History of Chinese Culinary Arts (In brief) 中国八大菜系
China has a reputation as the Kingdom of Cuisine. Its unique geographical environment, local produces and ingredients, local customs, cultural traditions, ethnic inheritance and some of the popular local authentic flavors have play an important influence over the development of the Chinese Cuisine as it is today.
The infamous Eight Cuisine of China (八大菜系) are Sichuan cuisine, Shandong cuisine, Cantonese cuisine, Fujian cuisine, Jiangsu cuisine, Zhejiang cuisine, Hunan cuisine, Anhui cuisine.
During the Eastern Zhou period (770–255 BC), the Chinese cuisine can be distinguish between the northern and Southern dish by the differing flavors.The characteristic of South cuisine and North cuisine begin to form during the Tang and Song Dynasties and it continues to develop until the early Qing dynasty. Shandong cuisine (Lu), Su cuisine (Huaiyang), Cantonese cuisine (Yue), Sichuan cuisine (Chuan) became the most influential cuisine and famously known as the Four Major Cuisine. During the ending era of Qing Dynasty, Zhejiang cuisine, Fujian cuisine, Hunan cuisine, Anhui cuisine began to form as the new four local cuisine, constituting the Eight Cuisine of China.
By the time of late Zhao and Confucius, the arts of Chinese Culinary has reached certain heights. Principle of dining were discussed and judged based on aroma, taste, color and texture. A decent meal are expected to balance the Four Nature – hot, warm, cool and cold as well as the Five Taste – sweet, sour, bitter, salty and pungent.
Today the Chinese cuisine has influence over many other cuisines particularly in the Asia region with local adjustment to cater the local palate.
CLARIFICATION : Some cooking techniques are unable to be specifically translate due to there is no specific word(s) to accurately describe the true meaning of the word(s). However, the best possible translation to clarify the closes meaning are amended in this article.
Also known as Szechuan Cuisine or Szechwan Cuisine is a Chinese cooking style originated from Sichuan province. In China, there is a saying, “dine at China, flavors in Sichuan” (吃在中国，味在四川). Due to its sophisticated cooking style, in 2011 UNESCO declare Chengdu, capital of Sichuan as city of gastronomy. Sichuan is also known as “heavenly country” due to their abundant of food and natural resources. (Read Sichuan Cuisine in-depth)
Sichuan cuisine emphasizes color, shape, smell and taste. Most Sichuan dishes are hot and spicy. The taste criteria is compose of 7 criteria – hot, salty, sweet, bitter, numb, sour and aromatic. There is the infamous ma la (麻辣) – hot and numb, suan la (酸辣) – hot and sour and a lots more other interesting flavors. There is a Chinese saying, 一菜一格，白菜百味, literally translated as one dish one character, hundred dishes hundred flavors. There is 38 types of Sichuan cooking methods, whereas the trendy methods now are fried, pan fried, deep fried, roast, marinate as in pickled, braised, stir fry, and others. Sichuan peppercorn are the most important spice in a Sichuan cuisine, it delivers an intense citrus like flavor and a numbing sensation to our mouth.
More commonly known in Chinese as Lu Cuisine, can be divided into Jinan style, Jiaodong style, Kongfu style and other regional style. Jinan style is the typical style of Shandong cuisine. Modern Chinese cuisine at Northern China are developed from Shandong cuisine. Today Shandong cuisine are formed during the Yuan Dynasty, where it also influenced imperial dishes.
Shandong cuisine uses mainly domestic birds and animals, vegetables and seafood.With over 50 types of cooking methods, the major cooking techniques include Bao爆 (quick frying), Liu溜 (quick frying with corn flour), Pa扒 (stewing), roasting（烤）, boiling（煮）, using sugar to make fruit, crystallizing with honey.
Jinan style emphasizes more on clear aromatic broth and soup. Whereas Jiaodong style is much lighter in flavor and uses lots of seafood, dried and fresh. The Kongfu style on the other hand is a delicate cooking style with much complex cooking techniques, often require more than 3 to 4 steps to produce a dish.
Locally called as Yue Cuisine, consist of Guangzhou, Chaozhou and Hakka cooking style. In general, when a Westerners mentioned Chinese food, they usually refer to Cantonese cuisine due to a large number of emigrant from Guangdong province during the Chinese diaspora. Guangzhou dishes is the major influence of Cantonese Cuisine and also very well known for the phrase 食在广州, literally translated as dine at Guangzhou (Learn about visiting Guangzhou). Cantonese cuisine is often regarded as the quintessence of Chinese Cuisine.
A Cantonese dishes should be well balance and not greasy. Usage of herbs and spices should be modest to maintain the flavors of the primary ingredients, ingredients on the other hand has to be freshest possible. As for Chaozhou style also known as Teochew cuisine, uses plenty of seafood – dried and fresh, poultry and are also famous for their vegetarian dishes. Cooking methods includes, stir fry, deep fried, stew, double boiling, roast, bake, braise, boil, smoke and others, with clear soup being their notable specialty. Hakka style, in another word, Dongjiang style, uses more meat, emphasizes on flavors of the primary ingredients. Temperature control is the key to this cuisine for stew, roast, braise, baked, especially for their casserole dishes.
Also known as Min cuisine, originated from Fuzhou province. Fujian cuisine consist of 3 styles – Fuzhou, Southern Fujian and Western Fujian. Famously known for their local products, salty produce – shrimp sauce, shrimp oil (also known as fermented fish sauce), soy sauce, shacha sauce, etc, sweet produce – brown sugar, rock sugar, etc, sour produce – white vinegar, pickled bulbous onion, etc. Fujian cuisine is also known for their “drunken” dishes (wine marinated). Fujian cuisine make exceptional quality soup stocks and bases. A very good example is the infamous Buddha Jump Over the Wall.
