Food & Drink



Regional Cuisine



Szechuan cuisine is a style of cookery originating in the Sichuan province of western China which has an international reputation for being spicy and flavorful. Although the region Sichuan is usually romanized incorrectly, the cuisine that originated there is still usually spelled Szechuan in the West, and pronounced phonetically [se'sh-won] in English.

Some well-known Szechuan dishes include Kung Pao chicken and Twice Cooked Pork. 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.

The chile pepper, a common ingredient in Szechuan cuisine (often used unseeded), was introduced to China from the Americas after European colonization of the Americas had begun. Chile peppers were most likely introduced to Sichuan by migrating Hunanese peasants in the 17th or 18th century. However, Szechuan cuisine's reputation for being spicy is much older: sichuan pepper, or "numbing pepper" is an indigenous plant (fruit) that produces a fragrant, numbing, almost citrus-y spice, and is still a key ingredient in Szechuan food to this day; ginger and spicy herbs were used early on. The reason for this emphasis on spice may derive from the region's warm, humid climate. This climate also necessitates sophisticated food preservation techniques which include pickling, salting, drying and smoking.

Dubnjing (Simplified Chinese: 豆瓣酱; Traditional Chinese: 豆瓣醬), broad bean chili paste, is a staple seasoning in Sichuan cuisine.

Common preparation techniques in Szechuan cuisine include stir frying, steaming and braising, but a complete list would include more than 20 distinct techniques. Beef is somewhat more common in Szechuan cuisine than it is in other Chinese cuisines, perhaps due to the widespread use of oxen in the region. Stir-fried beef is often cooked until chewy, while steamed beef is sometimes coated with rice flour to produce a rich gravy.

Common Szechuan Dishes




Cantonese cuisine (Chinese: 粵菜; Pinyin: yu ci) originates from the region around Canton (Guangzhou) in southern China's Guangdong province. Of the various regional styles of Chinese cuisine, Cantonese is the best-known outside China; a "Chinese restaurant" in a Western country will usually serve mostly Cantonese food, or an adaptation thereof. The prominence of Cantonese cuisine outside China is likely due to the disproportionate emigration from this region, as well as the relative accessibility of some Cantonese dishes to foreign palates. Cantonese dishes rarely use "hot" spices like chilli, unlike, for instance, Szechuan cuisine.

Cantonese cuisine has widely been regarded as the pinnacle of Chinese regional fare, because of the immensity and diversity of the ingredients used. This is because Canton, a long established trading port in Southern China, has been exposed to more imported food products and ingredients than any other area in China. For example, shell fish and prawns are rarely served in Northern Chinese cuisine because, before the advent of refrigeration, these ingredients were simply not feasibly available. This has led Cantonese cuisine being one of the most flavor rich cuisines in the world.

There is a Cantonese saying: "Any animal whose back faces the sun can be eaten" , and in Northern Chinese areas such as Beijing, it is said "The Cantonese will eat anything that swims, except the submarine. Everything that flies, except the airplane, and everything that has legs, except the table.". Cantonese cuisine includes almost all edible food in addition to the staples of pork, beef and chicken snakes, snails, insects, worms, chicken feet, duck tongues, and entrails. One subject of controversy amongst some Westerners is the raising of dogs as food in some places in China; however, dog is not a common restaurant food, and is illegal in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Despite the countless Cantonese cooking methods, steaming, stir frying and deep frying are the most popular cooking methods in restaurants due to the short cooking time, and philosophy of bringing out the flavor of the freshest ingredients.

Elements of Cooking


Cantonese cuisine can be characterized by the use of very mild and simple spices in combination. Ginger, spring onion, sugar, salt, soy (soya) sauce, rice wine, corn starch and oil are sufficient for most Cantonese cooking. Garlic is used heavily in dishes especially with internal organs that have unpleasant odors, such as entrails. Five-spice powder, white pepper powder and many other spices are used in Cantonese dishes, but usually very lightly. Cantonese cuisine is sometimes considered bland by those used to thicker, richer and darker sauces of other Chinese cuisines.


