|Chinese Regional Cuisine
Chinese Cooking Styles and Basic Techniques
|China is a very large country and has
many diverse climates such as: frozen tundra to the
north, deserts to the centre and west, high plateaus
to the south, and tropical weather to the extreme southeast.
Cooking styles vary because of what the climate is like,
what natural resources are available, and what the people
like to eat. Chinese cuisine also likes to use opposites,
ying and yang. Therefore combinations like hot and cold,
sweet and sour, crisp and fatty - are to be found together
Whilst China is very famous for specific dishes such
as Peking Duck (Beijing Duck), Sichuan Hotpot and Dim
Sum; this is not the normal way restaurants or patrons
approach cooking a meal. Normally diners would order
each main ingredient of each course and specify which
style they want it cooking in. Therefore many dishes
do not have any particular formal name. This is of course
echoed in home cookery.
In China consider it normal for a restaurant to cook
in a specific regional way, and then in a particular
style of that region. The various meats or fish are
selected and cooked in that style for customers - the
restaurant gaining fame by how popular it is. This explains
why Chinese diners will always choose the busiest restaurant.
Of all the regional style Cantonese is undoubtedly the
most widely known throughout the world at large. Other
styles may be well known in a location or city, but
remember these will be modified to suit the palate and
eating dispositions of you - the local population. They
are not necessarily related to the true Chinese dish
as cooked in China.
The main styles are:
• Yue (Cantonese - Hong
Kong and Guangdong)
• Chuan (Sichuan)
• Xi'an (Shaanxi)
• Xiang (Hunan)
• Lu (Shandong)
• Su (Jiangsu, Huaiyang cuisine)
• Min (Fujian)
• Ze (Zejiang)
• Hui (Anhui)
• Hui Qingzhen (Hui ethnic minority cuisine)
• Miao (Miao ethnic Cuisine)
• Zhuang (Zhuang ethnic Cuisine)
Cantonese Style (Yue)
Cantonese cuisine comes from Canton, a French mispronunciation
of Guangdong (Province). It includes greater Guangdong
and Guangxi Provinces, Hong Kong, and Northern Vietnam.
In UK the Chef's and cuisine are invariably from either:
Hong Kong, Foshan, or Toisan (Tai Shan City or Toicern).
The emphasis is placed upon the harmony of subtle tastes
in perfect combination. Cantonese cooking is very simple
to replicate, and extremely difficult to excel at. The
techniques of wok steaming or frying are used almost
exclusively in Cantonese cookery, and to differing degrees
in the rest of China.
Cantonese cooking is all about matching and melding
delicate flavours to produce intriguing dishes that
stimulate the palate. Most are cooked within minutes,
but there are exceptions. If you have ever had the pleasure
to watch Cantonese Chef Martin Yan on television, then
his catch phrase should tell you all you need to know,
"Quick and easy".
The basic ingredients for all mainstream cooking (Obviously
not sweet pastry's) are: Wok for stir fry, or wok and
spacer + water and lid for steaming. Fish is normally
steamed, as are dishes such as Broccoli and garlic (Delicious!).
Virtually all other meats are stir-fry in a little hot oil to which is added in order of importance: ginger, garlic, chicken bouillon, coriander leaves, soy sauce, spring onions, celery, and water as required. Rice is served separately,
whilst noodles will form part of the dish. Of other ingredients, eggs are very common, as is sugar - and not salt (rarely used). Because of the delicate mix of ingredients Cantonese Chef's will sometimes use a hint of ground white pepper
to enhance a certain flavour within the dish. Cantonese chef's in China do not use monosodium glutamate whatsoever.
Each city and town has it's own specialties, whilst
other dishes such as Spare
Ribs are known the world over. However, locals in
China always cook them in a very different way: Spare
Ribs in China.
Perhaps of special note are pastries from Guangzhou,
seafood from Hong Kong, and both sticky rice and steamed
chicken from Toisan (Tai Shan City).
Locally counties such as Foshan, Shunde cuisine is regarded
as being one of the very best in the whole of China;
whilst neighbouring Foshan, Nanhai county is famous
We will finish this section with a brief note about
pronunciation, for alone out of China, Cantonese people
speak the only other official language of China, which
of course is Cantonese. All of mainland China now uses
Chinese Simplified characters, whilst Hong Kong uses
Traditional Chinese characters which are more complicated,
and a lot more specific.
