COOKING - THE REGIONAL CUISINES
& COOKING ARTICLE
China covering the immense land within its boundaries,
it is no surprise that there are many regional variations
in Chinese cuisine. Traditionally, Chinese cooking is
divided into five styles of regional cuisines. It is
headed by the 3 great schools of Peking to the north,
Szechuan to the west, and Chekiang-Kiangsu to the east.
Fukien and Canton, of lesser importance cover the southern
Northern Chinese cuisine
northern China presents a great contrast to the rest
of the country. The North China Plain, edged by mountains
to the north, stretches away in the west to the borders
of Inner Mongolia, and is crossed by the infamous
Yellow River . Due to its location, the climate is
harsh for much of the year. The spring is dry and
dusty, the summer is hot and wet, and the fall is
calm, dry, and sunny, while the winter is long and
freezing cold. It is dramatically subject to drought
from the failure of the late spring rains and to flood
when the Yellow River, for centuries unstable in its
bed, floods over into the low-lying countryside. Thus,
the lives and diets of the people living in this region
are dictated by these seasons.
is the staple food, as opposed to rice in the rest
of China, due to the harsh climate making it unsuitable
to grow rice. Wheat flour is used to make dumplings,
breads, steamed buns, noodles and large Chinese biscuits/pancakes.
Meat is much more of a luxury up here, mostly eaten
during festival times. Mutton and lamb are popular,
most likely due to the influence of the neighboring
Mongolians. Most northern family meals are dominated
by vegetable dishes for economical reasons. Chinese
cabbage is the most popular vegetable, as it is most
suited to be stored over the winter. Dishes in general
are much more plain, solid and nourishing. Soy sauce
is used very generously. The use of leeks, onions,
garlic, salted and pickled vegetables such as turnips,
white radish and cabbages are important items in a
rather monotonous diet.
which lies to the northern corner of the region, has
been the capital of China since the Fifteenth century.
It is the land of fried bean curd (tofu) and water
chestnuts. With it being the capital, and the city
of the emperor's residence, it is the only area in
the region where the availability and the variety
of food is abundant. The Imperial chefs were compensated
handsomely, and along with the large, wealthy market
in the capital, the infusion of gourmet chefs from
all over China brought about a great concentration
of culinary expertise in Peking . This tradition is
what characterizes Peking cuisine today, which is
lighter and more elegant than that of the outlying
regions. The greatest delicacy of the region is, of
course, the elaborate, world-renowned dish Peking
duck. In Peking, ducks are specially bred for this
dish and force fed to just the right degree of plumpness
and tenderness in preparation for this dish.
Western Chinese cuisine
the largest province in China, lies in a vast, densely
populated, and fertile basin surrounded by mountains.
Its principal connection eastwards is through the
spectacular deep, narrow gorges cut by the Yangtze
River. For centuries, due to its geography, the Yangtze
River was the province's only means of communication
with the outside world. Szechuan, in literal Chinese
translation, means Four Streams and refers
to the four main tributaries of the Yangtze River,
which flows through the province.
its sub-tropical, warm, and humid climate providing
fertile soil, crops can be grown almost all year round,
making Szechuan one of the most prosperous and economically
self-sufficient regions of China . This area has been
viewed by many as China in a microcosm and is often
perceived as a country within a country. The Chinese
call the Szechuan basin, Tien Fu Chih Kuo,
which literally means Heaven on Earth.
is grown in the summer, harvested in the late fall,
and replaced by wheat to be harvested in the spring.
Fruit, bamboo groves and vegetables grow in abundance,
as well as edible mushrooms and fungi, such as wood
ears and the silver fungi. Spices grow plentiful here
too, particularly chilies and the famous Szechuan
food is best known for being hot, and spicy. Chilies,
which are indigenous to the region, are used in great
quantities in dishes, and are the most striking feature
of Szechuan cuisine. The use of chilies comes from
a popular regional belief that eating spicy food induces
profuse perspiration that keeps the body cool, which
in turn helps expel the toxins in the body and keeps
one healthy. Another is that the heat
from chilies and spicy food stimulate one's palate
to be able to indulge the different tantalizing flavors
presented in Szechuan cuisine.
is not the only distinguishing feature of Szechuan
cuisine. It utilizes the different textures of wide
varieties of ingredients to produce chewy and crunchy
dishes. Pungent flavored vegetables such as onions,
garlic, and green onions are used frequently. It also
takes advantage of the aromatic, nutty flavor of cashews,
walnuts, pine nuts, and sesame seeds by incorporating
them into dishes. The peppers lend an immediate fiery,
numbingly hot, sensation to the food. But once this
initial phase passes, an array of flavor of sweet,
sour, salty, and bitterness asserts itself. Sesame
paste is often the principal ingredients in sauces,
although the use of sauces in Szechuan cuisine is
not common, as the many dishes are fried and tend
to be drier. Szechuan is also known for its food preservation
techniques, because the warm, humid climate makes
it difficult to keep food fresh. Salting, drying,
smoking and pickling are popular methods used by households.
neighboring province of Yunnan, is worth mentioning
here. It lies in the far southwest, a mountainous
and secluded region, and served as a cultural bridge
between China , India , and Burma. With it being geographically
isolated from the rest of China , Yunnan developed
over the years as a highly distinctive cuisine of
its own. Its best known delicacy is the ham, which
many consider the best in the world. It is also noted
for its game, such as rabbit and venison, and it is
the origin of exotic menu items such as bear's paws,
snakes, snails, and slugs.
