Universally recognized as one of the great cuisines of the world, Chinese food in all its variety and complexity is unquestionably one of the finest pleasures a visitor can experience in China. There is a vast range of restaurants, from street stalls serving noodles and revolving restaurants atop hotels to roast duck specialists and converted courtyards where the imperial family once dined.
China's vast territory and long history have given birth to distinct regional cuisines over the centuries. The precise number of regional cuisines in China is still under dispute, but experts agree on at least four: Sichuan, Shandong, Guangdong (Cantonese), and Jiangsu-Zhejiang. The following is the introduction of the four distinct regional cuisines.
1. SICHUAN CUISINE
Of the four major schools of China's culinary art, Sichuan cuisine is perhaps the most popular. It is well-known for its hot and pungent flavoring. Yet the highly distinctive pungency is not its only characteristic. In fact, Sichuan cuisine boasts a variety of flavors and different methods of cooking. A Sichuan dish can be hot, sweet, sour, salty, or tongue-numbing. Dishes typical of Sichuan are Twice Cooked Pork Slices, Spicy Diced Chicken with Peanuts, Dry-fried Shark Fin, and Fish-flavored Pork Shreads. One of the popular dishes is Pock-marked Woman's Bean Curd which was invented by a Chengdu chef's pockmarked wife decades ago. The cubed bean curd is cooked over a low flame in a sauce which contains ground beef, chili, and pepper. When served, the bean curd is tender, spicy, and appetizing.
2. SHANDONG CUISINE
Shandong cuisine includes many well-known seafood dishes. The dishes are usually fresh, tasty, but not greasy. Some of the famous dishes are Deep-fried Red-scale Fish. Yellow River Carp in Sweet and Sour Sauce, Stewed Sea Cucumber, and Sauteed pickled Fish Slices. When meat or seafood is cooked, only small amounts of cooking oil and mild spices are used so that the natural flavor of the food is preserved. Dezhou Braised Chicken is known throughout the country. The chicken is so well cooked that the meat easily separates from the bone although the shape of the chicken is preserved.
The most representative of Shandong cuisine is, perhaps, Beijing Roast Duck. Beijing Roast Duck is prepared from specialty-bred Beijing crammed duck with a unique roasting process which gives it a perfect combination of color, aroma, taste, a crisp thin skin, and a delicious flavor.
Shandong cuisine has been influenced by the "Confucius Family Dishes," which are renowned for their taste, aroma, color and shape. Most famous ones are Jadeite Shark Fin, Agate Sea Cucumber, Shrimps Wearing Jade Belts, and Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea.
3. GUANGDONG CUISINE
Guangdong cuisine, known as Cantonese cuisine in the West, was developed in Guangzhou, Huizhou and Chaozhou, and Hainan Island. As the climate of Guangdong is hot, these dishes are fresh, tender, and lightly seasoned. The raw material for Guangdong cuisine is very rich, which includes snake, cat and pangolin. Cooked snake is considered a delicacy. The most famous snake dish is the Dragon and Tiger Locked in Battle, in which cobra, leopard cat, and over twenty spices are used. Roast snake with Chrysanthemum Blooms is provided in autumn. The dish is creamy in color and is garnished with beautiful petals of chrysanthemum, mushrooms, and various flavoring. Other delicacies in Guangdong cuisine include Roast Suckling Pig, Duck Web in Oyster Sauce, and Braised Chicken Feet with Wild Herbs.
4. JIANGSU-ZHEJIANG CUISINE
Jiangsu-Zhejiang cuisine is popular in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River and is characteristically sweet. In this school of cooking, cutting technique and temperature control are emphasized. Some of its best-known dishes are Crystal Pork, Braised Shark Fin in Brown Sauce, Simmered Pork Head, Eel and Crab Meat in Crab Shells, and West Lake Fish in Vinegar Sauce. Jiangsu-Zhejiang cuisine is also becoming popular in the north.
In addition to the principal cuisine mentioned above, there are more than twenty well-known styles which include Beijing cuisine, Henan cuisine, Hunan cuisine, Hubei cuisine, Anhui cuisine, Fujian cuisine, Muslim cuisine, and vegetarian cuisine.