Your troubles begin when you try to write the dishes
in English, for typically either Mandarin pronunciation
is used by all none Cantonese speakers, or the Hong
Kong version is used because mainland Cantonese has
never, ever, been written down. This gives rise to some
very strange anglicised spellings that are peculiar
to the Hong Kong dialect only. Complicate this by the
fact that most Cantonese can still read Traditional
Chinese characters, and multiply it by the Mainland
accents of Guangzhou and Toisan, and the dishes can
end up having many and various spelling. We use mainland
Cantonese spellings, and reference Hong Kong spellings
where appropriate. This is why menus are usually numbered!
For further information please see Wikipedia:
Although all of the above information comes from ourselves
- so contact us if you prefer (We live here!)..
Sichuan Style is very hot and as hot as it gets anywhere
in the world, augmented by the squat and square sichuan
chilli pepper, which are generally regarded as being
one of the hottest chilli on the planet. They
are similar to the Habanero or Scotch Bonnet chilli,
but are in fact a derivation of Caribbean Red Hot -
registering a massive 300,000 - 475,000 on the Scoville
Scale. They are virtually always used dried and ground
in massive quantities, which gives Sichuan dishes a
peculiar dry taste. Dishes will also have extra fresh
red chilli's within for presentation, which are already
As well as chilli's, standard ingredients include an
awful lot of garlic, and the unique flavour of the Sichuan
peppercorn (花椒). Peanuts, sesame paste and ginger are
also prominent ingredients of this style of cooking.
Sichuan cuisine is noted for several dishes of with
Sichuan Hotpot is the most famous. It can be found all
over this region, but originates from Chengdu City of
Giant Panda fame.
Chengdu Hotpot is a warming winter dish which features
offal, especially intestines and tripe. These are cooked
with winter vegetables and a lot of chilli, then presented
to table with a central burner.
Fish Hotpot is another classic Sichuan dish that uses
very large, steamed blue carp that is added to a table
vat containing water, fish sauce, many whole cloves
of garlic, fresh coriander leaves, and a melody of herbs
and spices. Tons of ground chilli and chopped fresh
chilli's are of course the first ingredients.
For more information please see Wikipedia:
Xi'an Style (Shaanxi
Xi'an cookery is a blend of other styles that represents
central, northern and western Chinese cuisine. It is
usually only known within China, but it truly a match
for any international cuisine.
Once the Capital City of China, and near the birthplace
of the Chinese nation over 2, 000 years ago, Xi'an is
usually renowned for the Terracotta Warriors. However,
the city is very cosmopolitan in a Chinese sense, and
the melting pot between the Han east of China, the Uyghur
West of China (Arabic), and the hotter cooking of the
direct south (Sichuan).
Whilst Xi'an style uses a liberal amount of chilli,
it has a more Cantonese approach, concentrating more
on the blending of flavours rather than simply making
dishes too hot to eat.
Xi'an dishes often feature: Lamb, all other meats (In
order: lamb, pig, donkey, beef, chicken, fish), garlic,
ginger, chilli, onion, and fresh coriander. Arabian
spices are also common, as is savoury bread that is
semi-levened and sold as small round buns about the
size of a doughnut, but white.
Many dishes have an almost tandoori or kebab flavour,
but are accompanied by a sensible amounts of green or
red chilli. Noodles are the staple carbohydrate, although
rice is also served. Most noodles are made by hand from
wheat flour. Dishes also tend to be accompanied by quite
a thick gravy, and this cuisine is probably most like
a spicy version of UK cookery.
For cooking styles, then think of many influences. The
Xi'an burger is one of my favourites, with the lamb
bun tasting exactly like a doner kebab. I actually prefer
the donkey kebab, which is red meat, and delicious.
Expect these to be served on a lightly toasted bun which
is then cut in half and filled with meat and a little
gravy. To this add some fresh or chilli relish of hot
proportion, and freshly chopped coriander leaves.
Xi'an is famous for their hotpot, which is completely
different from others, being served in an almost Thai
way, using a small wax powered base atop which sites
a small pot of your chosen main course. The meat and
combination of natural gravy is fabulous.
The combination of unusual spices and thick soups or
gravy, intertwine with delicious meat and vegetables
+ various assortments of semi-levened breads is remarkable.
Add the hand made noodles and this is a true culinary
journey of delight.
The above information comes from China Expats own observations
and eating habits - no Wikipedia yet on this one.
