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Regional Chinese Cooking Styles and Basic Techniques

This article is reproduced with the kind permission of China Expats. The China Expats site provides an excellant resource about many aspects of Chinese culture, helpfull information for expats, tourism and of course recipes and other cuisine related topics.

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 extensively.

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.

Regional Cuisine

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)
• Xinjiang
• Mongolian
• 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-fryed 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 andsteamed 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 for Dog, 

Pronunciation.

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:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantonese_cuisine
Although all of the above information comes from ourselves - so contact us if you prefer (We live here!)..

Sichuan Style

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 mouth-blisteringly hot!

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:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Szechuan_cuisine

Xi'an Style (Shaanxi Province) 

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 Expat's own observations and eating habits - no Wikipedia yet on this one.

Hunan Style

"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:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunan_cuisine

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:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shandong_cuisine

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:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huaiyang_cuisine

Min (Fujian)

"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 have soup"(不湯不行).

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 region's cuisine.

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:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fujian_cuisine

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 fragrance.

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 Manor (龙井草堂).
• Shaoxing style: Specializes in poultry and freshwater fish
• 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 and livestock."

Extract courtesy of Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhejiang_cuisine

Hui (Anhui Province and Beijing)

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 available.

Extract courtesy of Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anhui_cuisine

Hui Qingzhen (Uyghur, Moslem)

"Well-known throughout China, Hui Cuisine also named Muslim food is both nutritious and distinctive. Uygur food is also a part of Muslim food, and the most famous foods of the Uygur 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 so on.

Source:
http://www.warriortours.com/intro/cuisine_minority.htm

Xinjiang (Also Qinghai)

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 Uighurs 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, and fruits.

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:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuisine_of_Xinjiang

Mongolian

"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 best wishes.

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."

Source:
http://www.warriortours.com/intro/cuisine_minority.htm

For the rest of us China Expat's 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 Hotpot page.

Miao Cuisine

"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."

Source:
http://www.warriortours.com/intro/cuisine_minority.htm

Zhuang Cuisine

"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 poultries. 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."

Source:
http://www.warriortours.com/intro/cuisine_minority.htm

Acknowledgement: 

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': 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_cuisine
and reproduced under Collective Commons Licence.