A Guide to Chinese Cuisine
Being a large country, China is home to a diverse and fascinating range of regional dishes and cooking styles which can be daunting enough to send you heading off at speed to the nearest familiar fast-food jaunt.
Fear not though, the food here is delicious and it would be a shame for it not to form a part of your Chinese experience. This is the low-down on what to expect when dining in China.
Chinese cuisine can be divided roughly into eight main cuisines, as follows:
- Chuan Cuisine
You will come across Chuan Cuisine all over China. Hot, sour and spicy, these popular fast-fried dishes use pork, tofu, beef, fish and vegetables as their main ingredients.
- Cantonese Cuisine
Cantonese Cuisine is a type of cuisine served at Chinese restaurants all over the world, featuring sauces, rice wine, noodles, chicken, duck, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce and other familiar flavours. Ironically, this is the cuisine that features distasteful ingredients such as cats and snakes, so be careful what you order!
- Lu Cuisine
Lu Cuisine specialises in ingredients which are familiar to Westerners and is widely eaten throughout China – expect deep-fried, sauced items of seafood and fish along with corn, potatoes, cabbages, mushrooms, onions and garlic.
- Min Cuisine
Soups play a major role in Min Cuisine and appear alongside sweet and sour dishes or spicy items created from delicacies of the oceans and mountains, along with the famous "drunken" dishes cooked in red rice wine.
- Su Cuisine
Su Cuisine has it’s heart in South China's Jiangsu Province and is a good introduction to dining in China, producing dishes that are fresh and fragrant, using fish and vegetables.
- Xiang Cuisine
Hunan or Xiang Cuisine creates salty, spicy dishes using soy sauce, tea seed oil, red pepper and cassia bark added to numerous chicken and fish dishes. Chilli features in almost every dish except ice cream.
- Hui Cuisine
Also known as Anhui Cuisine or Wan Cuisine, this cooking style originates in the mountains and forests of China and relies on herbs, sautéing and stewing to add a delicate lightness to various vegetable and meat dishes. Some of the ingredients used are especially unique, such as tea leaves and frogs.
- Zhe Cuisine
Think tender stir-fries, deep-fried and braised dishes with tender, delicate, clean tastes. Zhe Cuisine is never greasy and features scrumptious seafood, fish and bamboo shoots as its main ingredients.
As if eight main cuisines aren’t enough, Chinese cuisine is also categorised into 6 smaller regions i.e. Northern, Muslim, Mongolian, Tibetan, Taiwan and Southern Minority food.
Chinese Table Etiquette
Before you start tucking into the many delicious dishes available in China, remember that the Chinese are sticklers for good manners and you will be judged on your dining etiquette –
- If you are invited to a banquet or meal, dress up smartly and arrive on time with a small gift or a bottle of good wine. Do not sit down or start eating before the host, guest of honour or elders. Seating arrangements are particularly important to the Chinese.
- Never place chopsticks standing upright in the bowl or use them to take food from the serving dishes, spoons will be provided for dishing up.
- Don’t wave chopsticks about or skewer food on them either and always break large food items up by grasping them with your chopsticks and twisting them, if you can’t master the use of chopsticks, ask for a spoon.
- Lift your bowl from the table when eating, placing your thumb inside the rim of the bowl.
- If you can master these few specialised rules you will be fine, as long as you mind your manners – chew slowly and decorously, don’t overstuff your mouth, smack your lips, or chew with your mouth open, and most importantly, enjoy your meal and let it be known that you appreciated it.