Spicy hot dishes are extremely rare in Cantonese cuisine. Spicy hot food is more common in very hot climates, such as those of Sichuan, Thailand, etc. where food spoils easily, and in the cold climates of the north. Guangzhou has the richest food resources in China in terms of agriculture and aquaculture. Natural flavors are a highlight of Cantonese cuisine, thanks to the copious amounts of available fresh produce, and the mild weather of the region.

As an example of the high standard for freshness in Cantonese meals, cows and pigs used for meat are usually killed earlier the same day. Chickens are often killed just hours beforehand, and fish are displayed in tanks for customers to choose for immediate preparation. It is not unusual for a waiter at a Cantonese restaurant to bring the live flipping fish or the crawling lobster to the table to show the patron as proof of freshness before cooking.


Due to Guangdong's proximity to the southern coast of China, fresh live seafood is a specialty in Cantonese cuisine. Many authentic restaurants maintain live seafood tanks. In the Cantonese viewpoint, strong spices are added only to stale seafood to cover the rotting odor. The freshest seafood is odorless, and is best cooked by steaming. For instance, only a small amount of soy sauce, ginger, and spring onion is added to a steamed fish. The light seasoning is used only to bring out the natural sweetness of the seafood. However, most restaurants gladly get rid of their stale seafood inventory by offering dishes loaded with garlic and spices. As a rule of thumb in Cantonese dining, the spiciness of a dish is usually inversely proportional to the freshness of the ingredients.


Another unique Cantonese specialty is slow-cooked soup. This is almost unheard of in any other Chinese cuisines. The soup is usually a clear broth prepared by simmering meat and other ingredients for several hours. Sometimes, Chinese herbal medicines are added to the pot. The ingredients of a rather expensive Cantonese slow cooked soup are: fresh whole chicken, dried air bladder of cod fish, dried sea cucumber, dried scallop, and dried abalone (佛跳牆). Another more affordable example includes pork bones, watercress with two types of apricot kernels (南北杏西洋菜豬骨湯), etc. The combinations are varied and numerous.

The main attraction is the liquid in the pot, the solids are usually thrown away unless they are expensive ingredients like abalones or shark fins. A whole chicken may simmer in a broth for six hours or longer. The solids are usually unpalatable but the essences are all in the liquid. Traditional Cantonese families have this type of soup at least once a week. Though in this day and age, many families with both working parents cannot afford this tradition due to the long preparation time required. However, wealthy families with servants and a cook still enjoy the luxury every day. For the same reason, not many restaurants serve this type of soup either. Even if they do, it can only be served as soupe du jour.

Hong Kong Style

The term "Hong Kong Style" is used to distinguish this style of cooking from the more Americanized version of Cantonese cuisine that most Americans are familiar with.

Preserved Foods

Though Cantonese cooks pay much attention to the freshness of their cooking ingredients, Cantonese cooking also uses a long list of preserved food items. This may be an influence from Hakka cuisine. Some items gain very intense flavors during the drying/aging/preservation/oxidation process, similar to Italian style sun-dried tomatoes' intensified flavor from drying. Some chefs combine both dried and fresh variety of the same items in a dish to create a contrast in the taste and texture. Dried items are usually soaked in water to re-hydrate them before cooking, such as mushrooms. Or they are cooked with water over long hours until they are tender and juicy. For example, dried abalone and dried scallop have much stronger flavors than the fresh one without the undesirable strong fishy odor. Not only do preserved foods have a longer shelf life, sometimes the dried foods are preferred over the fresh ones because of their uniquely intense flavor or texture.

Dried or Preserved Food Products

Common Cantonese Dishes


Hunan Cuisine, sometimes called Xiang Cuisine (Chinese: 湘菜; Pinyin: xiāng ci), consists of the cuisines of the Xiangjiang region, Dongting Lake and western Hunan Province, in China.

While similar to Szechuan cuisine, Hunan Cuisine is often spicier and contains a larger variety of ingredients. Hunan is known for its liberal use of chilli peppers, shallots and garlic. Many Hunan dishes are characterized by a strongly flavored brown sauce. Some rely on sweetness from ingredients such as honey; sweet and sour sauces are also characteristic of the style.

