Anthropology: The Eight Culinary Cuisines in China and Their History

As a continuous civilization for almost 5000 years, the Chinese people know the secret of how to eat well. Chinese food has always been a popular option domestically and internationally. It would be good to learn about Chinese food culture and the eight culinary cuisines before claiming to be a Chinese food enthusiast!

In fact, before the “eight culinary cuisines”, there were only “four traditional culinary cuisines”. The four traditional ones are Sichuan Cuisine (Chuan), Shandong Cuisine (Lu), Guangdong Cuisine (Yue) and Jiangsu Cuisine (Su). Meanwhile, with time passing by, the four traditional Chinese cuisines spread all over the country. By adding more regional features, the other four culinary cuisines gradually differentiate themselves from the traditional ones. The other four culinary cuisines are Hunan Cuisine (Xiang), Anhui Cuisine (Hui), Fujian Cuisine (Min) and Zhejiang Cuisine (Zhe).

In this blog, we are going to look at each cuisine. The blog will give you an overview of these mouthwatering cuisines, as well as the history behind them. Additionally, one or two core dishes of each cuisine will be introduced. Do you want to know where your favourite dish belongs? Let’s have a look.

1. Sichuan Culinary Cuisine (Chuan)

A table of typical Sichuan culinary cuisine. All the dishes are red because they are spicy.
A table of Sichuan culinary cuisine. Credit to UberEats

Talk about Sichuan food. The first impression will always be “spicy”. In fact, the bold flavour is just one side of Sichuan Culinary Cuisine. Sichuan food can be light too. An old saying: “Light but rich in flavour, spicy and smells good.” perfectly describes Sichuan food features.

Moreover, the hot spicy flavour is because of the climate in Sichuan. Sichuan province is located in the Sichuan Basin, which is a plain surrounded by mountains. This makes the weather in Sichuan very damp. Many people suffer from rheumatism. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that rheumatism arises when it is too damp. Eating hot and spicy food can help reduce the humidity in the human body.

Thus, it is common to find chilli, garlic and Szechuan peppercorns in the dishes. It is all for your well-being.

Core Dishes

The signature dish in Sichuan cuisine should be Mapo Tofu. It consists of tofu set in a spicy sauce, typically a thin, oily, and bright red suspension, based on douban and douchi, along with minced meat, traditionally beef. Authentic mapo tofu is powerfully spicy with conventional “heat” spiciness and Sichuan peppercorn’s characteristic numbing spiciness flavour.

Another dish should be Glutinous rice cake. It is a side dish of Chuan cuisine. Rather than the usual spicy and strong flavour, glutinous rice cakes are light and sweet. It is stuffed with red bean paste.

2. Hunan Culinary Cuisine (Xiang)

A table of Xiang Cuisine. They are spicy too but they don't have the numbing flavour.
A table of Xiang Cuisine. Spicy but no numbing flavour. Credit to

Hunan food is famous for its spicy dishes too. However, they are quite different from Sichuan food. Hunan food does not have a numbing flavour; thus, the spiciness is stronger. If you like Sichuan food, you’ll probably like Hunan food since it is even hotter. It is more delicious because they don’t use peppercorns that numb the mouth. Hunan food uses heavy chilli, garlic and pepper too.

It is a rich agricultural area that produces a broad range of vegetables and herbs, and these are served up. They eat spicy food for the same reason as Sichuan – to expel humidity and refresh the mind. 

Core Dishes

Steamed Fish Head with Chop Bell Pepper should be the core dish of Xiang cuisine. Though the fish head casserole tastes awesome, it is unbelievably easy to cook. Even those who have never held a knife can learn this dish easily, for it only has 3 simple steps: marinate, steam, and scald with boiling oil.

Changsha Stinky Tofu is another signature street food of Xiang cuisine. It is famous for its spicy flavour. Different from Sichuan stinky tofu, Changsha-style has black crackling. Although it may smell bad to most of us, stinky tofu is a good source of isoflavones, compounds that may provide a number of health benefits. 

3. Shandong Culinary Cuisine (Lu)

The signature sea cucumber dish in Lu cuisine. It is light but rich in flavour.
The signature Shandong cuisine – braised sea cucumber. Credit to LEE KUM KEE.

Shandong was one of the first civilized areas, and it set the pattern for northern styles of cooking. With a long coast, seafood is a popular ingredient. They preserve the original taste of the seafood by using simple ingredients and braising, and they like vinegar and salt. Unlike southern cuisines, they serve much more wheat food, including their noodles. 

