With the history of more than 5000 years, China boasts profound culture and cuisine is an important aspect of Chinese culture. Chinese cuisine is characterized by its special seasoning, featured cooking methods, diversified cooking material and distinctive flavor, which makes it highly-favorable among gourmet domestic and abroad. Chinese cuisine has a number of different styles, which makes the Eight Culinary Traditions of China, Guangdong (Cantonese) cuisine, Shandong cuisine, Jiangsu cuisine and Sichuan cuisine, Fujian cuisine, Hunan cuisine, Anhui cuisine and Zhejiang cuisine, while perhaps the first four are the best known and most influential. Cuisines of different styles have their own features, both in cooking methods and seasonings.
Sichuan cuisine is a style of Chinese cuisine originated in the Sichuan Province of southwestern China. Sichuan cuisine is prepared with garlic and chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorn, zhitianjiao, peanuts, sesame paste and ginger, which offers it bold flavors, particularly pungent and spicy. Sichuan cuisine is highly favored by people home and abroad due to the hotness, sourness and numbness it produces. The most famous dish of Sichuan cuisine is Hotpot.
Anhui cuisine, one of the Eight Culinary Traditions of China, is derived from the native cooking styles of the Huangshan Mountain region in China, which is similar to Jiangsu cuisine. Anhui cuisine emphasizes less on seafood but more on a wide variety of local herbs and vegetables. Due to its unbeatable geographical advantage, Anhui province is particularly endowed with fresh bamboo and mushroom crops, which makes the main raw material in the dishes.
Shandong Cuisine, commonly known as Lu cuisine, plays an important role in imperial cuisine and is widely spread in North China, while it isn’t so popular in South China. Shandong Cuisine is characterized by a variety of cooking techniques. For tasting Shandong cuisine, these must-haves like braised abalone, braised trepang, sweet and sour carp, Jiuzhuan Dachang and Dezhou Chicken should never be missed!
Fujian cuisine, also known as Min Cuisine, is one of the most famous Eight Cuisines in China. For the cooking techniques, slicing is the mostly utilized to enhance the flavor, aroma and texture of seafood and other foods. For the cooking materials, edible mushrooms and bamboo shoots are particularly utilized to prepare the woodland delicacies. Fujian cuisine is often served in a broth or soup, which is prepared in the cooking techniques of braising, stewing, steaming and boiling.
Su Cuisine (Jiangsu, Huaiyang Cuisine)
Jiangsu cuisine, also known as Su Cuisine, is one of the major components of Chinese cuisine, which consists of the styles of Yangzhou, Nanjing, Suzhou and Zhenjiang dishes. Jiangsu cuisine is characterized by its distinctive style, special taste and featured cooking techniques, which makes it quite popular among the world-wide gourmets. For tasting the authentic Jiangsu cuisine, dishes like Jinling salted dried duck, crystal meat, clear crab shell meatballs, Yangzhou steamed Jerky strips and triple combo duck are all what you can not miss!
Cantonese Cuisine, also known as Yue cuisine, is another major component for Chinese eight cuisines, which enjoys a long history and a good reputation both home and abroad. The most typical Cantonese dish is the dim sum, bite-sized small hearty dish, which is prepared with the cooking methods of frying, steaming, stewing and baking. Other cantonese dishes like rice rolls, lotus leaf rice, turnip cakes, buns, shui jiao-style dumplings, stir-fried green vegetables, congee porridge and soups are also quite popular among gourmets.
Hunan cuisine, also known as Xiang cuisine, is featured with hot spicy flavor, fresh aroma and deep color, which makes itself quite favorable among gourmets. Xiang cuisine is commonly prepared with traditional cooking methods like stewing, frying, pot-roasting, braising, and smoking. Due to the unbeatable geographical advantages, Hunan is blessed with diversified agricultural resources, which makes the ingredients for the dishes varied.
Zhejiang cuisine, commonly known as Zhe cuisine, is of the Eight Culinary Traditions of China, which is characterized by its non-greasy taste, soft flavor and mellow fragrance. Zhejiang cuisine is mainly composed of four styles, namely Hangzhou style, Shaoxing style, Ningbo style and Shanghai style, each of which has its own ingredients. Hangzhou style is rich in bamboo shoots, Shaoxing style, freshwater fish, Ningbo style, seafood, and Shanghai style, dimsum.
Chinese cuisine is widely seen as representing one of the richest and most diverse culinary heritages in the world. It originated in different regions of China and has been introduced to other parts of the world- from Southeast Asia to North America and Western Europe.
A meal in Chinese culture is typically seen as consisting of two general components: (1) a carbohydrate source or starch, known as 主食 in the Chinese language (Pinyin: zhǔshí; lit. “main food”, staple)- typically rice, noodles, or mantou (steamed buns), and (2) accompanying dishes of vegetables, fish, meat, or other items, known as 菜 (Pinyin: cài; lit. “vegetable”) in the Chinese language. (This cultural conceptualization is in some ways in contrast to Western meals where meat or animal protein is often considered the main dish.)
