The Geography of Chinese Cuisine – a trip around China!
Written by Juliette Pitt
If you have been to China, then you’ll know that the Chinese cuisine does not just have one flavor.
In fact, food in the south tends to be sweet, salty in the north, sour in the east and spicy in the west.
Let’s dive in more and take a trip around China!
The Eight Major Styles
Although China is home to 56 ethnicities, the food of the dominant Han culture is what has come to be known as Chinese food abroad.
Traditional Chinese cooking can be divided into eight major styles. These styles are distinct from one another due to certain factors that influenced their development such as climate, geography, history, and lifestyle.
Lǔ cuisine (Lǔ cài: 鲁菜) developed alongside the history and culture of Shangdong province. As early as the Xia Dynasty (c. 2000BC) people were using salt to flavor their food in this region. Using plenty of seafood, such as prawns, shellfish and abalone the Lǔ cuisine is known for being mild and fresh. More everyday foods are mainly flour based so if you are a fan of noodles, breads, dumplings, steamed buns, then this cuisine is for you!
Chuān cuisine (chuāncài: 川菜) is China’s most famous cooking styles. Chilli peppers, peppercorns, and Sichuan peppers are liberally used to flavor dishes and create such tastes as numbing and spicy. It has over 300 dishes such as spicy diced chicken and kung pao chicken. If you are a fan of spice, then be sure to travel to Chengdu!
Yuè cuisine (yuècài: 粤菜) originated in the southern province and has since spread to Hong Kong and rest of the world. This cuisine does feature exciting and unusual delicacies such as snake, rat, and even raw monkey’s brain. For the less adventurous, Yuè cuisine is also the home of dim sum!
Emerging in the lower regions of the Yangtze river in an area now known as Jiang su province, Sū cuisine (sùcái: 素材) is well regarded for its rich but not greasy flavors and an emphasis on seasonal produce. The food is generally considered to be fresh and tasty. One of the cuisines most simple and widespread dishes is Yangzhou fried rice which is made by frying rice with a variety of ingredients, including egg, ham, chicken, peas and sweetcorn.
Mǐn cuisine (mǐncài: 闽菜) is the culinary tradition of Fujian province. As a coastal province, this cuisine features a wide range of sea food, including hundreds of types of fishes, shellfish, and turtles. This style attaches special importance to the brewing of several kinds of soup ranging from thin seafood soups to the thicker Fujian. Cutting and slicing techniques are highly valued in this province and chefs from the region are said to be able to cut meat and vegetables into strips as fine as hair and slices as thin as paper.
Anhui cuisine (huī cài: 徽菜)is mostly derived from the native cooking styles of the area that surrounds the Yellow Mountain. Similar to Jiang su cuisine but with less emphasis on seafood (being a landlocked province) the cuisine is known for using fresh bamboo, which is eaten primarily for its texture rather than flavour, and mushroom crops.
Zhè cusines (zhè cài: 浙菜) originated in the eastern coastal province of Zhe Jiang. They are characterised by their delicate flavors and mellow aromas. Dragon Well prawns are one of the regions’ more representative dishes which uses a combination of aromatic Dragon Well tea leaves.
Hunan is home to Xiāng cuisine (xiāngcài: 湘菜) with its strong aromatic oils and liberal use of spices. Whilst Sichuanese food is often considered to be the centre of spicy dishes, Xiang cuisine is famous for being even spicier! A popular dish is steamed fish head with diced hot pepper – the head of the dish is considered to contain the tenderest, most flavorsome meat.
The geography of Chinese cuisines is vast and complex! Do you like Chinese food?
If so, comment down below what is your favorite food region. We love hearing from you, so please feel free to share with us your experiences of eating Chinese food!