Hunan cuisine is difficult to precisely characterize, as it has absorbed stylistic elements from all over China. For this reason, the region is sometimes regarded as China's culinary center. Common cooking techniques include stewing, frying, pot-roasting, braising, and smoking. Due to the high agricultural output of the region, ingredients for Hunan dishes are many and varied.

Common Hunan Dishes


Fujian cuisine is derived from the native cooking style of the province of Fujian, China. Well-known dishes include: oyster omelette, Popiah (薄饼), yue wan (Fujian fish balls), and ban mien bian ruo (noodles with dumplings).

One of the most popular dishes is "Buddha jumps over the wall" (Chinese: 佛跳墙; Fotiaoqiang), a complex dish making use of many ingredients, including shark fin, sea cucumber, abalone, and Shaoxing wine.

There are many eating places around the province that sell these specialities for two yuan, and which are thus known as "two-yuan eateries".


Anhui cuisine (Chinese: 徽菜) is one the Eight Culinary Traditions of China. It is derived from the native cooking styles of the Huangshan Mountains region.

Combining elements of cooking from northern Anhui, south-central Anhui, and the Hui-speaking areas of southern Anhui, Anhui cuisine is known for its use of wild game and herbs, both land and sea, and comparatively unelaborate methods of preparation. Chefs pay more attention to temperature in their cooking and are good at braising and stewing.

Common Anhui Dishes


Beijing cuisine (Chinese: 京菜; Pinyin: jīngci, lit. "capital cuisine") is a cooking style in Beijing, China, and may also be referred to as Mandarin cuisine.

Since Beijing has been the Chinese capital city for centuries, its cuisine was influenced by people from all over China. The Emperor's Kitchen (御膳房 yshnfng) was a term referring to the cooking places inside of the Forbidden City, Beijing where thousands of cooks from the different parts of China showed their best cooking skills to please royal families and officials. Therefore, it is at times rather difficult to determine the actual origin of a dish as the term "Mandarin" is generalized and refers not only to Beijing, but other provinces as well. Mandarin food is heavily influenced by other provinces' food.

Common Mandarin Dishes


Shanghai cuisine, known as Hu cai (滬菜 in pinyin: h ci) among the Chinese, is one of the most popular and celebrated cuisines in China.

Shanghai does not have a definitive cuisine of its own, but refines those of the surrounding provinces (mostly from adjacent Jiangsu and Zhejiang coastal provinces). What can be called Shanghai cuisine is epitomized by the use of alcohol. Fish, eel, crab, and chicken are "drunken" with spirits and usually served raw. Salted meats and preserved vegetables are also commonly used to spice up the dish.

The use of sugar is common in Shanghainese cuisine and, especially when used in combination with soy sauce, effuses foods and sauces with a taste that is not so much sweet but rather savory. A typical Shanghai household will consume sugar at the same rate as soy sauce, even excluding pastry baking. Non-natives tend to have difficulty identifying this usage of sugar and are often surprised when told of the "secret ingredient."

"Beggar's Chicken" is a legendary dish wrapped in lotus leaves, covered in clay and oven baked to steamy, tasty perfection - in olden times, it was baked in the ground. Lime-and-ginger-flavoured "1,000-year-old" eggs are another popular Shanghainese creation. The braised meat ball and the Smelly Tofu are also uniquely Shanghainese.

Facing the East China Sea, seafood in Shanghai is very popular. Locals though favor freshwater fish just as much as saltwater products like crabs, oysters, and seaweed. The most famous local delicacy is Shanghai hairy crab.

Shanghainese people are known to eat very little (which makes them a target of mockery from other Chinese), and hence the servings are usually quite small. A famous snack in Shanghai, in Mandarin: Xiao Long Bao (literally: "small steamer buns;" in the local Shanghainese dialect: "sho lonpotsi" or "sho lonmeudou") cooked in a small bamboo steamer, is now popularized throughout China as a Dim Sum. Xiao Long Bao, sometimes referred to as a soup dumpling, is a small meat-filled steamed bun unique because it contains soup stock, adding a sensual, surprising effect when eaten.