"Hunan cuisine is one of the eight regional cuisines
of China and is well known for its hot spicy flavour,
fresh aroma and deep colour. Common cooking techniques
include stewing, frying, pot-roasting, braising, and
smoking. Due to the high agricultural output of the
region, ingredients for Hunan dishes are many and varied.
Known for its liberal use of chilli peppers, shallots
and garlic, Xiang cuisine is known for being dry hot
(干辣) or purely hot, as opposed to the better known
Sichuan cuisine, to which it is often compared. Sichuan
cuisine is known for its distinctive málà (hot and
numbing) seasoning and other complex flavour combinations,
frequently employ Sichuan peppercorns along with chilies
which are often dried, and utilizes more dried or
preserved ingredients and condiments. Hunan Cuisine,
on the other hand, is often spicier by pure chili
content, contains a larger variety of fresh ingredients,
and tends to be oilier. Another characteristic distinguishing
Hunan cuisine from Sichuan cuisine is that, in general,
Hunan cuisine uses smoked and cured goods in its dishes
much more frequently.
Another feature of Hunan cuisine is that the menu changes
with the seasons. In a hot and humid summer, a meal
will usually start with cold dishes or a platter holding
a selection of cold meats with chilies for opening the
pores and keeping cool in the summer. In winter, a popular
choice is the hot pot, thought to heat the blood in
the cold months. A special hot pot called (鸳鸯火锅 yuān
yāng hǔo gūo) lover's hot pot is notable for splitting
the pot into a spicy side and a milder side."
Extract courtesy of Wikipedia:
I have eaten Hunan cuisine on many occasions and was
once fortunate enough to be invited to a Hunan Chinese
New Year celebration where a whole leg of roasted lamb
overflowed with captivating taste and fresh chillies.
Hunan cuisine is varied, as another dish I loved was
a flat fish in chilli, absolutely covered with freshly
diced tomatoes and complimentary herbs and spices. This
is what Wikipedia refer to above when they say the Hunan
dishes are complex.
Star dishes are often served on small burners in Hunan
restaurants, which are powered by candles. The cooked
dish is placed on top and accompanied by many other
dishes of great variety and fresh chilli heat.
Lu (Shandong Province)
"Shandong cuisine (simplified Chinese: 山东菜; traditional
Chinese: 山東菜; pinyin: Shāndōng cài), in Chinese more
commonly known as Lu cuisine (simplified Chinese: 鲁菜;
traditional Chinese: 魯菜; pinyin: lǔcài), is one the
Eight Culinary Traditions of China (中国的八大菜系) and is
also ranked among the four most influential among these
("Four Great Traditions", 四大菜系).
Lu cuisine is derived from the native cooking styles
of Shandong, an eastern coastal province of China. Shandong
cuisine consists of two major styles:
• Jiaodong style - characterized by seafood cooking,
with light tastes.
• Jinan style - characterized by using soup and
utilizing soups in its dishes."
Extract courtesy of Wikipedia:
Su (Jiangsu Province
and Huaiyang cuisine)
"Huaiyang cuisine (simplified Chinese: 淮扬菜; traditional
Chinese: 淮揚菜; pinyin: Huáiyáng cài) is a tradition within
the cuisine of China derived from the native cooking
styles of the region surrounding the lower reaches of
the Huai and Yangtze rivers, and centred upon the cities
of Huai'an, Yangzhou and Zhenjiang in Jiangsu province.
Although it is one of several sub-regional styles within
Jiangsu cuisine, Huaiyang cuisine is widely seen in
Chinese culinary circles as the most popular and prestigious
style of the Jiangsu cuisine - to a point where it is
considered to be amongst one of the four most influential
regional schools (四大菜系) that dominate the culinary heritage
of China, along with Cantonese cuisine, Shandong cuisine
and Sichuan cuisine.
Huaiyang cuisine characteristically founds each dish
on its main ingredient, and the way that ingredient
is cut is pivotal to its cooking and its final taste.
The cuisine is also known for employing its Chinkiang
vinegar, which is produced in the Zhenjiang region.
Huaiyang cuisine tends to have a sweet side to it and
is almost never spicy, in contrast to some cuisines
of China (e.g., Sichuan or Hunan). Pork, fresh water
fish, and other aquatic creatures serve as the meat
base to most dishes, which are usually more meticulous
and light compared to the more “brash” eating styles
of northern China."
