Have you ever wondered just what the subtitle of your favorite Chinese restaurant means? Odds are that you are astute enough to realize that descriptions like Hunan or Szechuan refer to regions of China, but what’s the difference between all the regional cuisines? Where do modern influences like Shanghai and Beijing fall in? And does the region of Jilin rhyme with chillin’?
Eight traditional grand Chinese cuisines exist: Anhui, Fujian, Cantonese, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan and Zhejiang. Let’s break them down. Post-jump of course.
Region: mountainous inland; southeast China along the Yangtze and Huai RiversCharacteristics: wild and exotic game; braises and stews favored over frying and stir-frying; signature dish is braised turtle with hamIn SF: non-existent, though you’ll be able to find Anhui tea just about anywhere in Chinatown, including Imperial Tea Court
Region: southeast coast, across the strait from TaiwanCharacteristics: visually impressive; seafood soups; those matzoh-sized fishballs you always see in Chinatown; signature dish is “Buddha jumps over the wall” (made from shark fin, sea cucumber and more)In SF: non-existent, though you can get Fujian fishballs in Chinatown and elsewhere if you look hard enough. The same goes for Fujian tea.
Region: southern ChinaCharacteristics: the most commonly-known sub-cuisine in America; ingredient-wise, the most diverse of all the cuisines, due to the abundance of ports in Canton; very mild in comparison to other regions; seafood-centric; light seasoningsIn SF: Tommy Toy’s, Oriental Seafood, Yet Wah
Region: central ChinaCharacteristics: stresses oils; “dry hot” as opposed to Szechuan’s “purely hot”; more oily, darker and hotter than Szechuan; traditionally seasonal; signature dishes include sweet & sour chicken, stinky tofu and orange beefIn SF: Brandy Ho’s, Hunan Restaurant, Henry’s Hunan
Region: eastern China, near JapanCharacteristics: very soft textures; heavily seasonal and ingredient-based; duck is popular; similar to modern Shanghai cuisineIn SF: Jai Yun makes many Jiangsu dishes
Region: northeastern China (Jinan City, Jiaodong peninsula)Characteristics: seafood-centric but not shellfish); lots of shallots and garlic; known for its soups; similar to modern Beijing cuisineIn SF: San Tung
Region: southwest ChinaCharacteristics: the Szechuan peppercorn, chili paste, ginger and spicy herbs; often stir-fried and steamed; beef more common here than in other regions; singature dishes: Kung Pao chickenIn SF: Spices, Spices II, Zone 88
Region: east coast of ChinaCharacteristics: primarily seafood and poultry; emphasis on bamboo shoots; also similar to modern Shanghai cuisineIn SF: Peking Restaurant (though barely)