I came across an article in yourcookingtips.com called “The Four Schools of Chinese Cooking.” It is one of the most blatantly misinformed articles about Chinese cooking styles.
First of all regional Chinese cooking is much more diversified than the four regions mentioned. The universally accepted classification in China for regional cooking is divided into eight cuisines (中華八大菜系): Lu (魯 Northeast China), Hui (徽 Anhui), Su (蘇 Jiangsu), Zhe (浙 Zhejiang), Yue (粵 Guangdong or Canton), Min (閩 Fujian), Chuan (川 Sichuan) and Xiang (湘 Hunan). Additionally I pointed out in one of my earlier blog post that the eight regional cuisines only represent the ethnic Han (漢) Chinese cooking. This classification does not even include the Xinjiang, Tibet, Mongolian and other minority regions. Therefore it is inaccurate to characterize Chinese cooking in only the four directional regions. Doing so will only result in very broad and general groupings.
It is this broad generalization that caused the article to suggest Muslim influence in the Northern Chinese school of cooking. It should be pointed out that the only predominantly Muslim region in the North is in Xinjiang, which is more Northwestern than Northern geographically. It is inaccurate to summarize the cooking of Beijing, for example, as being influenced by the Muslim. Beijing is the capital of the current government and the last two Chinese dynasties: Ming (明) and Qing (清). The Ming dynasty ruler’s origin was from the coast near the Yangtze River Delta, and the Qing dynasty’s ruler was from the Manchu region in the Northeast. Therefore Beijing cooking is mostly influenced by Su, Zhe and Lu cuisine of those regions.
Furthermore the discussion of Southern cooking does not include Min cuisine, which is from Fujian province. It has a very distinct cooking style and utilizes the abundance seafood from the region and should be classified as a distinct cuisine.
Yue, or Cantonese, cooking is generally considered to be the most refined of Chinese cooking rather than the Northern cooking of Beijing as noted by the article. Canton (or Guangzhou) region has been a trading center since Han (漢) dynasty around first century B.C. Therefore the cooking of the region has evolved, and been influenced not only by the local tradition but also by foreigners, for more than two thousands years. Hence Yue cooking has always been considered the most sophisticated of Chinese cooking.
Another point I’d like to bring up is that the Chuan (Sichuan) and Xiang (Hunan) cooking are two distinct styles. Although they are both characterized by hot spicy chili in their cooking, Chuan (Sichuan) cooking is associated with a hot and numbing sensation, known as “mala” (麻辣), from the combination of Sichuan pepper (花椒) and chili. Xiang (Hunan) cooking on the other hand is known for its spiciness from chili and tanginess from pickles.
I am continually amazed at the ignorance of Chinese cooking in America. I wish food writers in America could be more responsible in their writing and research of Chinese cooking before publication.