Although there is much debate and confusion over just how many styles there are, most would agree that there are at least four major regional styles: Cantonese, centered on the southern Guangdong province and Hong Kong; Sichuan, based on the cooking of this western province’s two largest cities, Chengdu and Chongqing; Huaiyang (also known as Jiangsu or simply Yang), the cooking of eastern China (Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai); and Beijing or ‘Northern’ food, which takes its inspiration from the coastal province of Shangdong. Some would add a fifth cuisine from the southeastern coastal province of Fujian.
The spread of traditional Chinese food began with Cantonese style cooking from the south of China and this style includes many of the more instantly recognisable Chinese dishes such as stir-fries, sweet and sour and chop suey. In recent years, Northern style and spicier food from Szechuan and Shanghai have become better known and understood outside of China.
Each of these styles have developed over time as a result of factors such as the geography, climate, history, lifestyle and cooking preferences of the region, and all have their own distinct flavour. What distinguishes them is not only their cooking methods, but particular combinations of ingredients. All regions use ginger, garlic, spring onions, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and sesame oil and bean paste, but combine them in highly distinctive ways, using a variety of different cooking techniques.
For example, Sichuan (also known as Szechuan or Szechwan) cuisine, is known for its bold, hot, pungent flavours, derived from the liberal use of garlic and chillies, whereas Jiangsu cuisine has a strong emphasis on matching ingredients according to season, colour and shape, and so-called ‘red braised’ dishes are popular (in which meat is braised in soy sauce, fermented bean paste and sugar to give it a caramelised flavour and reddish brown hue).
Rice is an essential part of any Chinese meal, no matter the region, and the Chinese table is always a shared one. A typical meal would combine several small dishes to be served at the same time and shared. Each dish should complement the other in terms of taste, texture, flavour and the overall visual effect. Tea is drunk before and after a meal, but rarely during.
View our Chinese recipe collection here.
This is a restaurant-style dish that's so easy to make at home. I make a simple black bean paste by briefly frying preserved black beans with garlic, which adds another dimension to the fish.
Every single Cantonese restaurant in the world has mango pudding on the menu. If white people order deep-fried ice cream, then Asians order mango pudding. For Mr Wong, I wanted to give this classic more texture and put my own stamp on it. I added tapioca, those mouth-popping balls that you eat with frozen yoghurt, fresh pomelo and mango, as well as passionfruit granita to accentuate the tropical fruit vibe.
Ready-made wonton wrappers make it so easy to create Chinese dumplings at home. They are served in soups and on their own with dipping sauces. Adapt this recipe to suit your tastes, you could substitute chicken mince in the dumplings if you like.
Toffee banana is a classic Chinese dessert. Slices of banana are battered and deep-fried, then coated in toffee and sesame seeds making them deliciously crisp. You could also try this recipe with other fruit, such as apple or pineapple.
This is the lovely, sticky, red-coated pork you see in Chinese barbecue restaurants – it smells divine as it’s cooking and the recipe is very easy.
I am a big lover of eggplant. I have been cooking it in so many ways over the years, and still love it. I am never sick of it. This is a very simple and a traditional Shanghai home cooked side dish. Every family in Shanghai has their own way to cook it and uses the exact same ingredients. The woman in Shanghai who is the best cook for this dish is very special – she is my mum. So I believe the best seasoning in the world is memories.
Ying Tam, chef of Sydney's Ying's Seafood Restaurant, graciously shares his signature salt and pepper squid recipe with Food Safari's Maeve O'Meara. It makes more five-spice mix than you need, but you can store the rest in an airtight container for another day.