Before we dive in, a quick breakdown of China, by the numbers:
Population: 1.4 billion
Area: 9.6 million square kilometres
That’s right, Chinese food as we know it is actually made up of 8 different regional cuisines, each unique in style and cooking technique. Curious how each differs from the other? Well, the Menulog team is here to give you the deal.
The most internationally popular of the Chinese cuisines, Cantonese is also known as Guangdong or Yue. If you’ve ever thrown down dim sum, barbecue pork or rice noodle rolls, then you’ve enjoyed a Cantonese meal. A unique feature of Cantonese cuisine is the use of almost all edible meats, including offal (organs), chicken feet, duck’s tongue, frog legs, snakes and snails. Only the brave!
Anhui uses a wide variety of local Chinese herbs and vegetables, including bamboo and mushroom. Cooking methods tend to be simple, with braising and stewing preferred to frying or stir frying. Potato cellophane noodles are commonly used, and egg dumplings are a popular dish.
Popular across North China, Shandong (or Lu) cuisine played an important role in imperial cuisine, and traces its roots all the way back to the 1300s, when it was highly favoured by the Ming dynasty. Described as salty, fresh, crisp and tender, Shandong cuisine incorporates a variety of cooking techniques. Seafood features prominently, using ingredients like abalone, squid, sea cucumber, prawns, and scallops.
Also known as Chuan cuisine, and originating from south-west China, Sichuan is famous for its bold, spicy flavours — think chilli, Sichuan peppercorn, peanuts, sesame paste and ginger. Popular dishes include kung pao chicken, dandan noodles and mapo tofu.
Influenced by Fujian’s proximity to the coast and mountains, this cuisine focuses on tender and soft flavours, with an emphasis on umami taste. Seafood features quite heavily in this cuisine. With Fujian cooking, there is an importance to retain the original flavour of the ingredients which include mushrooms and bamboo shoots. Cooking techniques include stewing, boiling, braising and steaming.
Jiangsu (also known as Su) is a major part of Chinese cuisine. The main characteristic of Jiangsu cuisine is the texture of the dishes, lovely and soft, but not mushy nor falling apart. Fish is super common, with ingredients generally used on a seasonal basis.
Fresh and soft flavours, ZheJiang (also known as Zhe) cuisine, is characterised by its mellow aromas, the dishes are not greasy and highlight poultry, freshwater fish and bamboo shoots.
Known for its hot and spicy flavours and rich colours, Hunan cuisine focuses on smoked meat, rice noodle soup, fish stews and steaming. As well as spice, dishes in western Hunan use many sour notes.
So there you have it, the CliffsNotes guide to Chinese cuisine! Now, go ahead and order those delicious dim sum right here on Menulog!