Four Schools of Chinese Cooking Explained

Originally posted on KCET. To see the full post, click here

There’s so much more to Chinese food than just noodles, dumplings, and rice. Los Angeles is fortunate enough to be the host of so many regional Chinese restaurants — enough that I’ve been able to highlight some of them in my articles.

We’ve covered specific provinces and cities (Shaanxi, Beijing, Shenyang, Tianjin, Hunan, and Sichuan) before, but there’s actually an entire classification system to Chinese food we’ve yet to touch on.

A brief lesson: There are eight official regional cuisines in China — lu 魯 (Shandong), hui 徽 (Anhui), su 蘇 (Jiangsu), zhe 浙 (Zhejiang), yue 粵 (Guangdong), min 閩 (Fujian), chuan 川 (Sichuan), and xiang 湘 (Zhejiang). Each of the eight embodies a specific region of China and each has its own distinct cooking style. Hui 徽, for example, is known for its heavy use of herbs and wild game. The region it encompasses is located in central China; chefs utilize the forests and uncultivated fields for their meals. Su 蘇, on the other hand, uses a lot of river fish and shrimp. They’re products of the Yangtze River, which conveniently snakes through the Jiangsu region. The food is soft; meat falls off the bone, the flavors are light, and there’s quite a bit of congee involved.

Of these eight, there are four major schools. These are most influential and prominent cooking styles. They are: chuan 川 (Sichuan), su 蘇 (Jiangsu), lu 魯 (Shandong), and yue 粵 (Guangdong).

Here’s a breakdown of these four schools and where to sample them in Los Angeles:

Mung bean | Photo by Clarissa Wei1. Chuan 川 (Sichuan)
The Sichuan province of China, located in the southwest region of the country, is known for its bold use of chili peppers, garlic, and the elusive Sichuan peppercorn — a spice that will literally numb your tongue. As one of the most intricate and complicated sub-cuisines within China, there are 20 different types of flavor profiles in Sichuan cooking, including dry, spicy, sour, garlicky, and sweet. Chengdu Taste in Alhambra is hands-down the best place for Sichuan in Los Angeles right now. Owner Tony Xu is a Sichuan native and regularly maintains a specials board. The wait can get impossibly long too. A tip: arrive 10 minutes before they open and stake out your spot in line. Chengdu Taste; 828 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91803.

Soup dumpling from Wang Xing Ji | Photo by Clarissa Wei2. Su 蘇 (Jiangsu)
The Jiangsu region of China is commonly nicknamed “The Land of Fish and Rice.” The Yangtze River is a prominent feature of the region and so there’s an array of freshwater fish and crustaceans on menu. The Jiangsu region encompasses Nanjing, Suzhou, and Wuxi (all cities in the Jiangsu province). The flavor profiles are sweet and light. Braising is a common cooking method. Head over to San Gabriel to Wang Xing Ji for a taste of Wuxi. They specialize in soup dumplings. It’s much sweeter than the Din Tai Fung or other Shanghainese renditions, and for the novelty factor, try their “juicy crab and pork bun.” It’s so large in size, it requires a straw to suck the soup out. Wang Xing Ji; 140 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776.

Qingdao Dumpling | Photo by Clarissa Wei3. Lu 魯 (Shandong)
Shandong is a province in Northern China and the cooking styles extend to Beijing, Hebei, Henan, and Tianjin. In China, lu cuisine is the most influential of the four. It shaped the food of imperial China, and in most of the north. There’s quite a bit of dough and seafood. There’s also a generous use of soy sauce, shallots, and garlic. Give Qingdao Bread Food a whirl. Qingdao is coastal city in Shandong and by virtue of its location, seafood dominates the menu. Qingdao Bread Food makes an amazing fish dumpling stuffed with cilantro. Qingdao Bread Food; 301 N Garfield Ave, Monterey Park, CA 91754.

Lunasia feast4. Yue 粵 (Guangdong)
This is the most well-known Chinese cooking style outside of China. It’s Cantonese food, and that means dim sum plus an extensive repertoire of seafood. Yue-style chefs are extremely versatile and there’s also quite a bit of Western influences in the cooking by way of Hong Kong. Our top pick for Cantonese dim sum is Lunasia. They combine quality with massive portion sizes. Other pluses: the decor is beautiful and the servers are bilingual. Lunasia; 500 W Main St, Alhambra, CA 91801.