Due to the rapid growth of Shanghai and its development into one of the foremost East Asian cities as a center of both finance and contemporary culture, the future of Shanghai cuisine looks very promising.

Unlike Cantonese or Mandarin cuisine, Shanghainese restaurant menus will sometimes have a dessert section.

Common Shanghai Dishes

Hong Kong

Hong Kong, as the crossroads of eastern and western cultures, has developed a blend of eating habit incorporating Chinese, notably Cantonese, and western cuisines. It is reputed as the "eating paradise". As a place where the world meets, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai and Indian restaurants are also very common.

Most people serve Chinese cuisine at home. While most people are of Cantonese ancestry, there are also many Hakka (especially the indigenious residents in the New Territories), Teochew (Chiu Chow, Chaozhou) and Shanghai peoples. Home dishes are usually a mixture of these traditions. Rice is the main course of meals.

Indigenous residents in the New Territories have a tradition to have poon choi during festivals. Cake shops in Yuen Long are famous for lo por cakes.

Traditional breakfast food includes congee and yau cha kwai (literally oil-fried ghosts); however, bread and butter, egg, sausage, etc., are now popular.


With over 450 years of history, Macanese cuisine is unique to Macau. It is a blend of Portuguese and southern Chinese cuisines, with significant influences from Southeast Asia and the Lusophone world. Many unique dishes resulted from the spice blends that the wives of Portuguese sailors used in an attempt to replicate European dishes. Its ingredients and seasonings include those from Europe, Latin America, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, as well as local Chinese ingredients.

Common cooking techniques include baking, grilling and roasting. It is renowned for its flavor-blending culture.

Typically, Macanese food is seasoned with various spices including turmeric, coconut milk, cinnamon and bacalhau, giving special aromas and tastes.

Common Macanese Dishes

Northeast (Manchurian)

Northeastern Chinese cuisine (东北菜; pinyin: dōngběi ci) relies heavily on preserved foods and hearty fare due to the harsh winters and relatively short growing seasons. Pickling is a very common form of food preservation and pickled cabbage is traditionally made by most households in giant clay pickling vats. Unlike the South of China, noodles tend to be the most common form of starch rather than rice.

Common Manchurian Dishes




There are several cuisines in Taiwan. In addition to the following representative dishes from the Hoklo (Hō-l) ethnicity (see Taiwanese language), there are also aboriginal, Hakka, and local derivatives of Chinese cuisines (one famous example of the last is beef noodle soup). In Taiwan, many of the diverse cuisines from the different parts of China converge. Traditional Chinese food to be found in Taiwan, alongside Taiwanese and Hakka-style dishes, includes dishes from Fujian, Guangdang, Jiangxi, Shanghai, Hunan, Sichuan and Beijing.

Ingredients and Culture

A partitioned Taiwanese spring roll (潤餅) whose wheat-based wrapper is unfried.

Pork, rice, soy are very common ingredients, as with many Chinese cuisines. Beef is far less common, and some Taiwanese (particularly the elderly generation) still refrain from eating it. This is in part due to a traditional reluctance to slaughtering precious cattle needed for agriculture, and an emotional attachment to such beasts of labor.

Taiwan's cuisine has also been influenced by its geographic location. Living on a crowded island, the Taiwanese had to look aside from the farmlands for sources of protein. As a result, seafood figures prominently in their cuisine. This seafood encompasses many different things, from large fish such as tuna and grouper, to sardines and even tiny fish the length of a thumbnail. Crustaceans and squid/cuttlefish are also eaten.

Because of the island's subtropical location, Taiwan has an abundant supply of various fruit, such as papayas, melons and citrus.

Some of Taiwan's agricultural products in general are rice, corn, vegetables, fruit, tea; pork, poultry, beef and fish/seafood.

The scarcity of natural resources has made for hard living on the island. As the Taiwanese had to make do with very little, they showed remarkable adaptation, craftiness and creativity when it came to preparing food.

