Fans of great food know that Chinese cuisine has become a favorite around the world today. Chinese food and Chinese restaurants can now be found from Asia to the Americas, Australia, Western Europe and Southern Africa too. Chinese cuisine has had centuries to develop into what we call traditional Chinese food today, but few people realize that the roots of Chinese cooking come from just eight main styles, or traditions that were once distinctly separate types of dishes, each from a different part of China.
Among eight original traditions, Yue or Cantonese style, Sichuan cuisine, and Lu Shandong cuisine are the three most predominant styles found around the world today. And like all Chinese dishes, these three styles are influenced by the geographical location, climate, vegetation growth, lifestyle, and specific cooking utensils used in the areas they come from. The amount of salt, spices and sugar in the dishes also varies greatly, with the food getting saltier in those areas nearer the sea.
Yue/Cantonese cuisine is one of the best known Chinese styles in the world and includes dishes like Sweet and Sour Pork or Chicken Stir-Fry, both very well known dishes here in the U.S. The Yue cuisine comes along with customs like drinking tea with small, hearty dishes. In the Yue tradition, drinking tea is an everyday routine, and many people eat Dim Sum in the morning while they drink tea.
Sichuan style Chinese cuisine is another culinary tradition known around the world today and is usually identified by a bold, spicy taste with unique flavors. The extreme spiciness of Sichuan cuisine comes from the use of Zhitianjiao, also known as the Sichuan chili.
The Lu Shandong style is another internationally famous cuisine that has a long history and played an important part in the Imperial Cuisine of ancient China. The Lu style cuisine's most famous dish is Beijing roast duck, also widely known as Peking duck and treasured for its unique flavors.
Beyond the first three main traditions, the Min, Hui, and Xiang cuisines are also quite popular today. Min cuisine comes from the Fujian province and is famous for its use of hundreds of types of seafood. Min chefs specialize in preparing delicious seafood that has no raw fish smell. The Hui cuisine originated in the Anhui province of China and employs local herbs and vegetables like fresh bamboo and edible mushrooms as the main ingredients instead of seafood. The Xiang cuisine is another popular Chinese style that emphasizes spiciness along with aroma and deep colors using a wide range of vegetables that grow in its native region.
The Su cuisine comes from several provinces in the Yangtze River area and includes a wide variety of meat, seafood, vegetables, and seasonings. Some of the most famous Su dishes include salted dried duck and steamed beef jerky strips. Last but not least, is the Zhe cuisine, which originated in the Zhejiang Province. Food prepared in the Zhe cuisine tradition is fresh with fragrance and lightly seasoned.
The great expanse of China has obviously also spawned other types of minority native rural cuisines, but they have not had the attention or exposure that the eight original Chinese cuisine traditions have had, and they are not well known outside of China today. However, when you sit down in a Chinese restaurant in the U.S. today, you can be sure the menu will offer selections from one or more of the eight great original traditions of Chinese cooking.