Chinese Cuisine may be categorized as the “Eight Regional Cuisines in China”, which are as follows：Lu(Shandong), Chuan(Sichuan), Hui (Anhui), Yue (Guangdong), Min (Fujian), Xiang (Hunan), Su (Jiangsu), Zhe (Zhejiang). These styles are distinctive from one another due to factors such as available resources, climate, geography, history, cooking techniques and lifestyle. But the best known and most influential cuisines among them are Lu Cuisine, Chuan Cuisine, Yue Cuisine and Su Cuisine. These four cuisines are called Four Major Cuisines or Four Cooking Styles in China.
Lu cuisine, also referred to as Shangdong cuisine, is one of China’s Four Major Styles of Cooking featuring freshness of materials and salt flavor. It is derived from the traditional and historical cooking methods of Shandong, an East China’s coastal province. Lu cuisine is considered the most influential and popular in China. Modern day schools of cuisine in North China, such as those of Beijing, Tianjin, and Northeast, are all branches of Shandong cuisine.
The history of Lu cuisine can date back to Qin Dynasty (221 BC to 207 BC), when salt was used for seasoning in Shandong. The history book has recorded the eating of lumpfish and carp in the Yellow River in ancient times. Today Yellow River Carp Prepared with Sugar and Vinegar is still among the best dishes of Lu Cuisine, which shows how long a history Lu Cuisine has. Through generations of refinement, Lu Cuisine developed into a representative cuisine in the north. During the periods of Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, Lu cuisine becomes the most prevalent distinct regional cuisine in China, popular through out Beijing, Tianjin and Northeast China.
Seafood is the most notable ingredient of Lu Cuisine as Shandong is a costal province, including scallops, prawns, clams, sea cucumbers, and squid, which are all local ingredients of exemplary quality. Besides seafood, corn, peanuts, grains such as small grains, millet, wheat, oat and barley, and staple vegetables of Shandong province including potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, mushrooms, onions, garlic and eggplants.
Category and representative dishes
Lu cuisine consists of Jinan cuisine and Jiaodong cuisine. Though the two cuisines have the same geographical position and belong to the category of “Lu cuisine”, they have their own characteristics.
Jinan cuisine selects materials extensively. The dishes with thick color are particular about being bold and unconstrained. Moreover, it is characterized by using soup and utilizing soups in its dishes. The use and making of clear soup, milky soup and superior soup all have strict stipulations. The famous dishes of Jinan include Wu Ren Stuffed Bun (bun stuffed with walnut, peanut, ginkgo, melon seed and sesame) and Yellow River Carp Prepared with Sugar and Vinegar.
Jiaodong cuisine, which includes dishes in Qingdao, Yantai and Weihai, is characterized by seafood cooking, with light tastes. The cooking method of Jiaodong cuisine is particular about freshness, liveliness and insipidity though its flavor gives priority to tenderness. Some famous snacks include stir-fried clam, frozen vegetables with green-bean starch noodles and Chinese fried dumplings.
Represented by the local dishes of Chengdu and Chongqing, Sichuan cuisine is a style of Chinese cuisine originating in the Sichuan Province of southwestern China. As one of China’s Four Major Styles of Cooking, Sichuan cuisine features spicy, tongue-numbing, savory, delicious, oily and heavily seasoned flavor. Sichuan cuisine enjoys a time-honored history and is well-reputed home and abroad. In 2010, Chengdu was declared a “City of Gastronomy” by UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
Known as the “heavenly country”, Sichuan highlights its abundance of food and natural resources. Therefore, Sichuan cuisine features the well-arranged and enriched seasonings, particularly the use of garlic, ginger, chili peppers, as well as the unique Sichuan prickly ash. All these seasonings create the characteristic pungency and spiciness of Sichuan cuisine.
Why do Sichuan people love spicy food? Sichuan has high humidity and many rainy or overcast days. Hot pepper helps reduce internal dampness, so it was used frequently in dishes, and hot dishes became the norm in Sichuan cuisine. The region’s warm, humid climate also necessitates sophisticated food-preservation techniques which include picking, salting, drying and smoking.
