Travel, Teach, Live in China
China is a huge country, the biggest in the world by population and the third biggest in terms of area. China is a diverse country; each region has its own style of cooking. The local dishes of each region are influenced by the local agricultural products available to the people. Eight distinct regional cuisines have been recognized since ancient times.
Lu or Shandong cuisine originated in eastern China's Shandong province. It is the most pervasive cuisine throughout China and was conceived as far back as the Qin Dynasty in 221 B.C. Its trademarks include the prevalence of soups and seafood like scallops, squid and prawns. Grains and local vegetables like potatoes, mushrooms and onions are also ubiquitous. Common cooking techniques are "bao" (quick-fry) and "pa," which involves cutting cooked food into a shape, covering it in powder, frying it and sauteing with sauce.
Guangdong Cuisine (Cantonese)
Guangdong cuisine is the Chinese cuisine perhaps most familiar to westerners, who will probably know it as Cantonese food. Most cooking techniques are used, but Guangdong is most notable for stir-frying and steaming, which helps to preserve the ingredient's natural flavors. Sauces are fundamental. Those most commonly used include hoisin, oyster, plum and sweet and sour. Spices are used sparingly.
Sichuan or Szechuan is a large province in central China. Its cuisine is characterized by pungent, spicy seasonings known as "three peppers," "three aroma," "seven tastes" and "eight flavors." Chili, local peppers called "huajiao," garlic and ginger are usually involved in the mix. The dry spiciness leaves a hot aftertaste. Frying without oil and pickling are common techniques used.
Hunan is a landlocked province of southern China. Its cuisine accentuates the use of oil and techniques that produce crispness, softness and tenderness. Hunan cuisine is known for its fish and rice dishes and vegetables that are cooked "al dente," or firm but not hard The strong flavors that define the cuisine are chili, pepper and shallot.
There are several branches of Jiangsu, or Huaiyang cuisine. For example, the city of Nanjing is renowned for its duck recipes. Most varieties stress light, fresh and sweet flavors and fish dishes are preferred. The main cooking techniques are braising and stewing.
Zhejiang, a small province on the east coast, boasts hundreds of delicacies from its main cities like Hangzhou and Ningbo. Cooking techniques are linked by the methods used, like braising, stir-fry and steaming. Zhejiang food generally is less greasy than other Chinese cuisines. The dishes are rarely spicy. Fish and poultry, as well as bamboo roots feature heavily in the cuisine.
The defining features of Fujian cuisine are fine cutting techniques, distinctive soups--courtesy of the coast's abundant marine resources--and unique seasoning. Dishes are very colorful and are famed for combining sweet, sour, salty and savory flavors. Cooking with red rice wine is a distinctive feature and soup is heavily utilized. Pepper and mustard are seasoning ingredients.
Anhui cuisine mainly comprises local recipes from towns along the Yangtze and Huai rivers. Its dishes are more often braised than fried. Chefs in this eastern province pay particular attention to cooking temperature. Ham commonly is used as a seasoning. Candied sugar is used for freshness.