10 Chinese Regional Cuisine To Take Your Around China
When you think of Chinese food, what do you think? Fried rice? Beef and broccoli? Sesame chicken?
Well yes and no. Those and many other Chinese foods in America were developed by Chinese Americans adjusting their Chinese cuisine to the American tastebuds. With that said, Chinese cuisine has a wide variety of cooking styles and flavors to explore.
Eating in one location in China can be vastly different in another. To get the most out of all the cuisines of China, here are 10 Chinese regional cuisines that will take you around China.
What are the eight culinary cuisines of China?
Map of eight culinary cuisines of China | China Highlights
Without going too in-depth, China’s eight culinary cuisines are
These eight regions will take you to the most prominent parts of Chinese cuisine. We’ve listed more than eight on this list, but don’t limit yourself to just these foods.
Northern vs Southern Chinese cooking
Qin Mountain and the Huai River map | Travel China Guide
China is the fourth largest country in the world where the north and south are separated by the Qin mountain and the Huai River.
Many geographers reference 秦岭淮河线 (Qin Lin Huai He Xian) which translates to the Qin Mountain Huai River Line. While this separation makes it difficult to distinguish between North and South China, it influences the cultural diversity and the development of cuisine between the North and South Chinese cuisines.
Northern Chinese cuisine
Northern Chinese cuisine includes Beijing cuisine, Shandong cuisine, and Zhejiang cuisine. All these cuisines have one ingredient in common: flour. They LOVE their flour.
Originally, millet was more of the staple source of grain that the people used. However, wheat gained mass popularity and became the staple source of food during the fall of the Tang dynasty.
This preference led us to the wheat-based dishes that northern Chinese cuisine is famously known for.
1. Biang Biang Noodles
Homemade BiangBiang Noodles
Biang Biang Noodles originated from the Shaanxi province of the northwest region of China. These were originally a part of a poor man’s daily meal but now have gained popularity all over the world.
The noodles are made of wheat, and instead of hand-pulled they were cut with knives, thus the English name knife-cut noodles. The name Biang Biang however, is what gives it the popularity it has now. The name Biang Biang is a dialect and its written form is not recorded in any Mandarin dictionary.
The written Chinese form of Biang looks insane with a whopping 58 strokes (42 simplified), and these noodles are known to be wide and long just like a belt. It is served with hot oil, mixed with chili and spices, giving it a fragrance that makes your mouth water.
2. Dong Xiang lamb:
Cooking Dong Xiang lamb over grill | oggi.jp
Dong Xiang is the name of a region in the Gansu province in northern China.
This region boasts of having the best lamb meat sources in China. If you ever visit the Gansu province, it is highly recommended for you to try their lamb dishes braised, stir fry, or even skewered. 8 months old mutton will be cooked delicately stir-fried as they have the softest texture of meat. The meat of up to 1-year-old lamb will be used in braised dishes and skewers as they maintain their fat and texture in higher heat better.
3. Lanzhou beef noodle soup
Lanzhou beef noodle soup
Beef noodle soup is a staple in several regions in Northern China with the most popular being the Lanzhou Beef Noodle soup.
As the name suggests, the dish is best produced in the region of Lan Zhou. The dish is known for its elastic noodles, bone broth, and tasty beef pieces served together. There are 5 features of an excellent Lan Zhou beef noodle soup: clear soup, clean white turnips, brilliant red chili oil, green parsley, and yellow noodles.
If one of these features did not exist, consider the dish, not a true Lanzhou beef noodle soup.
Southern Chinese cuisine
The spread of millet and wheat only made their way in the northern region but never really made its way to the south as the region was separated by the Qin Mountain and Huai River. The lack of transportation development then made it impossible to bring millet and wheat to the south.
Instead of wheat and millet, the south had rice. Rice has been growing in the southern region since 3000–4000 years ago. These centuries of rice planting heritage have made rice an important part of Chinese culture, especially in the south.
Southern Chinese cooking includes Cantonese cuisine, Hunan cuisine, Fujian cuisine, and Sichuan cuisine.
4. Rice Noodles
Chow Fun is a type of rice noodles
One of the most popular dishes of rice noodles is fried rice noodles. This is a Cantonese dish that signifies a Cantonese chef’s true skill. Because you would have to make all the ingredients cooked equally while still managing that the noodles do not stick to the wok or burn.
