Chinese Food has always interested me for many reasons. One is the simple size of the country translated well in to bringing a wide diversity with many different forms. Another is the diversity of recipes withing the styles. To be a master of Chinese cooking makes someone respect the ingredients and use them with great grace, attention to detail and more then a thousand years of food history to go look through for inspiration.
Eight Regional Styles
Sichuan – Any self respecting fan of the old iron chef will know a little about this as Chen Kenichi was trained in this form of Chinese cuisine by his father. It is popular for using fresh water fish as well as beef, pork, and chicken. Most times it will be associated with hot and spicy flavor combinations using different kinds of peppercorns and condiment with garlic as the basic flavor components in sauces. Sichuan peppercorns will make an appearance sometimes and one of the more well known dishes is mapodoufu. A spicy chunky bowl of warming happiness with tofu.
Anhui – From the Huangshan Mountains it is relatively close to everything allowing it and Jiangsu style to be the family when it comes to style. What separates Anhui from many of the others is the more prolific use of herbs. Many Chinese styles classically use spices and not herbs or very little in comparison. Herbs give the most flavor through liquids, and that is the case as some of the more popular cooking techniques include wet methods like stewing and braising. It also a larger number of mushroom dishes due to the home environment in the forests I truly think as we all get more health conscious there may be a resurgence of Anhui and Jiangsu dishes.
Hunan – Hunan in some cases may be the spiciest of cuisines, but that doesn’t stretch to every dish with one of their most well known dishes being orange beef. It is one of the more unknown cuisines. You can look at this and Sichuan as brother cuisines both known for using chili and garlic, but each having slightly different ways of using ingredients. Preserved meats are also popular in both often times to add a bit of seasoning as well as protein to the dish.
Beijing – Based on the capital of China it has a more well rounded appreciation not making it strong or weak using any cooking technique. It is more difficult to do well as it will often use more complicated procedures to make everything just right. It is also known as Peking style food the most well known recipe is Peking duck and one of the more interesting subsections of food comes from this city cuisine.
Shandong – One of the most interesting things in this version of Chinese cooking is the uses of steamed and fried breads instead of using rice exclusively. It also seems to be one of the most influential depending on who you ask. In any case this food from the northern coast line. It can almost be looked at a step from the balanced Beijing style to the more specialized cuisines. Between those two camps lies Shandong style food with some ingredients that people in western countries that people would be more comfortable using then those found in other cuisines.
Jiangsu – As the brother in style to Anhui you will find a major difference when looking through some of the food and that is the basis of texture. Texture is very important in Chinese food on the same level as the basic flavor of the thing. Jiangsu brings out softer textures in food for people to enjoy and works on keeping that while flavoring the dishes making sure the texture works with the flavor. Braised spare ribs are popular dish and a good example of this relationship of texture and flavor.
Fujian – This cuisine has more seafood dishes then some of the other cuisines due to its placement on the south eastern coast. A number of their dishes do not focus more on the spicy or salty instead trying to be the fifth flavor, umami to the forefront. For those who do not know umami can be categorized as a harmonizing savory flavor. Soups and broths are more popular in this style of food as well.
Guangdong – This is also known as Cantonese and is one of the more popular forms of Chinese cookery in Hong Kong and does not favor one technique of cooking over another. So you are just as likely to deep fry in this cuisine as steam. Seasonings will be a little lighter with a wider range of fruits and vegetables being used versus something like Hunan. Dim Sum would also mostly based from this style of cuisine.
Two Circumstantial Styles
Imperial Chinese cuisine or the food based on the recipes used for the royal family. Normally when trying these recipes my experience shows it will be more meticulous then other cuisines. But, if you have the passion to add then this can really be artistry on a plate. Often times the balance of flavors will be important while other cuisines may be more known for one set of flavors over another.
Chinese Medicinal Cuisine
As America and the rest of the world begun the shift to pharmaceuticals the ancient way of medicine in the forms of meals still continues. The history that this cuisine has can reach back a couple millennia by conservative estimates meaning that this has had many years where new ideas can be built and re worked and I really think that every country should have a form of native medicinal cuisine. People can eat themselves to better health, and some people may have problem because many of the items is based on the health first.