These regional Chinese recipes are great any time of year, but if you’re looking for an excuse to try them, Lunar New Year on Jan. 25 is a particularly good one.
Lunar New Year vs Chinese New Year
Lunar New Year is celebrated in many different cultures, but “Chinese New Year” is probably the most commonly referenced—in fact, that term is often used as a catch-all to denote Lunar New Year in general, which is incorrect (though, as in most matters, some would disagree).
While the same lunar calendar cycle means that Lunar New Year celebrations do occur on the same date, the traditions, celebratory foods, and specific holiday names vary by country. Korean New Year, for instance, is properly known as Seollal, and is often marked by eating tteokgeok or dduk guk, a rice cake soup. Vietnamese New Year, or Tết, commonly features banh chung on the menu.
Close to a quarter of the world will be celebrating a true Chinese New Year—a staggering statistic that, in addition to mainland China, also includes Chinese-speaking countries like Taiwan and Singapore, as well as ethnic Chinese populations all over the world.
With such vast geographical reach, the Chinese culture isn’t always a cohesive one. This is particularly the case with Chinese cuisine, which is in essence a bunch of different regional cuisines that share a handful of ingredients and techniques. Did you know, for instance, that soup dumplings come from Shanghai, and crispy chow mein from Guangdong?
There are some foods that are considered to be good luck for Chinese New Year, but the specifics of any festive meal would also depend on exactly where in the world you happened to be. Luckily, you can cook all kinds of Chinese food in your own kitchen, wherever it is. You just need the right tools, and some solid recipes.
Regional Chinese Recipes
Keep reading for more notable Chinese dishes from different regions.
Shanghai: Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings)
Credit the Shanghainese for the glorious, soup-filled dumplings known as xiao long bao. You’ll never guess the secret to making them: adding cubes of aspic to the filling before pinching the dumplings closed. Get the Soup Dumplings recipe.
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Beijing: Peking Duck
With its crisp, fatty, crackling skin, Peking duck is truly one of the world’s culinary wonders. But while it takes mere minutes to devour a perfect Peking duck, the same duck demands three full days of preparation. Get the Easy Peking Duck recipe.
Sichuan: Mapo Tofu
This dish of tofu and ground meat in a numbing chile sauce may be world-famous today, but it was once a humble dish served only in China’s Sichuan province. Get the Mapo Tofu recipe.
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Taiwan: Gua Bao (Pork Belly Buns)
Long before David Chang made pork belly buns famous at Momofuku, pork belly served in steamed bread was a mainstay in Taiwanese cuisine. At Momofuku, the buns are served with hoisin sauce, cucumbers, and scallions, but traditional Taiwanese toppings include pickled mustard greens, cilantro, and ground peanuts. Get the Pork Belly Buns recipe.
Hainan and Singapore: Hainanese Chicken Rice
This chicken and rice dish, originally from the subtropical Chinese island of Hainan, is made by poaching a chicken and using its fragrant stock to flavor the rice. Hainanese immigrants brought the dish to Singapore, where it’s now widely considered the country’s national dish. Get the Hainanese Chicken Rice recipe.
Guangdong: Pan-Fried Thin Crispy Noodles
This delicious dish of saucy pork and vegetables, served over a bed of crispy chow mein noodles, comes courtesy of the Cantonese. In restaurants, the noodles are usually deep-fried, but if you’re attempting the dish at home, we recommend shallow-frying them. Get the Pan-Fried Thin Crispy Noodles recipe.
Yunnan: “Crossing the Bridge” Noodles
The Yunnan province’s most famous dish, “Crossing the Bridge” noodles, arose out of an old tale that an imperial scholar was studying for exams on an island in Yunnan, and his wife would bring him food daily. She found that by the time she crossed the bridge to bring him soup, the noodles would be soggy. Ask for the dish today, and you’ll be presented with steaming-hot broth to pour onto ham, chicken, bean curd, chives, sprouts, and round rice noodles tableside, so everything is always consumed fresh. Get the “Crossing the Bridge” Noodles recipe.
Hunan: Mala Chicken
Sichuan cuisine gets all the press for its spiciness, but the food of China’s Hunan region can be just as hot. Case in point: the province’s famous mala chicken, a stir-fried dish made with chopped chicken, scallions, soy sauce, and plenty of chile peppers. Get the Mala Chicken recipe.
This post was originally published in 2015 and has been updated with new images, links, and text.
Header image by Chowhound