After the first month in Germany, I finally can’t put up with the day without Chinese food. So I decided to find a Chinese restaurant. But when I came into a Chinese restaurant and opened their menu, I was surprised by how different the menu is between Germany and China. I saw many “Chinese Foods” I have never even heard of before.
What exactly is Chinese food?
Let me guess, when I say Chinese food, you may probably think about fried rice, fried noodles, sour-sweet crispy duck and chicken, or some highly spicy food, right? But I would say that these can not represent real Chinese food. Chinese food is not just about this. There is not any single type of food that can exactly represent Chinese food. China has a variety of cuisines. Every region has its own flavor. If you want to know more about Chinese food, then come with me, I will take you on a Chinese food journey.
China covers a large territory and has many nationalities. Different landforms, climate, culture and history caused a wide variety of food flavor. Chinese local dishes always have their own characteristics, these are often related to the habits and customs of local inhabitants. Generally, Chinese food can be divided into eight major cuisines called Eight Great Traditions, but besides, there are also some famous cuisines that are not on the list of Eight Great Traditions, for instance, Peking cuisine, Shanghai cuisine and Mongolian cuisine, etc.
What are the Eight Great Traditions in China?
Shandong Cuisine (鲁)
First of all, we will start our trip from north China: Shandong province. Many people may know Confucius Institute, but do you know where Confucius comes from? You’re Right! Confucius was born in Shandong province. Many dishes of Shandong Cuisine were contemporary with Confucius. Accordingly, it makes Shandong Cuisine one of the longest-lived cuisines in China.
Shandong Cuisine, also known as Lu(鲁) Cuisine, Lu is Shandong for short. It is comprised of Jinan and Jiaodong region cuisines. These two regional cuisines have their own characteristics. Jinan cuisine is known for its fried, roasted, fried, and deep-fried dishes. The dishes are known for their clear, fresh, crispy and tender flavor. Jiaodong cuisine is good at deep-frying, grilling, and steaming and its taste is mainly fresh and light. Shandong cuisine chefs like to use shallot and garlic to add flavor and are very expert at cooking soup. The thin soup features clear and fresh while the creamy soup looks thick and tastes strong.
No matter what you eat, it will be perfect with Shandong’s own famous beer, Tsingtao Beer. But do you know? People in Tsingtao don’t like canned or bottled Tsingtao beer, their first choice is fresh Tsingtao beer. After a day of hard work or study, Tsingtao’s people will bring their own plastic bags or any other container to the brewery and go back home with the freshest and best beer to share with their family and friends. The exhaustion of the day will be dissipated.
Jiangsu Cuisine （苏）
Our second stop is Jiangsu. Jiangsu Cuisine, also called Huaiyang Cuisine, originally comes from Zhejiang Cuisine. It is popular in the lower reach of the Yangtze River. This place abounds with aquatics and is strong in aquaculture. Thus Su Cuisine stresses the freshness of materials and takes full advantage of all aquatic animals and plants. Also, its carving techniques are delicate and consummate, of which the melon carving technique is especially well known. The carving knife in the hands of the Su Cuisine chefs seems to be alive and can make a simple fruit to become an artwork.
The Cooking techniques that Su Cuisine chefs prefer to use are stewing, braising, roasting, simmering, etc. Excellent cooking brings a fantastic taste experience. The flavor of Su Cuisine is light, fresh and sweet, but absolutely not boring. Jiangsu cuisine is well known for its careful selection of ingredients, its meticulous preparation methodology, and its not-too-spicy and not-too-bland taste. Since the seasons vary in climate considerably in Jiangsu, the cuisine also varies throughout the year. If the flavor is strong, it isn’t too heavy; if light, not too bland.
Anhui Cuisine （徽）
Then we arrived at Anhui province. Anhui Cuisine is also called Hui (徽) cuisine. Anhui Cuisine chefs pay much more attention to the temperature in cooking and are good at braising and stewing, but less stir-frying. Anhui cuisine always has heavy oil and color and often adds hams and sugar to improve the taste. Anhui cuisine inherits the tradition of China with the same source of medicine and food and focuses on taking nourishing food to keep healthy, which is a major feature of Anhui cuisine.
Zhejiang Cuisine （浙）
Zhejiang province is under Jiangsu province. Zhejiang cuisine concludes three local cuisines: Hangzhou, Shaoxing and Ningbo(three cities of Zhejiang province). The most representative one among the three is Hangzhou cuisine. Hangzhou cuisine focuses on the freshness of the ingredients, mainly fish, shrimp and seasonal vegetables, it tastes light and focuses on the original flavor of food. Shaoxing cuisine is good at cooking freshwater fish and poultry as well, it always tastes thick. Ningbo cuisine is a combination of salty and fresh flavor. It is adept in cooking seafood, emphasizes freshness and softness and the original taste of food. Zhejiang cuisine is not greasy and wins its reputation for freshness, tenderness, softness and smoothness of its dishes.
