sea delicacies.

Minnan cuisine (around Xiamen, Zhangzhou, and Quanzhou) emphasizes seasoning and is known for its fresh and fragrant flavors. It is also the backbone on which Taiwanese cuisine is based.

Minxi cuisine (around Changting and Ninghua) leans towards salty and spicy, focusing on mountain delicacies, highlighting the flavor of mountainous regions.

Due to the frequent maritime interactions of the people in Fujian, their dietary customs gradually developed a unique cuisine with open-minded characteristics. At large, Min cuisine emphasizes on freshness, harmonious, visually appealing presentation, and rich but non-greasy flavors, excelling in the use of red fermentation and sweet and sour seasonings. it also employs various cooking methods such as pan-frying, deep-frying, steaming, baking, stewing, tossing, drunken (marinating in alcohol), braising, simmering, pickling, stewing, braising, stir-frying, smoking, pan-frying, curing, scalding, among others. Among these, the most distinctive is the marinating technique, with variations like scalding, parboiling, explosive marination, and deep-fried marination.

Apart from the signature dish “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall,” Min cuisine also features dishes such as Chicken Soup-Blanched Sea Clams, Eight-Treasure Red Sturgeon Rice, Stir-Fried Fresh Bamboo Clams and many more.

Jiangsu cuisine, also known as Su cuisine, stands as one of the eight traditional Chinese Han cuisines, characterized by its rich history and diverse regional flavors. Renowned chefs throughout Jiangsu’s history have cultivated traditional delicacies that define the culinary style of Suzhou, Huai’an, and Yangzhou, each celebrated for its unique contributions to Jiangsu cuisine.

Suzhou cuisine, with its emphasis on strict ingredient selection and meticulous preparation, excels in various cooking methods such as stewing, braising, simmering, steaming, roasting, boiling, and stir-frying. It features a fresh taste with well-balanced levels of saltiness and sweetness, presenting richness without heaviness and subtleness without blandness. Known for its slightly sweet flavor, Suzhou cuisine showcases precise knife skills, delicate cooking timing, and unique presentation, particularly renowned for its expertise in soup-making. Representative dishes include Dazhu GanSi, Yangzhou Lion’s Head Meatballs, Beggar’s Chicken, and Crystal Shrimp.

Jiangsu cuisine, originating over two thousand years ago, encompasses local cuisines such as Jinling cuisine, Huaiyang cuisine, Su-Xi cuisine, and Xuhai cuisine. Jinling cuisine is known for its rich and mellow flavors with delicate presentations, while Xuzhou cuisine features bold and strong colors favoring the use of the “Five Spices.” Yangzhou cuisine is light and palatable, showcasing meticulous knife skills, while Suzhou cuisine tends to have a sweet taste, presenting a clear and elegant style.

Representative dishes across Jiangsu cuisine include Jinling Roast Duck,Red-braised Shaguang Fish, Wuxi Pork Bones, and much more.

Zhejiang, renowned as the land of plenty in the Jiangnan region, boasts a rich culinary heritage characterized by meticulous attention to ingredients, precise knife skills, mastery of heat and seasoning, and a fresh, tender taste. The cuisine is divided into four distinct branches from Hangzhou, Ningbo, Shaoxing, and Wenzhou, each with its unique charm.

Hangzhou cuisine is celebrated for its meticulous preparation and elegant presentation, excelling in techniques such as stir-frying, sautéing, braising, and deep-frying. It offers a fresh, tender, refined, and harmonious taste.

Meanwhile, chefs in Ningbo showcase mastery in seafood, employing techniques like stewing, roasting, and steaming to emphasize freshness, tenderness, and smoothness.

Shaoxing dishes are aromatic, crispy, and glutinous, with rich, flavorful soups, reflecting the simple and rustic style of ancient water towns.

Wenzhou cuisine, known as “Ou cuisine,” focuses on seafood, delivering a fresh and light taste without compromising on flavor.

Zhejiang’s abundance in seafood, freshwater fish, mountain delicacies, and agricultural products contributes to its culinary diversity. Notable catches from its vast coastline include yellow croaker, hairtail, and colorful lobsters, while Lake Tai offers freshwater fish like mandarin fish and lake crabs. The region’s fertile plains yield rice, wheat, millet, beans, fruits, and vegetables, complemented by mountain delicacies like fragrant mushrooms and black fungus. Specialties such as Jinhua ham, Longjing tea, and Shaoxing aged wine further enrich Zhejiang’s culinary landscape.

Zhejiang cuisine’s evolution from the Hemudu culture of the Neolithic era to its present-day prominence reflects a history of pioneering efforts, cultural accumulation, and culinary prosperity. Its unique blend of abundant resources, high-quality specialties, and culinary expertise has established Zhejiang cuisine as a distinguished culinary tradition in China.