Shandong food is the head of eight culinary cuisines and is also the hardest cuisine to make. If you ever have any good Shandong food, that chef must be very experienced and professional. It was once the food of the royal families in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

Core Dishes

The signature dish of Lu cuisine should be the braised sea cucumber with spring onion. It isn’t easy to make. For example, the main ingredient – the choice of sea cucumber is strict. The sea cucumber must be Northern sea cucumbers because they are bigger in size and more nutritious. It also needs to be very soft but also tenacious. When making the dish, you have to control the heat precisely. If you leave the sea cucumber in the wok for too long, it will become chewy. If you do not cook it enough, it will be too raw and smelly to eat.

4. Anhui Culinary Cuisine (Hui)

A table of Hui cuisine dishes in soup.
Dinner with typical Hui Cuisines. Credit to

Anhui food does not have many seafood recipes because this province is inland. Although it is similar to Jiangsu cuisine, there is less emphasis on seafood and a wide variety of locally grown herbs and vegetables from both the land and the sea. They use woodland vegetables, interesting herbs and gamey meats in these cuisines. Anhui people are good at cooking food in soup. Either it’s a stew, soup or boiling pot, you can trust Anhui chefs. 

Since people live near Yello Mountain, wild animals are the main source of Anhui food. Therefore, the freshness of food is essential for Anhui food. They aim to cook food to perfection and not overcook to protect nutrition. So they have special skills in sautéing and stewing to achieve a delicate lightness in taste.

Core Dishes

Luzhou roast duck is a notable dish of Anhui food. It is a popular dish in Hefei that first gained recognition when offered as a tribute to the imperial court. While not as well known internationally as Peking duck, Luzhou roast duck has won awards and distinction within China. 

Another example is the steamed stone frog. It sounds bizarre because frogs are not a very common food source. However, the dish has been proven to be rich in protein and other nutrients. This dish requires the extreme freshness of frogs. Otherwise, the natural sweetness of frog meat will not appear. 

5. Guangdong Culinary Cuisine (Yue)

The well-known dim sum layout with ha gao, xiao long bao and siu mai.
The famous afternoon tea (dim sum) layout of Guangdong Cuisine. Credit to

Guangdong food originates from inland China. The history can date back to 2000 years ago, which was the Han Dynasty. Guangdong food is also Cantonese food. Yue cuisine is the main style of Chinese food currently served in many Chinese restaurants today from places like Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong KongDumplings and dim sum are technically Cantonese. Cantonese cuisine includes seafood and soups. Marinades and broths are popular, as are hoisin, oyster and plum sauces.

Due to Guangdong’s proximity to the South China Sea, the region’s people have access to a plentiful supply of imported food and fresh seafood. Cantonese cuisine incorporates almost all edible meats, including chicken feet, duck’s tongue, snakes and snails. However, lamb and goat are rare because of unavailability. Many cooking techniques are used, including wok hei (stir-frying) and steaming. Spices are used moderately, and fresh herbs are seldom added to the food. Dishes include dim sum, small morsels of food typically served at breakfast or lunch alongside tea; barbequed char siu, sticky and burnt red in colour; and clear broths flavoured with meat stock.

It is distinguishable for lightly cooked fresh vegetables and meat and sweet sauces.

Core Dishes

Dim sum is no doubt the most well-known Guangdong food. Dim sum is a name collectively for all dishes under the dim sun category. This includes chicken feet, siu mai, xiao long bao, ha gao, spring rolls…The dim sum covers a wide variety of side dishes. Most of the dim sum dishes are steamed. Cantonese people have dim sum as breakfast or afternoon tea. It is a lifestyle for them to get up early and queue in restaurants just for their daily dim sum.

Shahe noodles or Shahefen are rice noodles that probably originated from the town of Shahe that is now a part of Guangzhou. They are broad and white in colour. Their texture is elastic and a little chewy. They do not freeze or dry well and are thus generally (where available) purchased fresh in strips or sheets that may be cut to the desired width. Shahefen is popular in Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan in southern China.

6. Fujian Culinary Cuisine (Min)

A mixed seafood soup of Min cuisine. It consists of sea cucumber, abalone and shark fin.
The mixed seafood soup of Min Cuisine. Credit to

Thanks to its location, Fujian food has lots of seafood recipes. They are good at the precise use of scintillating but not tongue-numbing spices. Adding many wild exotic delicacies from the sea and mountains makes their dishes have unusual flavours. It is like a wild culinary adventure. The history of the Min cuisine dates back 5000 years. Fujian’s abundant natural resources mean that their cuisine is rich in quality nutritious ingredients. They’ll use somewhat exotic ingredients such as wild foods, wild herbs, varieties of mushrooms, bamboo, and many kinds of seafood. So it is nutritious, and it is good for dieters since it does not contain high calories.