The first rice noodle is said to first originated in Guangzhou. During the Qin Dynasty, Northern Chinese people invaded Southern China. The Northern Chinese people (who enjoy eating noodles) created the rice noodle dishes as wheat was a scarce ingredient in Southern China.
Despite this history, it created an iconic Chinese dish for anyone to try, and remains popular today.
5. Char Siu
Sweet and savory char siu pork
Char siu originated from the Guangdong region in the south of China.
Although the name was given to the method of how the dish was made, char siu is a Cantonese dialect and the word, cha shao (叉烧), can be literally translated to “fork roast” from Mandarin.
Although there are no specifications of which meat should be used, pork loin and pork belly are popular cuts to be used when making char siu.
Common and Popular Dishes all over China
Despite most Chinese foods being divided based on their regions, many of these dishes have gained popularity throughout the country.
Here is a list of dishes that have made their way far and wide from their origin to the rest of the country and even internationally.
Dumplings are popular and are everywhere in China.
The creation of dumplings also differs from region to region. For example, the infamous xiao long bao (小笼包), originated in the Jiangxi province. The skin is made out of wheat flour, with broth and pork filling inside. Xiao long refers to the name of the bamboo basket to which they are steamed, whereas the bao refers to the buns.
There are several ways to make this dish depending on where you are visiting. In the south, the dough of the skin is unleavened, thus they are thin and translucent with pork and soup fillings inside of them. If you go further to the northern regions, they are made with leavened though, thicker and usually bigger, sometimes twice the size of that made in the south.
7. Dim Sum
Various dim sum dishes
Dim Sum is a Cantonese word where it can be translated as “to touch the heart.”This dish is strongly associated with “Yum Cha” or the practice of drinking tea accompanied by several small portioned snacks.
This practice originated in the Guangzhou region and became popular in the 10th century when the region had an increasing number of tourists and travelers visiting the area.
The Hong Kong dim sum style is now the most popular and well-known around the world thanks to their carts that circle the restaurant floors and offer guests to choose their dishes of choice from the carts. This tradition still lives on today and is an especially popular choice for family brunch.
8. Hot Pot
Two flavor of hot spot broth to cook your ingredients
Hot pot originated in Mongolia 800-900 years ago. At that time, ingredients for hot pot only included mutton and horse meat as they were the staple ingredients available in the region. However, as they make their way to popularity across China, each region puts its own signature twist on this ancient dish.
The most famous is probably the Szechuan style. Hot pot is huo guo (火锅) in Mandarin with the Szechuan style being the most popular. The Sichuan peppercorns (麻-ma) and dried chilies (辣-la) are put in, giving the broth a málà, or spice-numbing, flavor—a very fitting name for huo guo (火锅) which literally translate to “fire pot.”
Pan fried buns | TheFoodieTakesFlight
Believe it or not, but buns are one of the most common Chinese foods but are most popular in central China.
The central region of China was said to be one of the earliest regions to use steam in cooking. Thus spreading the popularity of steamed buns across the northern regions of China and later to the whole country.
Buns in Mandarin are called bao (包) and are often associated with bread in the West. It has different recipes and serving styles depending on the region. In the north, for example, the buns are made using millet flour or wheat flour. In the south, rice flour is used instead. This gives the buns created by the southern region, softer and gluten-free. These buns created from steaming are often called mantou (馒头). When the steamed buns are given filling “sweet or savory” they are called “baozi” (包子).
However, steamed buns are not the most classic way to enjoy buns in Chinese cuisine. The most classic way to enjoy buns is to bake them and eat them with marinated meat. Baked buns with marinated meat are popular throughout China, especially in the region of Xi An. This dish where the buns are baked instead of steamed and served with meat is named Gua Bao (挂包). Gua bao is now the most classic way to enjoy buns throughout China and pop culture around the world.
10. Pork Belly
Crispy pork belly
Pork belly is a staple cut of meat in Chinese cuisine.
You might recognize crispy pork also known as shao rou (烧肉). This style of pork belly cooking uses a charcoal furnace and the meat is seasoned with spices, vinegar, and salt. The most popular however is the red braised pork belly, hong shao rou (红烧肉). The dish has several variations like the Dong Po pork from Hangzhou. But the most famous version of the red pork belly is the Hunan version which was dubbed to be General Mao’s favorite dish. This later gave the dish a new nickname, Mao’s style braised pork (毛氏红烧肉).
What do you want to eat next? These Chinese regional dishes are one of the many aspects of Chinese cuisine. There are thousands of years of history and meaning with each food, resulting in various types of food and flavors.