The Different Cuisines Of China| 5 min read

The majority of Chinese people are Han, and Han Chinese food varies within each region. These are often divided into eight main cuisinesand delve in.

The Eight Culinary Traditions of China: Sichuan, Shandong, Cantonese, Hunan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian and Anhui.

  • Sichuan cuisine: known as “Chuan cai” in Chinese – is perhaps the most popular in China and also enjoys an international reputation for being spicy and flavourful. Sichuan cuisine boasts a variety of flavours and different methods of cooking, featuring the taste of hot (“la”) sweet, sour, salty, or tongue-numbing (“ma”). If you don’t like it, say to the waiter “Shao Ma, Wo Pa La!” in Chinese (that literally means “Less Ma (Numbing spices), I am afraid of spices!”)
  • Shandong cuisine: also called “Lu cai” – is known for its excellent seafood dishes and delicious soups. Shandong dishes have a strong and mellow taste, rather than a mixed taste. Chefs are good at using onions and seasonings. The dishes are mainly clear, fresh and fatty which is perfect with Shandong’s own famous beer, Qingdao Beer.
  • Cantonese cuisine: also called “Yue cai” – steamed vegetable and seafood dishes, dim sum etc is probably the best-known outside of China. The original Chinese immigrants in the 1800’s were mainly Cantonese, so Cantonese cooking was the first Chinese regional cuisine to take hold abroad. Cantonese cooking is somewhat lighter than most regional Chinese cuisine. Vegetable and fish dishes are often steamed without the use of too much oil. Sauces made from ingredients like ginger, garlic, onion, vinegar, and sugar are complemented to enhance flavours.  Dim sum is a trademark food in Cantonese cuisine. Dim sum is a delectable palate of little snacks, which come in wicker baskets that are placed on trolleys, and pushed around by waiters or waitresses.  Stop the trolley, and choose what you’d like!
  • Hunan cuisine: also called “Xiang cai” – is characterized by its hot and sour flavour, fresh aroma, greasiness, deep colour, and the prominence of the main flavour in the dishes. Hunan’s culinary specialties are akin to those of the chilli-rich Sichuan dishes. However, chilli, peppers, garlic and an unusual sauce, called “strange-flavour” sauce on some menus, enliven many dishes, with a somewhat drier intensity than that of their Sichuan counterparts.
  • Jiangsu cuisine: also called “Huaiyang” or “Su” Cuisine – has a mixture of salty and sweet, fresh, mellow and light tastes that try to focus on the original taste and flavour of the specific dish. Ingredients are strictly selected according to the seasons, with emphasis on the matching colours and shape of each dish and emphasis on using soup to improve the flavour.
  • Zhejiang cuisine: also called “Zhe” cai – is renowned for delicately seasoned, light-tasting mix of seafood and vegetables, often served in soup. Dishes feature originally flavoured sauces, that are not too oily, and presentation so beautiful as to equal the Hangzhou landscape. Sometimes lightly sweetened or sometimes sweet and sour.  Much of the seafood is seasonal, so it’s worth coming around Zhejiang throughout different times of the year.
  • Fujian cuisine: also called “Min cai” – most dishes are centred on seafood. Fujian dishes are slightly sweet and sour, and less salty. When a dish is less salty, it tastes more delicious and fresh. Sweetness makes a dish extra tasty while sourness helps remove the seafood smell.
  • Anhui cuisine: also called “Hui cai” – most ingredients in Anhui cuisine are from the mountain area, such as pangolin, stone frog, mushroom, bayberry, tea leaves, bamboo shoot, dates etc. Generally the food here is slightly spicy and salty. Some master dishes are stewed in brown sauce with stress on heavy oil and sauce. Ham is often added to improve the taste and sugar candy added to gain freshness.

Besides the various Han cuisines, the other 55 ethnic groups each have their own. With their peculiar religions and geographical zones, their diets differ respectively with each having their own interesting cuisines to offer. 2 cuisines that you may be familiar with are:

  • Hui Cuisine: The Hui ethnic group possesses the most Muslims, which influences the cuisine greatly and makes it the representative of Chinese Muslim food. With a long history, Hui cuisine embodies the life habit – cleanliness. Their diet never involves pork, the meat of non-ruminating animals, fierce animals and their blood. But those meats that are allowed and which have been prepared under the auspices of an imam can be made into delicious dishes.
  • Tibetan Cuisine: The staple Tibetan food is barley flour (rtsam-pa), which is consumed daily. Other major foods include wheat flour, yak meat, mutton, and pork. Dairy products such as butter, milk, and cheese are also popular. The people in the higher altitudes generally consume more meat than those of the lower regions, where a variety of vegetables is available. Rice is generally restricted in consumption to the well-to-do families, southern border farmers, and monks.

There are heaps of cuisines and dishes to choose from while visiting China, and there is no way you could leave having not tried something you’ve enjoyed.  So pick up some sticks and delve in.

Rachel Yoon

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