From many of their dishes, the Taiwanese have shown their inventiveness in the selection of spices. Taiwanese cuisine relies on an abundant array of seasonings for flavor: Soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil, Black beans, pickled radishes, peanuts, chili peppers, parsley, and a local variety of basil ("nine story tower"). The resulting dishes thus combine and layer interesting tastes which make Taiwanese cuisine simple in format yet complex in experience.

Common Taiwanese Dishes


Many of the non-dessert dishes are usually considered snacks, not entrees; that is, they have a similar status to the Cantonese dim sum or the Spanish tapas. Such dishes are usually only slightly salted, with lots of vegetables along with the main meat (or seafood) item.

Vegetarian restaurants are commonplace with a wide variety of dishes.

There is a type of outdoor barbecue called khng-iu (焢窯). To barbecue in this manner, first build a hollow pyramid up with dirt clods. Next, burn some charcoal or wood inside until the temperature inside the pyramid is very high (the dirt clods should be glowing red). Finally, place some taro, yam, or chicken in cans in the pyramid and topple the pyramid over the food. Keep the items under the hot dirt clods until they are thoroughly cooked.

Taiwanese people also eat a lot of fruit, both local and imported.

Night market dishes

Taiwan's best-known snacks are present in the night markets. Stinky tofu (臭豆腐, chhu tāu-hū, chu dufǔ) is one example; the aroma of stinky tofu is intimidating at first but can be an acquired taste. In these markets, one can also find fried and steamed meat-filled buns, oyster-filled omelets, refreshing fruit ices, and much more.


Yunnan cuisine (Chinese: 云南菜; Pinyin: ynnn ci) is an amalgam of Han and Chinese minority cuisines. As the province with the largest number of ethnic minorities, Yunnan has a great variety of food, and it is difficult to make generalisations. It could be argued, however, that Yunnanese food is quite spicy (as compared to Sichuan cuisine) and makes greater use of mushrooms than other Chinese cuisines.

Common Yunnan Dishes




Buddhist cuisine (Traditional Chinese: 齋菜; Simplified Chinese: 斋菜; Pinyin: zhāi ci) is a kind of cuisine mainly for the believers of Buddhism. It is known as zhāi ci (zhāi means "purification" or "discipline", cai means "cuisine" or "vegetable") in China, and shōjin ryōri (shōjin means "devotion", ryōri means "cuisine") in Japan, and by many other names in other countries.

Three Types of Restrictions

Rebirth is one basic tenet of Buddhism, and this includes rebirth of humans as other animals, and vice-versa. As a result, many Buddhists do not kill animals and many also do not eat meat. Other common reasons cited are that killing animals and/or eating their meat are a violation of the Five Precepts, bad for one's own karma, and because of a compassion for other animals. Many vegetarian Buddhists are not vegan, but for those who are vegan, such beliefs are often due to objections about the circumstances in which the animals producing products such as milk and eggs are raised.

Some Mahayana Buddhists in China and Vietnam also avoid eating strong-smelling plants such as onion, garlic, chives, shallot, and leek, and refer to these as wu hun (五葷, 'Five Spices'). One theory behind this Buddhist dietary restriction is that these vegetables have strong flavours which are supposed to excite the senses and, thus, represent a burden to Buddhists seeking to control their desires. Another theory is that these are all root crops, and harvesting them requires killing organisms in the soil. The latter explanation is accepted in the Jain religion that sprung up in India at the same time as Buddhism, and quite possibly influenced its practices. A third theory is that these strong spices could be used to cover up the taste of meat. Practitioners were told to avoid dishes with these spices to ensure they could discern if food prepared by others was tainted by meat. It is unclear, historically, what the original reason was for this restriction.

Alcohol and/or other drugs are also avoided by many Buddhists because of their effects on the mind and "mindfulness."