Talk about mushrooms in Fujian, and there is an interesting background story. In Southern China, the climate is damp and warm. Therefore, a wide variety of mushrooms grow in the wild. If people cook them properly, they are so delicious. But, there are lots of types of poisonous mushrooms also growing in the wild. It is relatively hard to identify which type is safe to eat. According to the medical record, more than ten thousand people went to the hospital because of food poisoning during the recent 9 years. Even poisonous mushrooms can’t stop foodies. How crazy it is!

Core Dishes

Buddha Jumping Wall (Sea Food and Poultry Casserole), which is the picture I insert here, is the most famous dish of Min cuisine. It is a variety of shark fin soup in Fujian cuisine. Since its creation during the Qing dynasty, the dish has been regarded as a Chinese delicacy known for its rich taste and special manner of cooking. The dish’s name is an allusion to the dish’s ability to entice the vegetarian Buddhist monks from their temples to partake in the meat-based dish. It implies that even the strictly vegetarian Gautama Buddha would try to jump over a wall to sample it. The soup is high in protein and calcium. It is one of China’s state banquet dishes.

Lychee pork is another dish of Min cuisine. It has another name, Sweet and Sour Litchis. Small pieces of deep-fried pork and sliced water chestnut are served in a sweet and sour sauce. As is typical in Fujian, red yeast rice adds flavour and gives a bright red colour. The pork pieces curl up and are stained red, thus resembling lychee skins, hence the name.

7. Jiangsu Culinary Cuisine (Su)

The famous Squirrel Mandarin Fish with sweet and sour taste.
The famous Squirrel Mandarin Fish of Su Cuisine. Credit to

Jiangsu cuisine is one of the lesser-known of the Eight Great Cuisines of China among foreigners. Jiangsu Province has the highest per capita income in China. The food is more gourmet style to match wealthy people’s tastes. It is very refined and presented colourfully and artistically. Su cuisine consists of several different styles of Chinese cooking, namely Huaiyang, Yangzhou, Nanjing, Suzhou and Zhenjiang. The food in Jiangsu cuisine is known as being soft, but not to the point of falling apart: the meat tastes tender but won’t separate from the bone when picked up.

The dishes are light and sweet, similar to Guangdong cuisine. But instead of seafood, Su cuisine consumes more freshwater fish and prawns. Unlike most Western seafood restaurants where the main dishes include a few varieties of fish and oysters, Jiangsu people eat many things most people have never seen. This is because of the warm and mild climate in Southeast China. Many delicate vegetables and herbs can safely grow in Jiangsu. 

Core Dishes

Sweet and Sour Squirrel Mandarin Fish is the most important dish in Su cuisine. The dish is originally from Suzhou. It is prepared by deboning and carving a mandarin fish into an ornamental shape similar to a squirrel, and then deep-frying it in batter before dousing it in sweet and sour sauce. It is also the main dish at China’s state banquet. But it is not an expensive dish to order at a restaurant.

8. Zhejiang Culinary Cuisine (Zhe)

A bowl of braised pork in brown sauce.
Su Shi, an ancient poet, invented the Dong Po braised pork. Credit to

Zhejiang cuisine is similar to Jiangsu cuisine because they are very close to each other. Also, Zhejiang has been a wealthy province since the Song Dynasty. The cooking style is delicate too. However, they focus less on colourful dishes and artistry and focus more on serving fresh food. The food is often raw or almost raw and is fresh and crispy and seasonal. It is more like Japanese food in this way. 

In China, wealthy people often prefer sweet food. The province is traditionally famous for sweet confections made from sugar, beans, rice, and wheat. For those in Hangzhou on the Yangtze River, northern wheat was readily available for making confections.

Core Dishes

Sweet Ningbo rice balls and rice cakes are an example of local sweet foods. Glutinous rice and sugar give a sweet taste that is often eaten for celebrations, festivals, and snacks. The rice balls may have black sesame or red bean filling mixed with sugar, and flavourings might include cassia (cinnamon tree) flowers.

Dong Po Braised Pork is another signature dish. It is named after its inventor, Su Shi, a Song Dynasty poet. Su Shi was a foodie himself, and his hometown was Hangzhou. The pork is soft and rich in flavour. It is usually in a sweet brown sauce of a combination of soy sauce, sugar and other broth. 


Although it is still risky to travel around under the current COVID pandemic, you can still go to your local Chinese restaurants and order different types of dishes. Chinese food culture has a long history but has not been introduced properly in Western countries. After reading this post, you can impress your Chinese friends by naming different culinary cuisines correctly.

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