Guide to China’s Regional Cuisine
Apr 8 – Shanxi/Shaanxi
Apr 15 – Xinjaing/Mongolia
Apr 22 – Shandong
Apr 29 – Guangdong/Hong Kong
May 6 – Beijing
May 13 – Shanghai
May 20 – Yunnan
May 27 – Hainan
Shaanxi/Shanxi · Last Year’s Menu
Shaanxi cuisine has a number of both modern and ancient influences. Eastern and Northern China, Central Asia, as well as the Central highlands have all melded together to create the flavors, cooking methods and traditions of this province. The culinary heart of Shaanxi is in the capital, Xi’an– the power and wealth of the metropolitan area attracted many chefs from all around the country, providing a number of different influences in the cuisine.
For many years feuding tribes fought over the province of Shanxi, bringing a mixture of food traditions to the province. Pork is the major protein of the area considering the province is inhabited solely by the Han Chinese. Noodles also play a large part in the cuisine of Shanxi; it is said that “all the world’s pastas can be found in Shanxi alone.” The province is also distinguished for the rich flavors and aromas of its aged black rice vinegar which is often put to use in sweet pickled garlic cloves.
Xinjiang · Last Year’s Menu
Located in the Northwest, Muslim-inspired cuisine holds sway in the province of Xinjiang. The food reflects the tastes and cooking styles of Uyghurs, Hui Muslims and Tibetans, with defining flavors of the dishes being chilies, meats, breads and cumin. The most commonly used protein on the region is lamb. A popular dish of the region is a “Big Plate of Chicken”, which was created by the Sichuan’s who immigrated to this area. Their goal was to make a meal that would satisfy the appetites of the people who worked long days at very physical, demanding jobs.
Shandong · Last Year’s Menu
The coastal Shandong province lies at the mouth of the Yellow river in Northeastern China. Three major culinary branches have influenced the region: first, decedents of the Confucius, whose refined flavors can be seen in a dish called Yellow Braised Duck (the less famous cousin of Peking Duck, but just as delicious and easier to prepare); second, the Jiaodong Peninsula, known for seafood dishes; and third, Jinan, whose local flavor is abundant with garlic. In turn, this province has had a substantial influence on all Northern Chinese cooking with its rich and savory local dishes–which we will showcase in our Shandong-style pork ribs. The influence of this province has been so large that the entire region is often referred to as “Shandong School”.
Guangdong · Last Year’s Menu
Guangdong (formerly Canton), a coastal region of Southeast China bordering Hong Kong and Macau, has three branches of cuisine — Guangzhou, Chazhou and Dongjiang. The province in known for using a wide variety of ingredients that is able to offer food for all tastes. The cuisine of Guangzhou (the capital of the province) is the most widespread food you will find in Guangdong. The dishes change seasonally, offering lighter and brighter flavors in the summer and autumn, and stronger yet mellow flavors in the spring and winter. The cuisine of Guangzhou tends to be lighter and focuses on more nutritious dishes that aid in good health. Chazhou takes influence from their southern neighbors and provide similar flavors to Fujian food. Dishes here often incorporate seafood and a variety of soups; the flavors and textures tend to be thicker, sweeter, and richer. Lastly, Dongjiang cuisine concentrates on using domestic animals and poultry, and the flavors of this style tend to be slightly salty with simple sauces. Cheung Fun Rolls, although very popular around the country, originated in Guangdong. The Cantonese translation of Cheung fun is “pig intestine noodle”. The noodles appearance is similar to intestine, but in reality is a deliciously steamed noodle made of rice and can be filled with pork belly and a variety of other ingredients.
Beijing · Peking Duck · Last Year’s Menu
Shanghai · Last Year’s Menu
The dishes of Shanghai are often referred to as the “children of a thousand mothers,” as the province can be easily accessed by the Grand Canal, its close proximity to railroads and highways, and its western influence. It is difficult to define the tastes and textures of the province due to its varied influences from various cuisines. The people of Shanghai refer to their fare as “our gang’s food”, which is highly seasonal and features a large amount of both saltwater and freshwater fish. Grandma Tang’s roast pork buns are my (Cecile) grandmother’s Shanghainese influence of a classic northern dish. A Shanghai specialty is a dish called Lion’s Head, which is a dish composed of oversized meatballs that are surround by cabbage, resembling the mane of a lion.
Yunnan · Last Year’s Menu
Yunnan, meaning “south of the clouds,” is made up of mountainous lands stretching from Tibet down to jungles that border Vietnam. Due to its location, the province is very diverse in its agricultural products and is inhabited by more ethnic groups than any other area, each having their own specialty dishes. Various tribes traveled through the area for centuries and brought a variety of herbs and spices to the region’s cuisine. Herbs such as cilantro, Vietnamese coriander, perilla leaves, and pandan fronds are commonly found in the dishes of this province, as well as an assortment of mushrooms and chilies. Fresh dishes such as spicy mint salad and wok-sautéed maitake mushrooms showcase the connection between the diverse vegetation and local fare.
Hainan/Hakka · Last Year’s Menu
Hainan is a small island located in the South China Sea. The cuisine of this area is influenced by a mix of Chaozhou (an eastern city in Guangdong province), Southern Fujian, and Hawaii. With its subtropical location, seafood and tropical fruits are a very important part of the local fare. That said, the most popular dish of the region uses neither: Hainan Chinese Chicken and Rice is the region’s famed recipe. A simple yet rich and indulgent dish, it consists of slow braised chicken atop white rice cooked in the rendered chicken juices.
The population of Hainan consists primarily of the Hakka people whose ancestors migrated to the Southlands from Northern China due to civil unrest. As people continued to migrate south over a number of years, this migration eventually developed a cuisine that would become the backbone of Southern China’s heartiest recipes. Hakka food is unique in that it is defined by a group of people rather than a region. The fare tends to be simply seasoned with a variety of dried fruits and fermented ingredients. Mei Cai Kou Rou, a dish consisting of braised pork belly and fermented mustard greens, is a lovely example of the simplicity and creativity of Hakka cuisine.