Eastern Chinese cuisine
you follow the Yangtse River eastward out of the Szechuan
region, you will arrive into eastern China, which
lies on a great plain formed by the Yangtze River
and ends with its river delta. The river delta encompasses
some of the most fertile land in China, and flows
into the sea just north of the famous city of Shanghai
. The Yangtse River region in eastern China experiences
a temperate climate with warm springs, hot summers,
cool autumns, and relatively cold winters. It is the
greatest rice-producing region in China , and you
will find a plethora of creative ways that the regional
cuisines use to incorporate rice into the dishes.
wine is used extensively as seasoning and marinade.
Rice is often used as a stuffing, or to make classic
dishes such as Eight Treasure Rice Pudding - a deliciously
sweet steamed pudding dessert . Lotus leaves are frequently
used as wrapping material for steaming fish, meat,
and rice. Paper-wrapped and cellophane-wrapped dishes
are very common in the region, as well.
eastern Chinese cuisine is basically divided by the
Yangtse River into Kiangsu to the north, Chekiang
to the south, and Shanghai in the delta region.
is the largest city in China. It has been the center
of China's trade and industry for centuries. Some
argue that Shanghai does not have a cuisine of its
own, being the melting pot of the region,
while others argue that exact reason is why Shanghai
cuisine should represent the eastern Chinese cuisine.
Regardless, it does have its own distinctive local
dishes called benbang cai. Benbang cai is noted for
its use of red-cooking, with dark soy sauce, and its
abundant use of sugar. All of which produces rich,
sweet dishes with exquisite flavors and appearance.
Chekiang and Kiangsu are known as the land of rice
and fish, and is one of the wealthiest and most heavily
populated regions of China. Their cuisines feature
a broad variety of fish and aquatics, such as carp,
clam, mullet, perch, and prawns. Minced chicken and
bean-curd slivers are also specialties of these provinces.
Foods are often arranged in attractive floral patterns
prior to serving.
Chekiang province is well-irrigated by the Yangtse
River, criss-crossed with countless complex system
of lakes, marshes, ponds, lakes, and multiple river
channels, ideal for ducks, fish, frogs and eels. Chekiang
cuisine is known to be the least greasy of the three,
and well-regarded for its light, fresh, tender, soft
dishes, with smooth, but rich fragrance. The dishes
are also the least greasy of the three. Duck, freshwater
fish, and shellfish dishes are the specialties.
Cuisine, most likely has the longest history in the
region. Numerous regional specialty dishes are know
to be centuries old. Fish and rice are the main ingredients,
and the freshness of ingredients is extremely important,
as many dishes require them to be cooked alive and
quickly to retain the tenderness and its natural sweetness.
Vegetables are often cooked with the fish in the same
pot to preserve its freshness. Cooking techniques
consist of stewing, braising, and roasting. The dishes
in general are sweeter and greasier.
southern Chinese cuisine
provinces of Fukien and Canton make up the southern
coast of China, and are the 2 major constituents of
the southern Chinese cuisine. As expected, seafood
plays an important role due to the geography. The
southern Chinese cuisine takes full advantage of the
plentiful supply of lobsters, crabs, prawns, shrimps,
etc. They are usually stir fried or steamed with ginger,
and onion to eliminate the fishy smell. Seafood is
also utilized in their seasonings, as oyster sauce,
shrimp sauce, and shrimp paste are widely used.
which lies northeast of Canton, features beautiful
color, and wonderful mixture of sweet, salty, and
sour taste in its dishes. Red distiller's grain
is a famous flavoring often used in Fukien cuisine.
It takes over a year to prepare from glutinous rice,
fermented with red yeast, and emanates the most interesting
aroma of the red yeast.
all the Chinese regional cuisines, Canton is perhaps
the most familiar and best known to the western cultures.
For hundreds of years, Canton has had extensive trade
links with the rest of the world, from land, as well
as the sea. As such, the art of Cantonese cuisine
has long since been taken and spread around the world
to represent Chinese cuisine. That, and the fact that
the majority of the first group of Chinese emigrants
in the 19 th century came from the Canton region,
further cemented its influence in the west's interpretation
of Chinese cooking.
mild, tropical climate in the region produces an abundance
of crop all year round. Ample supply of rice, fruit,
and vegetables provide plentiful feed for livestock,
which in turn, produces high-quality meat and poultry.
Along with the wealthy of seafood along the coastline,
the south has arguably the most extensive array of
dishes in all of China. Having all this assortment
of ingredients in their arsenal, the southern chefs
pay a great deal of attention to the artistic presentation
of the dishes, making them especially appealing to
the eyes, as well as the taste buds.
boiling, and roasting are popular cooking methods,
which preserve the natural flavors and colors of the
ingredients. The Cantonese have perfected, and are
most renowned for the art of stir frying. Nothing
epitomizes the essence of Chinese cooking better than
stir frying to achieve food tenderness through quick
cooking in order to retain the natural taste, flavor,
and color of the ingredients. It is also perfect for
those who are health conscious, as these Chinese cooking
techniques require the least amount of oil.
sum are little southern delicacies served on small
plates or steam baskets for only breakfast or lunch.
They are pushed around the restaurants on wheel-carts
by the wait staff for the customer to pick from. It
is especially popular among bird-lovers in the south.
After walking their birds, they would visit Dim sum
restaurants, hang the bird cages on a rack, and meet
up with friends over tea and rounds of Dim sum to
relax and mingle. If you've never tried Dim sum, then
you are missing out on quite a unique experience.
article was written by Helen Fan who grew up in a family
that has owned various Asian restaurants all over North
America, from Vancouver (Canada), Houston (Texas), Decatur
(Illinois), to Chicago (Illinois). She, and the rest
of the Fan family are now sharing their decades of knowledge
on the art of Chinese cuisine at www.ChineseHomeCooking.Com
20 May 2007
Hub-UK : firstname.lastname@example.org