The history of Sichuan cuisine can be traced back to the Qin and Han dynasties (221BC-220AD). As a unique style of food, Sichuan cuisine was famous more than 800 years ago during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) when Sichuan restaurants were opened in Lin’an, now called Hangzhou, the capital. In the late Qing Dynasty around 19th century, Sichuan cuisine became a unique local flavor, enjoying the same reputation with Shandong, Guangdong (Canton) and Huaiyang cuisines.
Statistics show that the number of Sichuan dishes has surpassed 5,000. Some representative dishes include Kung Pao Chicken, Mapo Tofu, Fish-flavored Pork Shred, Twice Cooked Pork and Sichuan Hotpot. Although many dishes live up to their spicy reputation, often ignored are the large percentage of recipes that use little or no hot spices at all, including dishes such as Tea Smoked Duck
Yue Cuisine, also known as Cantonese cuisine, originates from Guangdong Province in South China and is known as one of China’s Four Major Styles of Cooking. Yue cuisine features a wide variety of materials, carefully chosen seasonings, and elaborate techniques and refined tastes. It enjoys extremely good reputation at home and abroad for its unique types of dishes and special charm.
In ancient times, Baiyue people lived in Guangdong, but many immigrants from the hinterland moved in during the Qin and Han Dynasties. The dietetic culture of Guangdong has retained many eating habits and customs of the ancient people, such as eating snakes. Since the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Guangdong has become more prosperous. At the same time, Guangzhou has been a long-standing treaty port city, which attracted and absorbed various foreign cooking materials and techniques. And thus Yue cuisine was gradually perfected, which absorbed the cooking skills of the West as well as the cooking skills of other Chinese regions to develop its own unique methods.
Yue cuisine is especially skillful in techniques of stir-frying, frying, stewing and braising. Special attentions are paid to the heating temperature and duration. Emphasis is laid on the color, fragrance, taste, and forms of the food prepared. The tastes feature pure delicacy, freshness, tenderness, and crispness.
An emphasis on preserving the natural flavor of the food is also the hallmark of Yue cuisine. A Cantonese chef would consider it a culinary sin of the highest order to produce a dish that was overcooked or too heavily seasoned. Special care is taken to make sure that the tastes are light but not tasteless, fresh but not vulgar, tender but not raw, oily but not greasy.
Representative dishes of Yue cuisine include Plain Boiled Chicken, Plain Boiled Shrimps, Piglet Barbequed over open oven, Beef with Oyster Sauce, Snake Soup, Oil Fried Shelled Fresh Shrimps, Plain Steamed Sea Food, Braised Shrimps and Sea Cucumber.
Huaiyang cuisine, also called Jiangsu cuisine, is one of China’s four major cooking styles that enjoy a great reputation at home and abroad. It originates from the dishes and cooking styles of Hua’an, Yangzhou, and Zhenjiang, cites surrounding the lower reaches of the Yangtze River.
History and current status
Traditional Huaiyang cuisine came into being in Ming and Qing Dynasties, which was particularly popular in the Qing Dynasty. Nowadays, Huaiyang cuisine has become a symbol of Chinese food culture, which plays a key role in the banquets for big events, such as the first Grand Banquet for the Ceremony of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the grand banquet for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China, President Jiang Zeming’s entertainment of U.S. President George. W. Bush in 2002.
Known as “a land of fish and rice” in China, Jiangsu Province highlights a grand variety of food ingredients, and the typical raw materials are fresh and live aquatic products. Other cooking ingredients are often carefully selected tealeaves, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and pears.
The flavor of Huaiyang cuisine is light, fresh and sweet and its presentation is delicately elegant. It stresses the freshness, exquisite workmanship, elegant shape, and rich culture trait. Traditional Huaiyang cuisine features delicate carving techniques, of which the melon carving technique is especially well known. Typical cooking methods of Huaigyang cuisine include stewing, braising, steaming, quick-frying, stir-frying, and wine sauce pickling.
The famous dishes of Huaiyang cuisine include Braised Giant Meatball, Stewed Crab with Clear Soup, Long-boiled and Dry-shredded Meat, Crystal Meat, and Sour Vegetable Fish Pot.
Huaiyang cuisine also includes several snacks and breakfast choices such as Crab Soup Dumplings, Thousand Layer Cake, Steamed Dumplings, Tofu Noodles, and Wild Vegetable Steamed Buns.
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