Also known as Xiang Cai, Hunan cuisine has already developed into a famous culinary school in China. Hunan dishes consist of local dishes from the Xiangjiang River area, Dongting Lake area and Western Hunan mountain area. Hunan’s culinary specialties are akin to those of the chili-rich Sichuan dishes. It is also characterized by thick and pungent flavor. Chili, pepper and shallot are usually necessaries in this division. However, Chili, peppers, garlic (suan) and an unusual sauce, called “strange-flavor” sauce (guai wei jiang) on some menus, enliven many dishes, with a somewhat drier intensity than that of their Sichuan counterparts. Sweetness, too, is a Hunan culinary passion, and honey sauces are favored in desserts such as water chestnut or cassia flower cakes.
Hunan is known as “the land of fish and rice”. Like the west in latitude, it has the added bonus of lowlands for rice cultivation and a rich ocean’s edge for fish.
Hunan food is characterized by its hot and sour flavor, fresh aroma, greasiness, deep color, and the prominence of the main flavor in the dishes. Hunan food is hot because the climate is very humid, which makes it difficult for human body to eliminate moisture. The local people eat hot peppers to help remove dampness and cold. The main cooking methods for Hunan dishes are braising, double-boiling, steaming and stewing. It is also renowned for its frequent use of preserved meat in cooking.
Rice is the staple in Hunan, but northern-style side dishes and fillers are also popular: bean curd “bread” rolls or dumplings and savory buns. They are further signs that Hunan is one of China’s culinary heartland, incorporating many flavors and regional influences.
Typical courses include: Dong’an chick; peppery and hot chick, stir-fried tripe slivers, tripe in duck’s web soup, lotus seed with rock candy, Xiaoxiang turtle, steamed pickled meat, and hot and spicy frog leg.