As is well known throughout the world, rice is a critical part of much of Chinese cuisine. However, in many parts of China, particularly North China, wheat-based products including noodles and steamed buns (饅頭) predominate, in contrast to South China where rice is dominant. Despite the importance of rice in Chinese cuisine, at extremely formal occasions, it is sometimes the case that no rice at all will be served; in such a case, rice would only be provided when no other dishes remained, or as a token dish at the end of the meal. Soup is usually served at the end of a meal to satiate one’s appetite. Owing to western influences, serving soup in the beginning of a meal is also quite normal in modern times.
Chopsticks are the primary eating utensil in Chinese culture for solid foods, while soups and other liquids are enjoyed1 with a wide, flat-bottomed spoon (traditionally made of ceramic). It is reported that wooden chopsticks are losing their dominance due to recent logging shortfalls in China and East Asia; many Chinese eating establishments are considering a switch to a more environmentally sustainable eating utensil, such as plastic or bamboo chopsticks. More expensive materials used in the past included ivory and silver. On the other hand, disposable chopsticks made of wood/bamboo have all but replaced reusable ones in small restaurants. In most dishes in Chinese cuisine, food is prepared in smaller pieces (e.g. vegetable, meat, doufu), ready for direct picking up and eating. Traditionally, Chinese culture considered using knives and forks at the table “barbaric” due to fact that these implements are regarded as weapons. Fish are usually cooked and served whole, with diners directly pulling pieces from the fish with chopsticks to eat, unlike in some other cuisines where they are first filleted. This is because it is desired for fish to be served as fresh as possible. A common Chinese saying “including head and tail” refers to the wholeness and completion of a certain task or, in this case, the display of food.
In a Chinese meal, each individual diner is given their own bowl of rice while the accompanying dishes are served in communal plates (or bowls) which are shared by everyone sitting at the table, a communal service known as “family style” in Western nations. In the Chinese meal, each diner picks food out of the communal plates on a bite-by-bite basis with their chopsticks. This is in contrast to western meals where it is customary to dole out individual servings of the dishes at the beginning of the meal. Many non-Chinese are uncomfortable with allowing a person’s individual utensils (which might have traces of saliva) to touch the communal plates; for this hygienic reason, additional serving spoons or chopsticks (公筷, lit. common/public/shared chopsticks) may be made available. The food selected is often eaten together with a mouthful of rice.
Vegetarianism is not uncommon or unusual in China, though, as is the case in the West, is still only practiced by a relatively small proportion of the population. The Chinese vegetarian does not eat a lot of tofu, unlike the stereotypical impression in the West. Most Chinese vegetarians are Buddhists. Non-Chinese eating Chinese cuisine will note that a large number of vegetable dishes may actually contain meat, as meat chunks or bits have been traditionally used to flavor dishes. Chinese Buddhist cuisine has many true vegetarian dishes (no meat at all).
For much of China’s history, human manure has been used as fertilizer due to the large human population and the relative scarcity of farm animals in China. For this reason, raw food (especially raw vegetables such as salad) has not been part of the traditional Chinese diet.
Desserts as such are less typical in Chinese culture than in the West. Chinese meals do not typically end with a dessert or dessert course as is common in Western cuisine. Instead, sweet foods are often introduced during the course of the meal with no firm distinction made. For instance, the basi fruit dishes (sizzling sugar syrup coated fruits such as banana or apple) are eaten alongside other savory dishes that would be considered main course items in the West. However, many sweet foods and dessert snacks do exist in Chinese cuisine. Many are fried, and several incorporate red bean paste (dousha). The matuan and the doushabao is filled with dousha; it is often eaten for breakfast. Some steamed bun items are filled with dousha; some of these are in the shape of peaches, an important Chinese cultural symbol. Another dessert is Babao Fan (八寶飯) or “Eight Treasure Rice Pudding”.
If dessert is served at the end of the meal, by far the most typical choice is fresh fruit, such as sliced oranges. The second most popular choice is a type of sweet soup, typically made with red beans and sugar. This soup is served warm.
In Chinese culture, cold beverages are believed to be harmful to digestion of hot food, so items like ice-cold water or soft drinks are traditionally not served at meal-time. Besides soup, if any other beverages are served, they would most likely be hot tea or hot water. Tea is believed to help in the digestion of greasy foods.
Due to the large and varied characteristics of China itself, a multitude of different regional and other (e.g. religious) styles can be identified in the larger complex of Chinese cuisine:
Regions of Mainland China
Cuisine name derives from province or region except where indicated
Northwestern Chinese cuisine
Northeastern Chinese cuisine
Cantonese cuisine (Guangdong province)
Chiuchow cuisine (Chaozhou region, Guangdong)
Hakka cuisine (Hakka ethnic group)
Hong Kong cuisine
Nanyang Chinese cuisine (cuisine of the Nanyang region or Southeast Asia Chinese diaspora)
Historical Chinese cuisine
Chinese Islamic cuisine
Chinese Buddhist cuisine
A Chinese meal in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, with bowls of white rice, shrimp, eggplant, fermented tofu, vegetable stir-fries, vegetarian duck, and a central dish with meat and bamboo. There are 6 bowls of rice, one for each person.
Jiaozi (filled dumplings, guotie)
Potsticker (shallow fried jiaozi)
Kung Pao chicken
Fried pancakes (including green onion pancakes)
Zongzi (rice balls, wrapped in leaves)
Peking Duck – the trademark dish of Beijing
Baozi (filled steamed buns)
Dim sum – originated in Guangzhou (Canton) and Hong Kong