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► CHINESE CUISINE - A GUIDE

China is a food lovers paradise and one thing which often surprises the China traveller is the sheer variety of the various regional styles of cooking which makes the options available in your home country look quite poor.

Regardless of your own culinary preferences there will be one area of Chinese cuisine or at least a good many dishes which will be to your taste - the trick is knowing which ones to try and we hope the guide below will inspire your taste buds!
 
Most China tours cover quite a variety of destinations across the provinces from north to south so you are likely to experience at least some of the different cuisines during your holiday. Food is one of the highlights of any trip to China and to make the most out of the experience it helps to know a little bit about the different areas of cuisine that you may come across.

   
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The 8 main schools of Chinese cuisine

There are 8 main schools of Chinese cuisine from which most others are derived. These are Cantonese, Sichuan, Hunan, Fujian, Jiangsu, Shandong, Zhejiang and Anhui Cuisine. The other cuisines we will take a look at below are Beijing, Xinjiang Muslim, Shanghai, North Eastern (Dong Bei) and Yunnan.
 
Contributed by Phil Stanley.

 

  ► THE EIGHT MAJOR SCHOOLS OF CHINESE CUISINE
 
chinese cuisine cantonese
 

► CANTONESE CUISINE

The southern province of Guangdong or Canton as it was previously known is home to this food. Cantonese is by far the best known Chinese style outside of China and it, and westernised versions of it, are what most westerners are thinking of when they say “Chinese food”. It is also very popular all over China and top Cantonese chefs are sought out all over the middle Kingdom. Popular dishes include Dim Sum.

Representative dishes include:

    * Chinese steamed eggs (蒸水蛋)
    * Congee with century egg (皮蛋粥)
    * Cantonese fried rice (炒饭)
    * Sweet and sour pork (咕噜肉)
    * Steamed spare ribs fermented black beans & chilli pepper (豉椒排骨)
    * Stir-fried vegetables with meat (青菜炒肉片)
    * Steamed ground pork and salted duck egg meatballs (咸蛋蒸肉饼)
    * Blanched vegetables with oyster sauce (油菜)

 
chinese cuisine sichuan
 
 

► SICHUAN CUISINE

This cuisine is very popular all over China and comes from the western province of the same name. It is famous for it’s strong and bold flavours based around the numbing “ma” flavour of Sichuan peppercorns and the hot, spicy “la” of chillies. It is also famed for it’s preserved vegetables and pickles.

There are over 20 cooking techniques implemented in Sichuan cooking including stir frying and steaming. Sichuan food has more beef dishes than in any other style of Chinese cooking and is often cooked until it is almost like a dry beef jerky. It’s most famous dish is arguably Mapo Tofu.

Representative dishes include:

    * Twice Cooked Pork
    * Mapo dofu
    * Sichuan hotpot
    * Chongqing Spicy Deep-Fried Chicken
    * Shuizhu, or literally "Water cooked", dishes
    * Dan dan noodles and Bon bon chicken

 
chinese cuisine hunan
 

► HUNAN CUISINE

Hunan food is also famed for its heat and spiciness as well as its deep colour and it’s fresh content. Hunan province is one of the more fertile parts of China and as such produces a high amount of different ingredients.

In comparison to the well known Sichuan cuisine, Hunan food has a higher spiciness from its chilli content as well as being oilier and a less complicated set of flavours. Hunan food also uses many cured and smoked ingredients compared to the preserved vegetables and pickles of Sichuan food. Probably the most well known dish in China is Chairman Mao’s Red braised pork (Mao Shi Hong Shao Rou), known as such due to it being the chairman’s favourite dish, cooked by his Hunanese chef’s.

Representative dishes include:

    * Dongan chicken
    * Mao's braised pork
    * Beer duck
    * Orange beef
    * Hot and peppery chicken
    * Spare ribs steamed in bamboo
    * Sizzling rice soup
    * Pumpkin cake

 
chinese cuisine fujian
 

► FUJIAN CUISINE

Again from the province of the same name, Fujian cuisine is light, soft and tender but certainly not flavourless. It uses the flavours of its ingredients rather than covering them as many Chinese styles do. Its also famous for it’s “drunken” dishes that are marinated in alcohol.

Representative dishes include:

 * banmien bianruo: (noodles with dumplings).
 * Filled fish balls (包心魚丸): Fish balls filled with meat
 * Qīngjiāo ròusī (青椒肉絲): Green pepper and pork strips
 * Zuipaigu (醉排骨): Wine marinade pork ribs
 * Dongbi longzhu (東壁龍珠): Meat filled longan fruit
 * Wucai xiasong(五彩蝦松): Stir-fried diced shrimp and vegetables

 
chinese cuisine jiangsu
 

► JIANGSU CUISINE

This Eastern province of China gives its name to this style of cooking with Jiangsu cuisine being more of a combination of several styles including Nanjing cuisine which has a lot of river fish and shrimps as well as duck; Suzhou cuisine which has a stronger yet sweeter flavour than that of Nanjing and Wuxi cuisine which is famous for its congee. Jiangsu food only uses the correct seasonal vegetables and rates the colour and shape of each dish as important factors in the overall eating experience as well as using soups and stocks to enhance the flavour.

Jiangsu cuisine actually consists of several styles, including:

* Nanjing cuisine: its dishes emphasise an even taste and matching colour, with excellent dishes incorporating river fish/shrimps and duck.
* Suzhou cuisine: emphasis on the selection of material, stronger taste than Nanjing cuisine, and with a tendency to be sweeter than the other varieties of the cuisine.
* Wuxi cuisine: famed for the numerous types of congee.

 
chinese cuisine shandong
 

► SHANDONG CUISINE

This coastal province in the East gives it’s name to this particular style of Chinese food. In fact Shandong cuisine is split into 2 major styles. Firstly “Jiaodong” style covers the cooking of seafood, something there is an abundance of in this part of China. The second style is Jinan, the name of the capital city of the province. Jinan style is famed for it’s use of soup in dishes.

