You might think its all noodles and rice, but Chinese cuisine is compromised of hundreds of different ingredients and spices, proving to be one of the most complex and delicious forms of cooking!
1) Anhui Cuisine involves elaborate choices of cooking materials and the strict control of cooking processes. It includes ingredients such as pangolin, stone frog, mushroom, bayberry, tea leaves, bamboo shoot, dates, and games that are from mountainous areas. The food is also slightly spicy and salty. Some of these tasty dishes are stewed soft shell turtle with ham, Huangshan braised pigeon, steamed stone frog, steamed rock partridge, stewed fish belly in brown sauce, bamboo shoots cooked with sausage and dried mushroom, and more!
2) Chaozhou Cuisine is known for its use of seafood and piquant sauces, such as tangerine jam for steamed lobsters and broad-bean paste for fish. It includes delicious prawns, oysters, crabs and eels, combined with home-made pickles.This type of cuisine has been greatly influenced by its southwestern neighbors, the Cantonese. Dishes are light and tasty, with the abundant use of vegetables. Food is usually cooked over a slow fire, stewed, deep fired, steamed, stir-fried or pickled.
3) Hunan cuisine shares many commonalities with its close, more well-known cousin, Szechwan cooking, both cuisines originate in the Western region of China. Hunan cuisine is noted for its use of chili peppers, garlic and shallots, and for the use of sauces to accent the flavors in the ingredients of a dish. Hunan’s dishes play on the contrasts of flavors. A classic example is Hunan spicy beef with vegetables, where the beef is first marinated overnight in a citrus and ginger mixture, then washed and rubbed with chili paste before being simmered in a pungent brown sauce. The end result is a meat that is meltingly tender on the tongue and changes flavor even as you enjoy it.
4) Fugian Cuisine comprises three branches — Fuzhou, South Fujian and West Fujian and emphasizes seafood and mountain delicacies. Fujian Province has a favorable geographical location with mountains in its north and sea to its south. Many mountain delicacies such as mushroom, bamboo shoots and tremella are often found here. Fujian cuisine stresses on fine slicing techniques so much that it is reputed as sliced ingredients are as thin as paper and shredded as slim as hairs. Everything sliced serves its original aroma for optimum flavor. The most characteristic aspect of Fujian cuisine is that its dishes are served in soup.
5) Huai-Yang cuisine includes fresh and live aquatic products. The carving techniques are delicate, of which the melon carving technique is especially well-known (such as melon carving). It is characterized by stewing, braising, and steaming over a low fire for a long time. Famous dishes cooked this way are chicken braised with chestnuts, pork steamed in lotus leaf, duck stewed with eight treasures, meatballs with crab meat in Yangzhou style, and butterfly sea cucumber. The vegetarian banquet is a special feature of Huai-Yang cuisine, and the vegetarian dishes in Beijing cuisine are mostly variants of Huai-Yang cuisine.
6) Shandong cuisine is famous for its wide selection of material and use of different cooking methods. The raw materials are domestic animals and birds, seafood and vegetables. The masterly cooking techniques include Bao (quick frying), Liu (quick frying with corn flour), Pa (stewing), roasting, boiling, using sugar to make fruit, crystallizing with honey. Condiments such as sauce paste, fistulous onion and garlic are freely used, making Shangdong dishes pungent. Soups are given much emphasis in Shangdong dishes and the dishes are mainly clear, fresh and fatty, perfect with Shandong’s own famous beer, Qingdao (Tsingtao) Beer. Typical courses in Shandong cuisine include sweet and sour carp, braised abalone with shells, fried sea cucumber with fistulous onion, fragrant calamus in milk soup, quick-fried double fats, and Dezhou stewed chicken.
7) Szechuan cuisine arose from a province known as Sichuan. It is primarily known for its hot and spicy dishes. The climate of Sichuan is conducive to faster food spoilage, making necessary food preservation techniques that left behind a strong flavor, such as salting, pickling, drying, and smoking. Thus, spices served to mask the flavors of less than fresh foods and those that have been preserved by methods that affect their natural flavors. In addition to masking certain flavors, the use of hot spices, such as chili peppers, tends to be more common to hot climates, as the sweat that they can produce is thought to cool the body. The ingredients and spices include a variety of chili peppers, peppercorns over various types, Sichuan peppers, which are in reality a type of fruit, not pepper, and produce a numbing effect in addition to their warm flavor. Sichuan peppers, also called flower pepper and mountain pepper, are a traditional part of the Chinese five spice powder.
8. Zhejiang Cuisine compromises the local cuisines of Hangzhou, Ningbo and Shaoxing. Hangzhou is characterized by its elaborate preparation and varying techniques of cooking, such as sauteing, stewing, and stir- and deep-frying. The taste is fresh and crisp, varying with the change of season. Ningbo food tends to be salty, but delicious. Specializing in steamed, roasted and braised seafood, Ningbo cuisine is particular in retaining the original freshness, tenderness and softness. Shaoxing cuisine offers fresh aquatic food and poultry that has a special rural flavor, sweet in smell, soft and glutinous in taste, thick in gravy and strong in season.
Interested in learning more about Sichuan’s “tongue numbing” cuisine? Check out “WildChina’s Gastronomic Tour of China with Fuchsia Dunlop”.