Only for Some Buddhists

There are no universally agreed-upon rules for permitted and not-permitted foods in Buddhism. In some regions, it is common for monks to eat no meat and drink no alcohol, but for the laity to, or for the laity to abstain only when they visit a monastery. In some regions, even some Buddhist monks will eat meat or drink alcohol. In other regions, it is also common for Buddhists to believe that vegetarianism is better for their karma than eating meat, but to eat meat anyway and consider it something of a bad habit; and, in some areas, such as Japan, avoidance of wu hun foods is not a large part of Buddhism. Many Buddhist traditions state the Buddha himself taught that meat offered as charity to monks and nuns should not be refused, unless the killing was done specifically for the monks and nuns. However, other traditions state this to be inaccurate, and that the Buddha was strictly vegetarian.

While many debate Buddhist teachings, it is widely believed that the Buddha's final words were, "Be a light unto thyself," which might imply that he wanted each individual to choose their own path to Enlightenment; however, many Buddhists would ask what the sense of calling oneself a Buddhist is, if one is not trying to discern and follow the Buddha's teachings on foods and all other issues. Conflicting aspects of Gautama Buddha's teachings -- compassion, The Five Precepts, and karma, versus the humility to accept meat and other things offered as charity -- are not likely to be easily resolved, given the vagueness of written history. However, unlike other major world religions, Buddhism is least bothered about traditions and scriptures. The focus is on freedom of an individual to 'chose his path' using the precepts as mere 'guidelines'.

Common Sources for Buddhist Foods

Buddhist vegetarian chefs have become extremely creative in imitating meat using prepared wheat gluten, also known as "seitan" or "wheat meat", soy (such as tofu or tempeh), agar, and other plant products. Some of their recipes are the oldest and most-refined meat analogues in the world. Soy and wheat gluten are very versatile materials, because they can be manufactured into various shapes and textures, and they absorb flavorings (including, but not limited to, meat-like flavorings), whilst having very little flavor of their own. With the proper seasonings, they can mimic various kinds of meat quite closely.

Some of these Buddhist vegetarian chefs are in the many monasteries which serve wu hun and mock-meat (a.k.a. 'meat analogues') dishes to the monks and visitors (including non-Buddhists who often stay for a few hours or days, to Buddhists who are not monks, but staying overnight for anywhere up to weeks or months). Many Buddhist restaurants also serve vegetarian, vegan, non-alcoholic, and/or wu hun dishes. Some Buddhists eat vegetarian only once per week or month, or on special occasions such as annual visits to an ancestor's grave. To cater to this type of customer, as well as full-time vegetarians, the menu of a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant usually shows no difference from a typical Chinese or far-Eastern restaurant, except that in recipes originally made to contain meat, a chicken flavored soy or wheat gluten might be served instead (e.g. "General Tsao's chicken" made with flavored wheat gluten).

Chinese Islamic

Chinese Islamic cuisine is cuisine of the Hui (ethnic Chinese Muslims) and other Muslims living in China. Due to the majority Muslim population in western China, many Chinese restaurants cater to Muslims or cater to the general public but are run by Muslims.

A Chinese Islamic restaurant (清真菜館) can sometimes be similar to a Mandarin restaurant with the exception that there is no pork in the menu. The Chinese word for halal is "pure truth" (清真, pinyin: qīngzhēn) food (菜, ci), so a Chinese Islamic restaurant is a "qingzhen restaurant" that serves "qingzhen" food.

In most major cities in China, there are small Islamic restaurants typicially run by migrants from Western China (e.g., Uyghurs), which offer inexpensive noodle soup. These restaurants are typically decorated with Islamic motifs such as pictures of Islamic rugs and Arabic writing.

Another difference is that lamb and mutton dishes are more commonly available than in other Chinese restaurants, due to the greater prevalence of these meats in the cuisine of western Chinese regions.

Many cafeterias (canteens) at Chinese universities have separate sections or dining areas for Muslim students (Hui or western Chinese minorities), typically labeled "qingzhen." Student ID cards sometimes indicate whether a student is Muslim, and will allow access to these dining areas, or will allow access to special occasions such as the Eid feast following Ramadan.

Common Chinese Islamic Dishes


Food & Drink :: Cuisine

Introduction | History | Regional Cuisine




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