Extract courtesy of Wikipedia:
"Fujian cuisine is derived from the native cooking
style of the province of Fujian, China. Fujian style
cuisine is known to be light but flavourful, soft, and
tender, with particular emphasis on umami taste, known
in Chinese cooking as "xiānwèi" (simplified
Chinese: 鲜味; traditional Chinese: 鮮味), as well as retaining
the original flavour of the main ingredients instead
of masking them.
The techniques employed in the cuisine are complex,[clarification
needed] but the results are ideally refined in taste
with no "loud" flavours. Particular attention
is also paid on the knife skills and cooking technique
of the chefs. Emphasis is also on utilizing broth/soup,
and there is a sayings in the region's cuisine: "One
broth can be changed into numerous (ten) forms"
(－湯十變) and "It is unacceptable for a meal to not
Unique seasoning from the province include fish sauce,
shrimp paste, sugar, Shacha sauce, and preserved apricot.
As well, wine lees from the production of rice wine
is commonly used in all aspects of the region's cuisine.
Red yeast rice (紅麴/紅槽醬) is also commonly used in the
The province is also well known for its "drunken"
(wine marinated) dishes and is famous for the quality
of the soup stocks and bases used to flavour their dishes,
soups, and stews."
Extract courtesy of Wikipedia:
Ze (Zejiang Province,
Hangzhou and Shanghai)
"Zhejiang cuisine (Chinese: 浙菜 or 浙江菜) is one of
the Eight Culinary Traditions of China. It is derived
from the native cooking styles of the Zhejiang region
in China. Food made in the Zhejiang style is not greasy,
having instead a fresh and soft flavour with a mellow
The cuisine consists of at least three styles, each
originating from a city in the province:
• Hangzhou style: Characterized by rich variations
and the utilization of bamboo shoots. Which is served
by the well known restaurants such as the Dragon Well
• Shaoxing style: Specializes in poultry and freshwater
• Ningbo style: Specializing in seafood, with emphasis
on freshness and salty dishes.
Some sources also include the Wenzhou style as a separate
subdivision (due to its proximity to Fujian), characterised
as the greatest source of seafood as well as poultry
Extract courtesy of Wikipedia:
Hui (Anhui Province
Anhui cuisine is known for its use of wild herbs, both
land and sea, and simple methods of preparation. Braising
and stewing are common techniques. Frying and stir-frying
are used much less frequently in Anhui cuisine than
in other Chinese culinary traditions.
Anhui cuisine consists of three styles: Yangtze River
region, Huai River region, and southern Anhui region.
Anhui has ample uncultivated fields and forests, so
the wild herbs used in the region's cuisine are readily
Extract courtesy of Wikipedia:
"Well-known throughout China, Hui Cuisine also named Muslim food is both nutritious and distinctive. Uyghur food is also a part of Muslim food, and the most famous foods of the Uyghur people are finger rice, nang, Mutton shashlik,
roasted whole lamb and so on. Hui Cuisine, called Qingzhen (pure and true) in Chinese is refined in the quality and selection of the materials.
The Hui minority prefer to eat ruminant animal meat,
vegetarian animals and poultry which must be butchered
by a Muslim priest, called Ahong in Chinese. The Hui
people also live on cooked wheaten food which is used
to indulge their guests and celebrate the various Chinese
festivals. Beef and mutton also comprise a great part
in their life. Besides, tea served in a set of cups
is also a customary staple of the Hui people's diet.
The common characteristics of the Hui cuisine and of
their restaurants, food stands and tea houses are the
Muslim's boards or blue cloth strips hung in front of
the doors, and also all the packages of the Hui foods
are printed with Muslim characters, patterns or scriptures.
However, the Hui people have their own serious food
taboos, they don't eat the meat of pig, dog, mule, horse,
donkey, cat, mouse or animal's blood. In addition, they
are forbidden to drink alcohol. The Hui Minority's most
famous cuisine includes steamed lamb, lamb eaten with
hands, fried beef, deep-fried food, Hand-Pulled Noodles
with Beef, Xian Mutton and Bread Pieces in Soup and
Xinjiang Province lies to the west of China and borders the Middle East. To the east it borders Qinghai Province, whose people often share similar ethnic backgrounds and cooking styles. Natives are Uyghur or Uyghur's (Pronounced 'We-Gur')
and are mainly moslem Chinese that speak Arabic first, and then Mandarin. They are known well throughout Chinese history, helping to retain the Imperial sovereignty in exchange for marriage to the Kings daughter (Genghis Khan - see our
Chinese History section for more info).
