People in Western nations who only eat Chinese food occasionally are often surprised at the inconsistency of flavor from one restaurant to the next. Part of the reason for this is that different provinces in China produce very distinct dishes.
In a country with a population of 1.3 billion people, it’s only natural that not all regions will prefer the same flavors and textures. Below is a quick rundown of the seven most popular styles of Chinese food according to where they originated in China.
This region favors fried foods served in smaller portions than dishes in other parts of the country. Ingredients that identify a Chinese dish as originating in Beijing include poultry using sweet and sour flavors, sesame paste, scallions, and soy. The region is especially well-known for Peking roast duck, Zhanjiang noodles, and jing jiang rousi, the Chinese name for roasted pork.
Hailing from the province of Guangdong, Cantonese food enjoys the reputation of being the most popular outside of China. Distinguishing characteristics of Cantonese food include sweet sauces, braising, stewing, and lightly cooked vegetables and meat. Some favorite Cantonese dishes include xiao long bao, which is soup dumplings, and beef fried noodles.
The Fujian province is often associated with spicy soups and seafood. Although delightful on the tongue, the spices are not as numbing as some from other regions. Sweet and sour are the other predominant flavors here, and the food can taste considerably lighter compared to other areas of China. Popular Fujian ingredients include bamboo shots, herbs, mushrooms, and mutton. Drunken frog soup with oyster cakes is considered a must-try when visiting the Fujian province.
Although the Hunan province is known as the land of fish and rice, diners will find more than these two ingredients in Hunan dishes. Typical ingredients include garlic, shallots, smoked meats, and sour flavorings. Chefs stir-fry, smoke, steam, or sauté the ingredients to produce a creamy rich taste that goes perfectly with crunchy vegetables. Classic Hunan favorites include Dong’an chicken and hongshaorou, which are poached chicken and braised pork.
Chinese food cooked Shanghai style features modification of several cooking styles popular in and around this municipality. The most commonly used ingredients in Shanghai style cooking include vegetables, seafood, salted meats, and alcohol. Steamed crab, di shuidong ribs, and braised eggplant are popular dishes that originate from this region.
This cuisine is typically found in northern China in Tianjin, Beijing, and regions along the Yellow Sea. Dating to the Qin Dynasty from 221 to 207 B.C., it is one of the earliest cuisines to come out of China. The emphasis is on retaining freshness during the cooking process. Primary ingredients include grains, peanuts, seafood, and vegetables while sesame pasta noodles and Shandong dumplings are some of the area’s favorite dishes.
Originating in the Sichuan province, the bold spiciness that can produce a mouth-numbing effect is the defining characteristic of this dish. Primary ingredients include chili, Sichuan peppers, peanuts, ginger, and garlic. Top Sichuan dishes locally and abroad include kung pao chicken, fuqifeipian, and dandan noodles.
Armed with this knowledge, diners may just have to take on the challenge of eating at restaurants that feature food from all seven of these Chinese regions.