Regional Chinese food varies greatly across the country, depending on ingredients available, history, class and ethnicity from region to region. Generally, the flavours are more salty in the North, sweet in the South, spicy in the East, and more acidic in the West.
First things first, there’s the Four Major Cuisines in China: Lu cuisine from Shandong province; Szechuan cuisine from Chuan; Cantonese cuisine from Guangdong; and Su cuisine from Jiangsu. Then, the other makes up the ‘Great Eight’: Zhe cuisine from Zhejiang; Min cuisine from Fujian; Xiang cuisine from Hunan; and Hui cuisine from Anhui.
We’ll dive into the seven tastiest (in our opinion!) regional Chinese foods below.
Regional Chinese Food
1. Shandong (Lu)
Derived from the native cooking styles of Shandong, a northern coastal province of China, Shandong cuisine consists of two main styles: Jiaodong, characterised by light seafood dishes; and Jinan, a style that often uses soup in its dishes. Although it is less available in the West, Shandong cuisine is often called one of the most influential styles of cooking in Chinese culinary history.
2. Szechuan (Chuan)
Szechuan (or Sichuan) cuisine is famous for its use of bold flavours; chili, garlic and Szechuan pepper feature heavily in the dishes. Szechuan pepper has a unique taste: it is intensely fragrant, citrusy and often causes a numbing sensation in the mouth! You’ll find this style of Chinese cooking all over the world.
See delicious Sichuan recipes here.
3. Cantonese (Yu)
Thanks to Guangdong’s location near to the South China Sea, the people of this region have access to lots of imported food and fresh seafood. Cantonese cuisine makes use of almost all edible meats, including chicken feet, duck’s tongue, snakes and snails.
Many different cooking techniques are used, including wok hei (stir frying) and steaming. Spices are used moderately, and fresh herbs don’t feature much. Dishes include dim sum; barbequed char siu, sticky and burnt red in colour; and clear broths flavoured with meat stock.
See delicious Cantonese recipes here.
4. Jiangsu (Su)
Jiangsu cuisine is a tasty mix of several different styles of Chinese cooking, mostly Huaiyang, Yangzhou, Nanjing, Suzhou and Zhenjiang. The food in Jiangsu cuisine is known as being ‘soft’, but not to the point of falling apart. The meat tastes tender but wouldn’t separate from the bone when picked up.
5. Fujian (Min)
Fujian cuisine is influenced by its coastal location and mountains, with ingredients such as woodland mushrooms, bamboo shoots, fish, shellfish and turtles the stars of the show. The cuisine in this area has a particular emphasis on umami taste; the dishes are wonderfully light and flavourful.
6. Zhejiang (Zhe)
Overall, Zhejiang food is fresh and light, and not usually greasy in any way. It consists of at least four styles of cooking: Hangzhou, with rich foods and bamboo shoots; Shaoxing, poultry and fish; Ningbo, mostly seafood; and Shanghai, with xiao long bao (soup dumplings).
7. Anhui (Hui)
This cuisine comes from the native cooking styles of the people in the Huangshan Mountains region in China. Anhui Province is a poorer inland province west of Shanghai, so its food is usually hearty peasant dishes.
Although it is similar to Jiangsu cuisine, there is less emphasis on seafood and more on a wide variety of locally grown herbs and vegetables from both the land and the sea.