"Uyghur food (Uyghur Yemekliri) is characterized
by mutton, beef, camel, chicken, goose, carrots, tomatoes,
onions, peppers, eggplant, celery, various dairy foods,
Uyghur-style breakfast is tea with home-baked bread,
hardened yogurt, olives, honey, raisins, and almonds.
Uyghur's like to treat guests with tea, naan and fruit
before the main dishes are ready.
Sangza (Uyghur: ساڭزا) are crispy and tasty fried
wheat flour dough twists, a holiday specialty. Samsa
(Uyghur: سامسا) are lamb pies baked using a special
brick oven. Youtazi is steamed multilayer bread. Göshnan
(Uyghur: گۆشنان) are pan-grilled lamb pies. Pamirdin
are baked pies with lamb, carrots, and onion inside.
Xurpa is lamb soup (Uyghur: شۇرپا). Other dishes include
Tohax, a different type of baked bread, and Tunurkawab.
Extract courtesy of Wikipedia:
"Mongolian Cuisine mainly includes dairy products,
also named 'white food'; plus: beef, mutton and other
meat called 'red food'. Meanwhile, parched rice also
plays an equal role along with the 'white food' and
the 'red food' in Mongolian people's daily diet.
Besides cow's milk, Mongolian people also drink the
milk of goats, horse, deer and camel. Only a small part
of the milk is made into fresh milk beverages, and the
majority part is manufactured into milk products such
as cheese, dried milk cake, cream, milk powder and so
on. Milk products are the most common foods used to
treat guests, and if the guest is a child, the host
will put the cream on his forehead to show the host's
Mongolian people often eat beef and the meat of sheep,
goats, camels and horses. They have over 70 common mutton
dishes such as roasted whole lamb, fried lamb tripe,
mutton eaten with fingers, deep-fried mutton and so
on. They usually eat beef in winters, and there is also
beef soup, baked beef and braised beef. Some experienced
chefs can even cook the tendons of the sheep, cattle,
deer and horse into some medicinal foods. In addition,
Mongolian people also dry or salt the beef and mutton
for storage purposes."
For the rest of us China Expats highly recommend the
Mongolian Hotpot as presented by 'The Little Sheep'
restaurant chain, and other local versions. You can
find the recipe for the most delicious two-segment bowl
of hotpot on our Chinese
"Miao people (A famous Chinese ethnic minority
group) live on rice, and they also like deep-fried foods
like deep-fried stuffed buns. The meat they eat is mostly
from the poultry they raise, and the most common vegetables
they eat are soybeans, melons, green vegetables and
carrots. Most Miao people are especially good at cooking
dishes made of soybeans. Besides animal oil, they also
eat tea oil and vegetable oil. Hot pepper is the main
seasoning they use, and there is a saying in some places
that 'It can't be a real dish without hot pepper.'
Most Miao people like to eat sour dishes, and every
family has sour soup which is made through fermenting
rice or tofu water in a crock for three to five days.
Sour soup can be used for cooking meat, fish or all
kinds of vegetables. In order to keep the food in good
condition, Miao people usually salt the vegetables,
chicken, fish and meat in a crock.
The Miao people in western Hunan Province are very hospitable.
Butter tea is a must which they use for entertaining
their guests who have to drink four bowls without stopping,
representing being alive and well in all four seasons.
However, Miao people have their taboos. Whenever it
is dry and doesn't rain for a long time or people are
suffering from illness, Miao people will kill cattle
or pig to offer sacrifices to the Thor, and they can
only eat the boiled food without salt. In addition,
Miao people are forbidden to eat the meat of fish, shrimp,
chicken, duck, turtle and crab, but they can eat pork,
beef and mutton during days of fasting."
"As an agricultural ethnic group, Zhuang people do not only plant rice, corn, soybeans, potatoes, melons and fruits, but also raise pig, cattle, goat, chicken, duck and other poultry As a result, Zhuang people have many distinctive
foods, including tender boiled chicken with soy sauce, stewed snails, five-color glutinous rice, rice rolled in lettuce, steamed rice in bamboo mug and so on."
We wish to thank the contributors of Wikipedia for assisting
us to represent many Chinese culinary styles of cooking
that we have little knowledge of. Extracts from Wikipedia
are incorporated from the following 'leader page':
and reproduced under Collective Commons Licence.
This information is as supplied by ourselves, and ably
supported by our friends and various internet portals.