Xiang cuisine, also known as Hunan cuisine, derives its name from the abundant resources of the Hunan region, earning it the reputation of being the land of abundance. With its origins dating back to the Han Dynasty, Xiang cuisine encompasses three regional flavors: the Xiangjiang River basin, Dongting Lake area, and the mountainous regions of western Hunan.

Characterized by meticulous preparation and extensive use of ingredients, Xiang cuisine offers a diverse array of flavors and dishes. Its rich color palette emphasizes a balance between oiliness and bold hues, prioritizing practicality. Notably, Xiang cuisine is renowned for its spicy and pungent flavors, achieved through the use of chili peppers as the main ingredient. Additionally, it incorporates both the salty flavors of northern cuisine and the sweetness typical of southern cuisine. Special emphasis is placed on marinating ingredients, with diverse cooking techniques such as braising, stir-frying, steaming, and smoking employed to enhance flavors.

Distinctive ingredients in Xiang cuisine include fermented black beans, tea oil, chili oil, chili paste, Sichuan peppercorns, fennel, and cinnamon. Representative dishes range from official Xiang cuisine like Zuo’an tofu and Zuo’an fish maw to local favorites such as spicy stir-fried pork, chopped pepper fish head, and Xiangxi grandmother’s dishes. Other popular dishes include Jishou sour meat, beef noodles, Hengyang fish noodles, Dong’an chicken, among many others.

Huizhou cuisine, also known as Hui cuisine, originates from the Huizhou region during the Southern Song Dynasty (around present-day Huangshan City in Anhui Province, with its administrative center in present-day Shexian County). Initially a local mountainous flavor, Huizhou cuisine gained prominence with the rise of Huizhou merchants, spreading to markets and influencing regions along the Yangtze River, including Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Fujian, Shanghai, and Hubei. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, it temporarily held the position of the foremost among the Eight Great Regional Cuisines.

includes the general term for dishes from Wannan, Wanjing, Hefei, Huainan, and Wanbei. Among them, the flavors of Wannan, represented by Huizhou local dishes, are the mainstream and origin of Huicai. It mainly uses specialty products from Huizhou as primary ingredients, incorporating traditional folk cooking techniques and absorbing the strengths of other culinary styles to create local dishes with a predominant savory taste. Huicai has a rich cultural heritage and is one of the nationally renowned Eight Great Cuisines. Its main flavor characteristics are primarily savory, emphasizing the original taste, focusing on cooking techniques, and paying attention to nutritional balance. The main cooking methods include braising, stewing, simmering, steaming, and smoking.

Huizhou cuisine has its roots in the Tang and Song dynasties, flourished during the Ming and Qing dynasties, and continued to evolve during the Republic of China era. Originally originating in Jiexi County (ancient Huizhou), it later shifted to Tunxi due to the town’s commercial prosperity, becoming a hub for renowned teas like “Qihong” and “Tunlu,” as well as local products such as Huizhou ink and She inkstones. With the flourishing commerce and developed culinary industry, Huizhou cuisine further developed in Tunxi. Jixi County in Anhui Province has been honored as the “Hometown of Chinese Huizhou Cuisine” and hosts the International Huizhou Cuisine and Food Culture Festival annually.

In those days, Huizhou cuisine, known for its broad category of braised dishes, particularly showcased the color “red” through caramelization. The demand for precise cooking skills was rigorous. The oil used for stir-frying was self-produced and pressed rapeseed oil, while a substantial amount of wood was used as fuel, ranging from charcoal-fired slow stewing to urgent burning with firewood and gradual burning with tree blocks – all representing a meticulous approach. The tradition emphasized heavy oil, intense color, and skilled cooking techniques, reflecting the unique conditions of Huizhou.

As Huizhou cuisine spread nationwide, it retained its emphasis on color (coloring skills), oil (flavoring skills), and cooking techniques (texture adjustment skills). These techniques were applied to achieve characteristics such as tenderness, hardness, tightness, or looseness. Using ham as a flavoring agent was a traditional practice. Ham production was a widespread household skill in Huizhou, and connoisseurs highly praised Huizhou ham.

Huizhou cuisine’s culinary techniques, including knife skills, cooking times, and operational techniques, have a longstanding tradition of excellence in the mastery of cooking techniques. The emphasis on skilled cooking is particularly evident in the expertise in dishes prepared by burning, stewing, smoking, and steaming. Different dishes use various fire control techniques, a crucial criterion indicating the proficiency of Huizhou chefs. It is also the fundamental means by which Huizhou cuisine achieves its unique style of being crispy, tender, fragrant, and fresh. Huizhou cuisine employs approximately 20 major categories and over 50 cooking techniques, with the most distinctive being wet frying, clear stewing, and raw smoking methods.

Hui cuisine also includes many banquet styles include Bagongshan Tofu Banquet, Bao Gong Banquet, Hongwu Banquet, among others.