Within Chinese culinary cuisine, there are eight different styles.
Sichuan (Szechuan) – well known for its hot, numbing and spicy flavours, the seasoning used often involves chili, pepper, garlic and ginger to be found in this cuisine.
Two of my favourite dishes are the Mapo Tofu and spicy diced chicken. Compared to other dishes, these ones are often subtly laced with spices so that it’s not too pungent or overwhelming and thus very satisfying and tasteful. There are a variety of cooking methods depending on the dishes but the most commonly used one is fast frying.
Hunan – is hotter than Sichuan cuisine and tend to be oilier. It can be summed up in three words: hot, sour and salty. Vinegar and pepper are common ingredients found in its cuisine. Unlike Sichuan, Hunan cuisine is not as numbing on the palate. Cuisine is served with crunchy vegetables and is fermented, boiled or stir fried. Green beans with ground pork is a favourite of mine (this dish is classified as Szechuan cuisine as well).
Cantonese – The dishes tend to be milder, sweeter and fresh. The cuisine comes from the Guangdong province and is the most widely served Chinese cuisine in the world. The condiments are usually coriander leaves, chives, ginger and garlic. BBQ pork, dim sums and abalone are popular dishes. One of my favourite dishes would be braised abalone (see right picture above).
Anhui – its food is less well known. To the best of my knowledge, I have never tasted their culinary style before. They are famous for incorporating wild ingredients and wildlife such as small shrimp, turtles, fungi and mushroom. The main cooking methods are sautéing and stewing.
Fujian – Similar to Anhui, wild food is incorporated into their cuisine. There is a distinctive sweet and sour taste to their dishes as a result of seasonings including: sea salt, soy sauce, vinegar and brown sugar. In terms of cooking, they use a variety of methods like the other Chinese cuisines. The most characteristic aspect of Fuijian cuisine is that the dishes are served in soup. This is another cuisine that I have only tried to a small degree. A famous delicacy is steamed birds nest (see right picture above) which is highly nutritious.
Zhejiang – This food style comprises of fish and seafood. The focus is on serving fresh food so that most of their dishes are served raw or almost raw. It is more like Japanese food in this way. An unusual style of cooking is soaking in brine, where meat and other food are left to soak in salty brine for about 24 hours before it is served. A popular dish representative of this cuisine is the Ningbo salty crab.
Jiangsu – Another province that is quite coastal and close to the sea, you will find that most of their dishes involve fish. Its close proximity to Shanghai sees it bear similarities to Shanghai cuisine. Similar to Zhejiang, there is an emphasis on freshness and bringing out the dish’s natural but there is also an element of saltiness and sweetness that is incorporated through the soup or sauce. Sweet and sour mandarin fish is a popular dish.
Shandong – salty, crispy and favours a lot of seafood dishes. The bao stir frying method is often used for cooking, where the food is cooked in a wok over a hot flame. The oil boils at an extremely high temperature so that the ingredients are fried quickly. Braised spare ribs with gluten is one such example.