It is famous for its flavorful yet light taste similarly to umami taste, delivering the original flavor of the main ingredients. Seafood and freshwater ingredients (freshwater fishes, turtles and shellfish) are commonly used. Their cooking method consist of boiling, steaming, pan fried, deep fried, stew, roast, braise, stir fry, smoke, simmer, etc. Knife skills are also trained to the finesse among their chef. In Fujian cuisine, they also uses a lots of distilled grain, namely, wine lees and red yeast rice which delivers a rosy-red hue and taste slight sweet. Fuzhou style are lighter in taste compare to the other two style and are famous for its soups. Southern Fujian style is slightly heavier than Fuzhou style. Incorporating various slow cooking methods with usage of sugar and spices. Whereas Western Fujian style, it is often slight spicy flavor from the usage of pepper and mustard. Dishes are commonly stir fry, frying and steaming. Their dishes are saltier and oilier, focusing more on meat than seafood.
Jiangsu cuisine, sometimes called Su cuisine, are heavily developed from Huaiyang cuisine. Jiangsu cuisine famous chef are usually specialize in traditional Huaiyang cuisine. As the Huaiyang cuisine is one of the sub-regional styles within Jiangsu Cuisine. Jiangsu cuisine also consist a blend of Suzhou style, Nanjing style, Wuxi style and Nantong style.
Jiangsu cuisine is very delicate in shape, color and appearance. They produces soft texture but not to the point of falling apart or mushy. Seafood is a common ingredient as Jiangsu province is located just right beside the sea. Nanjing style produces well balance flavor with attractive colors. Suzhou style emphasizes on quality of ingredients and taste sweeter than the other style. Wuxi style is famous for their caramelized soy dishes – hongshao 红烧. Nantong style on the other hand emphasizes the flavors from freshness of ingredients – local freshwater ingredients such as fish, shrimp, mussels, etc.
Zhejiang cuisine or in short as Zhe cuisine dependent on seasonal ingredients, fine and delicate knife skills, temperature control, emphasizes on freshness of the ingredients with each dish having its own charm.
Cooking style consist of Hangzhou, Ningbo, Shaoxing and Wenzhou. Hangzhou cuisine produces fine and beautiful dishes, particularly good at stir fry, deep fry, braise and some other techniques. As for Ningbo cuisine, they uses a lots of seafood, cooking method includes stew, braise, steam and baked the dishes are moderately seasoned as not to mask the freshness of the ingredients. Shaoxing cuisine is famous for is aromatic dishes and delicate flavors, authentic broth, just like the historic riverside town, simple and peculiar. Lastly, Wenzhou cuisine also known as Ou Cuisine, serves plenty of fresh seafood and their cooking is based on a saying, “two light one heavy” (二经一重), technically translated as light oil, light gravy and heavy knife skills, indicated their cooking emphasizes good knife skills, less usage of oil and delicate and exquisite flavors!
Hunan cuisine, also called Xiang cuisine, is known as the land of fish and rice because of its abundant resources around the Xiang River region and Dongting Lake. For a foreigners, Hunan Cuisine are often mixed up with Sichuan Cuisine, both are their dishes has a similar trait which is hot and spicy. However, Sichuan Cuisine are easily distinguish by its complex flavor and hot and numbing sensation which is in contrast with Hunan Cuisine. Hunan Cuisine on the other hand is hot and spicy and the flavor of the dish is greatly dependent on the primary ingredient used, minus the numbing sensation.
Hunan cuisine uses liberal amount of chili, very well known for its hot spicy flavor, incorporating the saltiness from the northern region and sweetness from the southern region. Hunan cuisine emphasizes on flavor not only at the exterior but also the interior flavor. Diverse cooking technique – roast, stir fry, steam, smoked and others. Hunan cuisine are also famous for their local produce such as tempeh, tea oil, chili oil, chili sauce, pepper, fennel, cinnamon and so on.
Also known as Huizhou cuisine, originated in the Southern Song Dynasty of Huizhou (now Anhui Province, Huangshan City), was originally the local flavor of Huizhou mountain regions, particularly Huangshan Mountains. As the era of Ming and Qing develops, Huizhou cuisine gradually influence and flourishes to the local flavors of the lowlands alongside Yangtse River, namely, Hubei, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Fujian and Shanghai. The International Huizhou Food Culture Festival are held annually at Anhui province.
During the early development of Anhui cuisine, braising technique are the major cooking technique. They mostly uses rapeseed oil and the rapeseed oil are home grown and home made. Large amount of wood are used to fuel the fire to the extend that different types of firewood are used for the purpose of temperature control. Charcoal were used for braising, firewood for quick roast and wood blocks and chips for slow roast. Traditional Huizhou cuisine emphasizes on oil, color and fire. Huizhou produces delicate dry cured ham, with a Chinese saying, 金华火腿在东阳，东阳火腿在惠州, literally means the infamous Jin Hua Ham is at Dongyang (Zhejiang), Dongyang ham is at Huizhou. Anhui cuisine emphasizes knife skills, temperate control which is shown in their ability to roast, smoke, stew and steam. An Anhui chef will commonly uses about 20 cooking techniques out of their total 50 cooking techniques, which is best represented with roasting, clear stew and smoke.