As early as the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), some overseas Chinese opened restaurants in England and other regions. Since then, Chinese cuisine has become increasingly popular among the gourmets. China’s vast size and its sharp contrasts in climate have given rise to a wide range of regional cuisines. Of all the local cuisines, four should be especially mentioned, namely, Sichuan Cuisine (Chuan Cuisine), Guangdong Cuisine (Cantonese Cuisine or Yue Cuisine), Shandong Cuisine (Lu Cuisine) and Jiangsu Cuisine (Su Cuisine).
But we should know is that these destinations are often overlapped. For example, Beijing Cuisine falls within the category of Shandong Cuisine, and is also influenced by some Sichuan and Mongolian-influenced specialties. To have a better understanding of the regional cuisines, it is probably more convenient to distinguish them by their famous dishes, rather than by their styles. Each regional cuisine has its own characteristics. Generally speaking, the southern dishes tend to be sweet, while the northern food is rather salty. Jiangsu is a low-lying area crisscrossed with rivers and lakes, therefore prawn dishes are its specialty.
Guangdong Cuisine (Yue Cuisine)
Guangdong Cuisine, known in the west as Cantonese Cuisine, took shape in the Ming and Qing dynasties. In its process of development, it has borrowed the culinary art of northern China and of the Western-style food, while maintaining its own traditional characteristics. It is famous for its wide assortment of ingredients and is probably the most familiar cuisine in the West among all the regional cuisines. Guangdong Cuisine was developed in Guangzhou, Huizhou and Chaozhou and on Hainan Island in South China. As the climate there is hot, the dishes are tender and lightly seasoned. Talking about the eating habits of the Cantonese, people often say humorously that they eat everything with four legs except for the table; they eat everything with wings but the plane.
In preparing Cantonese dishes, varieties of ingredients are often involved and more than 30 different kinds of cooking methods are employed, such as frying, grilling, stewing, simmering, deep-frying, roasting and braising, etc. Freshness is everything to the Guangdong Cuisine. Egg rolls, chow mein, dim sum, pastries and steamed fish are all indisputably Guangdong Cuisine in origin. Yum cha (Cantonese style morning or afternoon tea) is very famous around the country and the Cantonese are especially good at making soups.
Sichuan Cuisine (Chuan Cuisine)
Sichuan Cuisine is world-famous for it shot and spicy dishes. The climate in Sichuan is very humid for most of the year, and the Sichuanese have developed the habit of keeping the damp out by eating heavily spiced food. Hot chillies, black pepper, huajiao pepper and ginger are the ever-present ingredients that give Sichuan dishes highly distinctive pungency.
Sichuan Cuisine boasts a great variety of flavors. A Sichuan dish can be hot, sweet, salty, or tongue numbing. People prefer steaming, simmering and smoking. A common Chinese saying about Sichuan Cuisine is that each meal has its own unique taste, and no two dishes have the same flavor. Noted Sichuan dishes include Mapo Doufu (Beancurd with Minced Meat in Chilli Sauce), Fish Flavored Pork Slices (Yuxiangrousi), Spicy Diced Chicken with Peanuts (Kung Pao Chicken), Poached Sliced Beef in Hot Chili Oil, and Poached Sliced Beef in Hot Chili Oil, etc.
Shandong Cuisine (Lu Cuisine)
Shangdong Cuisine is divided into two schools: the Jinan School and the Jiaodong (eastern Shandong Peninsula) School. The former prides itself on its clear or milk-white soup, and the latter on its preparation of sea food. Shandong inhabitants prefer salty food and emphasize juices and sauces. Typical Shandong people are very fond of onions and garlic, and eating fresh vegetables after dipping them in thick sauce. Shandong Cuisine has been influenced by the “Confucius Family Dishes”. Confucius holds a special place in Chinese history and his descendants enjoyed many privileges. Their chefs constantly improved their skills and the repertoire of “Confucius Family Dishes” gradually took shape.
Shandong Cuisine, with local variations, is the basis of the cooking style of the North and the Northeastern part of China. Its techniques have been widely absorbed by the imperial dishes of the Ming and Qing dynasties, and Shandong restaurants predominated in the Qing Dynasty. As Beijing was the capital then, Beijing Cuisine is heavily influenced by Shandong Cuisine. The famous Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant and Fengzeyuan Restaurant both serve Shandong style dishes. The famous Shandong dishes include Sweet and Sour Yellow River Carp, Braised Intestines in Brown Sauce, Stewed Shelled Abalones, Braised Sea Cucumber with Onions, and Stewed Duck with Pigeon, etc.
Jiangsu Cuisine (Su Cuisine)
Jiangsu Cuisine is popular in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River and is characterized by its sweet flavor. It is based on four cooking methods: boiling, stewing, braising and simmering, with few ingredients added apart from the main materials. Cooked in their own juices, the dishes are fresh, tender and fragrant, but never greasy, and the meat easily falls off the bones. “Huaiyang Cuisine” is commonly recognized as the representative of Jiangsu Cuisine, and an important component part of Jiangsu Cuisine. Thanks to its outstanding characteristics and high reputation, the mention of Jiangsu Cuisine will always remind people of Huaiyang Cuisine.
The well-known Jiangsu dishes include Sweet and Sour Pork, Salted Duck, Braised Large Meatballs of Minced Pork and Crabmeat with vegetables in Clear Soup (one of methods for making Lion’s Head Meatballs), Biluo Shrimp Meat, and Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish, and Braised Dry Bamboo Shoots, etc. And I assumed you have tried the famous Yangzhou Fried Rice.