The cuisine of China is as diverse as its landscapes and people. The different styles of food in the country can generally be divided along the country's geographical borders, creating four schools of food - Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western.
Each of these schools has its own distinct tastes and dishes, and from the famous Peking Duck in the north to the spicy chili flavors of the west, you're sure to find something unique and delicious to try in every corner of the country.
The Northern School
In the north of China, the meals tend to be heavier due to the colder weather, with the most common forms of cooking being steaming and baking. There is also a heavy influence from Mongolia, and dishes such as Mongolian barbeque - meat and vegetables stir fried together - are very widely eaten. In the north-west city of Xian, the popular streetfood burger made with lamb or pork, known as the Xian Burger, is a must-try.
The most notable food in Beijing is the signature dish of Peking Duck. Usually sliced at the table by the cook, classic Peking Duck is prepared with spring onions and Hoisin sauce, and wrapped in thin wheat pancakes. Peking Duck meat is famously delicious and the most authentic versions will be served with mostly skin and little meat.
It's hard to pick just one favorite dish in China, but I would definitely choose the Peking Duck from Beijing, the Xian burger, and Hot Pot from Chongqing. Thanks to Audley’s recommendations and our local guides' favorite restaurants, I have never had a bad meal in China.Shane Murphy, China Specialist
Peking Duck - a famous dish in Beijing
The Southern School
The majority of Chinese people living overseas originate from the Guangdong region, which borders Hong Kong in the south. This has made the southern style of Chinese cooking the most common form found in the United States. Rice is the staple in this area of China, with the humid climate being ideal for rice growing. The Southern School of Chinese cooking is renowned as being the most exotic in China, and the range of ingredients found in any given dish in this area of the country vary wildly.
In the South, you'll most likely find infamous delicacies such as dog, cat, monkey and lizard. Stir-frying of food and steaming are the most popular methods of cooking in this area. It is also from the south that Dim Sum originates.
Stir-frying is a popular method of cooking in the south
The Eastern School
The Eastern School of Chinese cooking is perhaps the least well-known, and refers to food from towns like Hangzhou, Suzhou and Shanghai. This area uses primarily sugar, wines and vinegar to create sweet and subtle flavors. Seafood is also abundant in the region, with rivers such as the Yangtze providing plenty of fish and shellfish. This region has the longest tradition of gourmet cooking in China. Vegetarian meals are common in the Eastern School, thanks to the specialization of generations of chefs. The wok is the favored method of cooking here, and seasoning tends to be light.
In Shanghai, I love to eat Xiao Long Bao, which are commonly referred to as soup dumplings. They can be filled with a number of different kinds of meat and are served in sets of six in a steamer basket. The trick is to lift them out of the basket without tearing them and nibbling a little hole and slurping the soup out without spilling anything!Shannon Yates, China Specialist
Soup dumplings are not to be missed in China
The Western School
The western school of Chinese cooking uses chili as the principal flavor, along with ginger, Sichuan pepper and garlic. Pork, poultry, fungi, bamboo shoots and other legumes are the main ingredients, cooked usually by stir frying.
Hot Pot meals are extremely popular in the Sichuan Province, particularly in Chongqing region. The Chinese hot pot dates back more than 1,000 years to Mongolian during the Jin Dynasty. Today's typical hot pot includes sliced meat, vegetables, wontons and sometimes egg dumplings.
In Yunnan, I highly recommend the soup called Yunnan Guogiao or "Crossing the Bridge Noodles." The dish has three main parts: a bowl of extremely hot chicken broth, a variety of slices of meat, rice noodles and various seasonings. The meat and seasonings are added to the soup first, followed by the noodles. I put an egg in the broth first and cooked it slightly to add texture and flavor.Shannon Yates, China Specialist
Be sure to try the noodles in Yunnan
The hot pot dates back 1,000 years and is a delicious method of cooking