Fujian cuisine （闽）
We continue our journey to go southwards along the coastline. We are now in Fujian province. Fujian Cuisine consists of Fuzhou Cuisine, Quanzhou Cuisine and Xiamen Cuisine. If I can only select one word to describe Fujian Cuisine, it must be “exquisite”. This adjective lies in all cooking steps concerning Fujian Cuisine, from its strict choice of ingredients, proper heat， beautiful color and magic taste of sweet, sour, salty and savory. Generally speaking, it has three most distinct features: seasoning with red yeast rice, good at making soup and sour-sweet taste.
Cantonese Cuisine （粤）
Near Fujian province is Guangdong province. Cantonese food originates from Guangdong, the southernmost province in China. The majority of overseas Chinese people are from Guangdong (Canton), so Cantonese cuisine is perhaps the most widely available Chinese regional cuisine outside of China, such as Dim Sum.
Cantonese are known to have an adventurous palate, able to eat many different kinds of meats and vegetables. People in Northern China often say that Cantonese and Fujian people will eat anything that flies except airplanes, anything that moves on the ground except trains, and anything that moves in the water except boats. There is even a joke flow through Chinese social media: Cantonese people will eat Fujian people. This statement is far from the truth, of course, Chinese people don’t eat people! But Cantonese food is no doubt one of the most diverse and richest cuisines in China.
Cantonese Cuisine doesn’t use too many condiments, it lays stress on bringing out the natural flavor of the ingredients. Tasting clear, light, crisp and fresh. Roasting, stir-frying, sauteing, deep-frying, braising, stewing and steaming form the basic cooking techniques. Among them steaming and stir-frying are more commonly applied to preserve the natural flavor. Guangdong chefs also pay much attention to the artistic presentation of dishes.
Nowadays Cantonese cuisine continues to absorb the cooking skills of other places, especially the cooking skills of northern China and western cuisine. It is flexible, changeable and connects China and the West. Cantonese chefs adhere to the nimble and divergent thinking style of Cantonese. They always keep endlessly thinking and researching all edible things about how they can process them to be delicious and more delicious to meet people’s changing dietary requirements.
Hunan Cuisine （湘）
Then we set off along the Yangtze River to Hunan province. Hunan is known as “the land of fish and rice” in China. Hunan Cuisine consists of local Cuisine of the Xiangjiang Region, Dongting Lake and Xiangxi Region. It characterizes itself by a thick and pungent flavor. Chili, pepper and shallot are usually necessary for this cuisine.
Hunan cuisine and Sichuan cuisine are all famous for its hot and spicy flavor, but what’s the difference between these two cuisines? Hunan cuisine always tastes dry hot and purely spicy, the chili it uses is often fresh and dried chili. The Hunan chefs prefer using fresh ingredients and smoked meat, while the Sichuan chefs like to use dried and preserved ingredients and condiments, they always cook with different kinds of dried chili and frequently use Sichuan peppercorn, so it tastes not only spicy but also hot pungent and numbing.
Sichuan Cuisine （川）
Continuing along the Yangtze River we arrive in a famous inland basin of China: Sichuan Basin. Sichuan Cuisine, known as Szechuan Cuisine out of China and characterized by pungent, hot, strange and salty flavor. It’s one of the most popular and famous Chinese cuisines all over the world. Open any Chinese restaurant’s menu in Germany, you can definitely see Sichuan food, such as Mapo Tofu, boiled fish in chili soup and Hotpot, etc. However, Sichuan cuisine with its pungent flavor has a shorter history than other cuisines of China.
According to some ancient books, Sichuan people in Tang and Song Dynasty used to eat sweet food. Chili is native to South America, it was introduced to China through maritime trade at the end of the Ming Dynasty. Before that, Chinese people can only use some of the local special herbs to get the pungent flavor. Until the end of the Qing Dynasty, eating spicy food has become an important feature of diet in Sichuan.
But why do Sichuan people extremely like spicy food? One reason is the climate of the Sichuan Basin. The weather in Sichuan is always rainy, cloudy and wet, especially in winter, it is cold and clammy. This kind of chilliness in South China differs from the North, no matter how many clothes you wear, you will feel cold from the inside to the outside of your body all the time. Therefore different types of chili play a significant role in Sichuan. This is because chili contains a substance called capsaicin. Eating chili can speed up your heartbeat, enlarge your pores, accelerate blood, open your sweat glands, and cause your whole body to sweat. Sweat can drive the cold and moisture out of the body. Chili will make you feel totally warm and at the same time prevent diseases caused by wet weather.
End of the Food Trip
Now we are back in Germany and I hope everyone will enjoy this wonderful trip. After today’s journey, you can know more about real Chinese food and not be confused when you open the menu in Chinese restaurants.
Chinese food culture is as broad and profound as its history. The diversity of Culture and customs causes the diversity of Chinese Cuisine. There are many other Cuisines out of Eight Great Traditions, many people often say they want to eat all dishes of China, but after many years, they still haven’t left Sichuan yet. Our food trip will not end here, it’s just a temporary rest. I hope this blog can help you to get a further understanding of Chinese food and make you not confused when you sit in Chinese restaurants.
If you have a desire for Chinese food and culture, just follow us EasyCookAsia. We are going to show you more about China and Asia. Want to cook Chinese food by yourself?
Easy peasy! Bring our Chinese Recipe boxes home and start your simple Chinese cooking trip!