There are many styles of cooking in China, but Chinese chefs have identified eight culinary traditions as the best.These have set the course of how Chinese cook food, and are looked to as models. Each of these schools has a distinct style and different strengths.
The Features of the Eight Great Cuisines of China
Shandong Cuisine: fresh and salty with a lot of seafood dishes.
Sichuan and Hunan cuisines: hot spice.
Guangdong (Cantonese), Zhejiang, Jiangsu cuisines: great seafood, and generally sweet and light flavours.
Anhui and Fujian cuisines: inclusion of wild foods from their mountains.
1. Guangdong/Cantonese Cuisine
Making a great variety of soup is a feature of Cantonese cuisine.
Chinese: 粤菜 Yuècài
Sweeter, favouring braising and stewing, adding various mild sauces
Cantonese food is the most popular style internationally. Guangdong Province and Hong Kong are noted for fine seafood dishes and rice dishes.
2. Sichuan Cuisine
Chinese: 川菜 Chuāncài
Spicy and bold, often mouth-numbing, using lots of chili, garlic, ginger, and peanuts
Sichuan Province produced the most widely served cuisine in China. Their dishes are famous for their hot-spicy taste and the numbing flavour of Sichuan peppercorn that is rare in other regional cuisines. It is the food of Chengdu and Chongqing (which used to be part of Sichuan).
3. Jiangsu Cuisine
Su cuisine features sweet foods. Sweet and sour spare ribs is a famous dish from Jiangsu.
Chinese: 苏菜 Sūcài
Fresh, moderately salty and sweet, precise cooking techniques, favouring seafood, soups and artistic, colourful presentation
Jiangsu Province and China's biggest city, Shanghai, have a very refined gourmet cuisine that is often served at government banquets.
4. Zhejiang Cuisine
Chinese: 浙菜 Zhècài
Mellow, using fresh seafood, freshwater fish, and bamboo shoots, and a wide variety of cooking methods.
Zhejiang Province is the province south of Jiangsu, and it borders on Shanghai too, so their style is similar to theirs, but it is less elaborately prepared. They focus more on serving fresh food.
5. Fujian/Min Cuisine
Chinese: 闽菜 Mǐncài
Lighter, with a mild sweet and sour taste, using ingredients from the sea and the mountains
Fujian Province is known for great seafood and soups and the precise use of scintillating but not tongue numbing spices. Adding much wild exotic delicacies from the sea and mountains makes their dishes have unusual flavours. It is like a culinary wild adventure.
6. Hunan Cuisine
People in the Hunan region can't seem to live without chilies; no dish is complete without chilies in Hunan cuisine.
Chinese: 湘菜 Xiāngcài
Quite spicy, with a hot and sour taste, favouring sautéing, stir-frying, steaming and smoking
If you like Sichuan food, you'll probably like Hunan food too since it is even hotter. It is tastier and more delicious because they don't use peppercorn that numbs the mouth.
7. Anhui Cuisine
Chinese: 徽菜 Huīcài
Uses many wild plants and animals as ingredients, favouring stewing and more oil
Anhui cuisine is even wilder than Fujian cuisine. It is inland, and big mountains such as the Yellow Mountains are the source of lots of different wild foods and herbs. It is basically a hearty mountain peasant food. Some of the best dishes incorporate wild food for an unusual taste. Some dishes are sweet from added sugar.
8. Shandong Cuisine
Chinese: 鲁菜 Lǔcài
Salty and crispy, favouring braising and seafood
Shandong was one of the first civilised areas, and it set the pattern for northern styles of cooking. With a long coast, seafood is its forte.