Traditional Chinese Cuisine: The Eight Regions

July 19, 2019

If you are a foodie like us, you probably have your “go-to” restaurants for the classics.
Chinese dishes such as hotpot, kungpao chicken, and beef noodles rightfully have earned fame, but what if I told you there is more? Historically, there are eight types of traditional Chinese cuisine, collectively known as 中国八大菜系 zhōngguó bādà càixì.

These eight traditional Chinese cuisines can be subdivided into Northern and Southern varieties.


In the Northern category, we have:

01 鲁菜 Lǔcài

Fun Fact: Confucius was from this area.

Where to Find It: Shandong Province


Characteristics: Found mainly along the coast, lǔcài is heavy on the seafood. Clear soups are also popular. Salt, vinegar, and onions are heavily used ingredients.


Foods You Might Know:

Scallion pancakes 葱油饼 cōng yóubǐng
Candied yam 拔丝地瓜 básī dìguā

Traditional Chinese cuisine: scallion pancakes

02 川菜 Chuāncài

Fun fact: Chuāncài is the most widely served traditional Chinese cuisine across China.

Where to Find It: Sichuan Province


Characteristics: Chuāncài often includes chili, garlic, ginger, and peanuts. It also features the numbing flavor characteristic of the region.


Foods You Might Know:

Mapo tofu 麻婆豆腐 mápó dòufu
Kungpao Chicken 宫保鸡丁 gōng bǎo jī dīng

Traditional Chinese cuisine: mapo tofu

03 湘菜 Xiāngcài

Where to Find It: Hunan Province


Characteristics: Very spicy! Unlike chuāncài, xiāngcài is not numbing. You will feel every tingling, burning ounce of the pepper + vinegar concoction which is such a popular flavoring. Otherwise, crunchy vegetables, pickling, and fermentation are also popular.


Foods You Might Know:

Braised pork 红烧肉 hóngshāo ròu
Dry pot dishes 干锅 gān guō

Traditional Chinese cuisine: Gan guo

04 徽菜 Huīcài

Where to Find It: Anhui Province, Yellow Mountains


Characteristics: Ingredients often consist of wild plants and animals, including frog, turtle, pork, mountain herbs, and fungi. Cooking methods tend to be simple. As Anhui is a poorer province, huīcài is considered among the traditional Chinese cuisines to be peasant food.


Foods You Might Know:

Sweet potato noodles 红薯粉丝 hóngshǔ fěnsī
Preserved pork and bamboo shoots 火腿炖鞭笋 huǒtuǐ dùn biān sǔn

Traditional Chinese cuisine: fensi

In the Southern category, we have:

05 苏菜 Sūcài

Fun fact: Sūcài is considered gourmet, making it a popular choice for government banquets.

Where to Find It: Jiangsu Province


Characteristics: Seafood! Jiangsu is coastal, so it makes sense that chefs would utilize the resources at their disposal. Soups are a key dish, and plated food often employs fancy cutting techniques.

Within sūcài, there are six substyles: Huaiyang (most popular substyle of sūcài and the usual style for banquets), Nanjing, Yangzhou, Suzhou, Xuzhou, and Haizhou.


Foods You Might Know:

Lion's Head Meatballs 狮子头 shīzi tóu
Soup Dumplings 小笼包 xiǎo lóng bāo

Traditional Chinese cuisine: lion's head meatballs

06 浙菜 Zhècài

Where to Find It: Zhejiang Province


Zhècài is comprised of much fish and seafood. Flavors tend to be mellow and food is often served raw or almost raw. Chefs favor fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Within Zhècài, there are three substyles: Hangzhou, Ningbo (famous for its “salty brine” stewing process), and Shaoxing.


Foods You Might Know:

Dongpo Pork 东坡肉 dōngpō ròu
West Lake Sweet and Sour Fish 西湖醋鱼 xīhú cù yú

Traditional Chinese cuisine: sweet and sour fish

07 闽菜 Mǐncài

Where to Find It: Fujian Province


Characteristics: Mǐncài sources ingredients from both seafood and mountain plants. Red rice wine is a popular cooking ingredient (hence the “drunken” dishes that are so famous). There is also a heavy emphasis on soup.

Within mǐncài, there are three substyles: Western Fujian, Southern Fujian, and Fuzhou.


Foods You Might Know:

Oyster Pancakes 蚵仔煎 hézǐ jiān
Buddha Jumps Over the Wall 佛跳墙 fútiàoqiáng

Traditional Chinese cuisine: oyster pancake

08 粤菜 Yuècài

Fun Fact: Yuècài incorporates a variety of ingredients many foreigners are not used to.

Where to Find It: Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Macau


Characteristics: Yuècài focuses on seafood and rice dishes. Ingredients include lightly cooked fresh vegetables and meat, and sweet sauces. Flavors tend to be sweeter and popular cooking methods include braising and stewing.


Foods You Might Know:

Roast Pork Buns 叉烧包 chāshāo bāo
Egg Tarts 蛋塔 dàn tǎ

Traditional Chinese cuisine: roast pork buns

Whatever flavor, color, or texture you are craving, one of the eight traditional Chinese cuisine categories is sure to have what you are looking for. Trying them all is a great reason to learn Chinese!

Writing this blog has made us really hungry, so here is where we leave you.
Time to go introduce our stomachs to a new Chinese cuisine!


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