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23rd December 2022
When thinking of the nations that boast the finest cuisines in the world, one might think of the sophisticated flavours of France and Italy, the aromatic and spicy dishes of India, or the vibrant flavours of Latin America. These nations all have signature cooking styles, ingredients and dishes that create a national identity through cuisine. There is, however, one nation that surpasses all in variety of cooking techniques and flavours, where it has not one food region, but eight…
The Guangdong, Shandong, Jiangsu, Anhui, Zhejiang, Fujian, Sichuan and Hunan regions make China a bucket-list destination for any food lover.
Go to a Chinese takeaway or restaurant in the west and you’re likely to be served Cantonese cuisine, so dishes in Guangdong shouldn’t seem too unfamiliar to you. The capital of the province is Guangzhou, a historic trade port, meaning that Cantonese food uses more imported ingredients than other area of China. Cantonese cuisine, therefore, has greater variety of dishes than that of any other province. Expect lightly cooked, fresh meals in this region. Unlike heavily spiced or sweetened Cantonese food in the west, authentic cuisine uses herbs and seasonings sparingly, as a goal of Cantonese cooking is to preserve each ingredients original flavour as much as possible. A delicious example of this cooking mantra is steamed oysters served with sliced ginger and garlic.
Known colloquially as ‘heavenly country’, Sichuan has some of the most varied and delicious ingredients growing across the province. The largest of all cuisine regions, it has a huge array of dishes and cooking styles, but is most famed for a particular flavour – the Sichuan Peppercorn. The peppercorn has a numbing taste on the tongue that, when combined with fiery chilis, creates a unique hot flavour. A famous dish that demonstrates Sichuan’s signature taste is Mapo Tofu, more commonly known as ‘Pockmarked Granny’. This is a blisteringly hot dish, not for the faint of heart, teaming with chilis, water chestnuts, tofu and pork.
The most northerly region of China, Shandong has a long coastline making seafood a staple in its dishes. Expect sharp and salty accompaniments with onion, garlic, vinegar and salt used to accentuate the flavours of the fish. The most popular cooking technique is ‘bao’, which involves flash frying ingredients in a wok at extremely high temperatures. Lu restaurants are the best places to discover the culinary delights of Shandong, and the capital of the region, Jinan, boasts the largest number of them. If you want to try seafood in China, Jinan is where you need to go.
Containing the largest city in the country, Shanghai, the Jiangsu Province is the most affluent region in China. As a result, Jiangsu has sets itself apart as China’s hub for gourmet food. The cooking methods are varied, but often elaborate and always precise. Shanghai not only offers the finest Jiangsu cuisine in China, but also some of the best dining experiences in the world. Ultraviolet is a high-concept dining experience where guests are taken to a secret location for a 20 course meal that reimagines classic dishes. Expect to be wowed by bold flavours, immaculate presentation, and an intricate light and sound show that accompanies the meal.
One of the lesser known cuisine regions, the food of Anhui is defined by its mostly rural population and proximity to the Yellow Mountains. Dishes are simple and hearty, but don’t expect them to be any less flavoursome than that of their gourmet neighbour, Jiangsu. Anhui truly is the taste of the wild. Almost all of the dishes you will sample when exploring the forests around Huangshan or the Yellow Mountains will incorporate ingredients sourced from the wild. Freshly picked vegetables, fungi and herbs, as well as wild-caught fish and shrimps are common ingredients in stews and soups. The dishes might lack elegance, but you will not find more fresh and fragrant food in China.
Known as ‘the land of milk and honey’, the coastal province of Zhejiang is one of the richest in China. This has meant that Zhejiang cuisine’s is more refined than other provinces, but not to the same meticulous standard as Jiangsu. A visitor will notice that restaurants will place great emphasis on the freshness of a meal, and that seafood can be served raw, much like Japanese cuisine. The history of affluent dynasties in the region, famed for having a sweet tooth, has meant Zhejiang has a number of signature desserts. Ningbo rice balls are a must have delicacy, often flavoured with black sesame, red bean, sugar and cassia flowers.
Fujian cuisine is one of the oldest in China, dating back to 3000BC. Expect a lot of soups that utilise the array of exotic ingredients found in the province. Where other regions rely on a singular type of seasoning for dishes, the Fujian Province uses a variety; salt, vinegar, sugar and chilli are all present. Staple ingredients like wild mushrooms, vegetables, and fresh and saltwater fish are full of nutrients, making the Fuijian region’s cuisine the healthiest of the eight.
The ingredients at the foundation of Hunan dishes are shallots, garlic, and chili peppers. Much like the Sichuan region, Hunan’s dishes are famed for their heat, making it the perfect destination for lovers of spicy food. While its cuisine is similar to that of Sichuan, the dishes incorporate a drier heat and don’t include the signature Sichuan peppercorn. Another notable quality of Hunan cuisine is the focus on seasonal dishes. Depending on the time of year, the dishes available at restaurants will change, with cold spicy dishes in the summertime and hearty hot pots in the winter. If you are to try one dish, regardless of when you travel, make sure it is beer braised duck.
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If you’re eager to sample the culinary delicacies of China, why not submit an enquiry to our local experts? They can provide you more information on the best places to eat and are ready and waiting to get your dream tailor-made trip underway! To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.