Shandong cuisine is the style that has had the most influence on Chinese cuisine with most Chinese styles branching out from not least the modern styles of Beijing, Tianjin and Dongbei (north east). Most home cooked meals in Northern China use techniques that derive from the Shandong techniques.

Most Chinese will tell you that Shandong’s greatest contribution to Chinese food is the brewing of complex flavoured vinegars. These vinegars are not only used in many of the dishes and as a condiment but are also enjoyed on their own by many a connoisseur!

 
zhejiang chinese cuisine
 

► ZHEJIANG CUISINE

Zhejiang cuisine comes from the province of the same name that surrounds Shanghai. It is less greasy and has a soft, mellow fragrant flavour. Depending on the school of thought there are 3 or 4 styles that represent Zhejiang cuisine. Hangzhou style is the most famous of the styles. Bamboo shoots are include in roughly half of all Hangzhou style dishes which include Beggar’s Chicken and Hangzhou’s famous West Lake fish in Vinegar. The Shaoxing style is focused on poultry and freshwater fish and the Ningbo style on seafood. The fourth style that is sometimes included is that of Wenzhou which focuses on seafood, poultry and livestock.

 
chinese cuisine anhui
 

► ANHUI CUISINE

The final of the 8 main schools of Chinese cuisine is the Anhui style which derives from the area in and around the Yellow Mountain. It shares characteristics with Jiangsu cuisine and uses a lot of wild herbs and animals from the land and the water such as frogs and turtles. There isn’t so much frying in the 3 main styles of Anhui cuisine, which are Yangtze river, Huai river and southern Anhui style. Anhui has large areas of uncultivated forests and fields meaning it has plenty of the necessary ingredients.

Representative dishes include:

* Stewed soft shell turtle with ham
* Steamed stone frog
* Bamboo shoots cooked with sausage and dried mushroom
* Li Hongzhang Hodge-Podge

 

  ► OTHER POPULAR STYLES OF CHINESE CUISINE
 
chinese cuisine beijing
 

► BEIJING CUISINE

With Beijing being the capital of China for such a long time, it’s cuisine has had all other Chinese cuisines influencing it for centuries. It’s style can be defined though through snacks though with most Beijing dishes having a more street food feel to them, being sold by small shop vendors. Of course the most famous dish to come from the capital is Peking duck, a dish enjoyed worldwide.

There is less of an emphasis on rice as an accompaniment than in most of the rest of China due to very little of it being cultivated in this region with the locals generally preferring different styles of bread. There is also a concentration on using dark soy and sesame pastes and fried green onions. Fermented soybean paste is commonly used to flavour dishes and is served as a condiment with a variety of dishes.

 
chinese cuisine muslim
 

► MUSLIM CUISINE

All over major Chinese cities you will find small(and larger nowadays) Islamic restaurants decorated in the Muslim style. These restaurants are usually among the cheapest to be found and have the type of food that, arguably, we are most accustomed to as westerners. It shares very little in common with the rest of China’s food and is more reminiscent of Turkish kebab shops. Having said this it also has a strong tradition of soup based noodles called Lamian. They also have noodle dishes that are really not that different to pasta with tomato sauce that we might eat in the West. They will often have open barbecue’s outside delivering all manner of meat on sticks with, of course, the exception of pork. These are known as Chuanr and can be found all over China, especially in Beijing.

 
chinese cuisine shanghai
 

► SHANGHAI CUISINE

Although it doesn’t strictly have a style of it’s own, it does refine the styles of Jiangsu and Zhejiang that surround it. Shanghai style food is centred around cooking with the use of alcohol such as in the “drunken” styles mentioned earlier. Sugar is also commonly used in Shanghai cooking with people from Shanghai also known to dine in delicate portions and that does mean servings tend to be smaller than in the other Chinese styles. This is out of the ordinary for Chinese people who generally prefer what we might know in the West as “American” sized portions, opening the Shanghaiese up to some mocking from their fellow countrymen.

 
chinese cuisine dong bei
 

► DONG BEI CUISINE

Dong Bei or North Eastern cuisine comes from the food of the last ruling dynasty in China, the Manchu. Dishes tend to be much more hearty and filling than in most of the country due to the harsh winters. Pickled vegetables are very common due to the conditions. Dongbei, as with Beijing, doesn’t have rice as a main staple, instead it has wheat which has led to people in this part of China to be more inclined to eat noodles and steamed bread known as “baozi”. Congee and dumplings are also common dishes and portions are big!

 
chinese cuisine yunnan
 

► YUNNAN CUISINE

Yunnan is the South Western province of China that borders onto both Tibet and the southern border of China. It is the province where most of the ethnic minorities in China come from and this has given the food there it’s own unique edge as local cuisines have mixed with the majority Han Chinese styles. As there are so many different ethnic minorities it’s hard to define the style exactly but being one of the most fertile provinces in the country, use of fresh ingredients are the norm. Many styles of mushroom and wild flowers are also added to the food. Perhaps Yunnan’s most famous dish and the dish that Yunnan people consider to be their dish is called “Cross the bridge” noodles or Guoqiao mixian. Not only is it a delicious soup based noodle dish that you can add your own selection of thin cut meats, vegetables and spices but it also, as so many things in China, comes with a wonderfully mystical legend of why it is called this that really is best told to you by a local if you take a China tour there. They are also one of the few areas to produce their own cheese.