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15 July 2015

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Hunan Cuisine

Hunan cuisine, sometimes called Xiang cuisine, is one of the eight regional cuisines of China. The cooking skills employed in Hunan cuisine reached a high standard as early as the Western Han Dynasty, over 2,100 years ago. Hunan cuisine consists of more than 4,000 dishes, among which over 300 are very famous. It is characterized by its hot and sour flavour, fresh aroma, and deep colour. It consists of three styles: Xiang River style, Dongting Lake style and western Hunan style.


Hunan cuisine is hot because the air is very humid which makes it difficult for the human body to eliminate moisture. The local people eat hot peppers to help remove dampness and coldness.



You may find more about hot Hunan cuisine in Justyna's Gourmet Journey II Part 1 - Spicy Hunan Cuisine.

The Xiang River style is represented by Changsha, Xiangtan and Hengyang. This region boasts good transportation, talented people, and abundant resources. Local dishes are delicately cooked with plentiful ingredients, cutting skill, degree of cooking, colour and appearance all being of the utmost importance. Cooking methods include stewing, simmering, curing, steaming, stir-frying, frying, and quick-frying. The flavours are pungent, fresh and fragrant. Such dishes as hot and spicy chicken, stir-fried tripe slivers, tripe in duck's web soup, and dried scallops with steamed egg-whites are all typical food.


The Dongting Lake region, surrounded by Changde, Yiyang and Yueyang, is a tourist area. The Story of Yueyang Tower, written by Fan Zhongyan, a man of letters and statesman during the Song Dynasty, stressed the beauty of the landscape and gave cultural meaning to the making and naming of local dishes. The dishes are famous for sea food, livestock and poultry with a deep colour and hot and salty flavour. Representative dishes are Xiaoxiang Turtle, Wuling snake, Dongting wild duck and jade-belt fish roll.


Western Hunan refers to the western mountainous area. As this area is rich in mountains, it has abundant mushrooms and fungi. The mountain dwellers also make smoked and cured meats that are salty, fragrant, hot and delicious. Representative dishes are steamed cured meat, Double Ninth Festival fungi and deep-fried loach, all of which have special flavours.


Hunan is known for its smoke-cured foods. Smoky and spicy are the two tastes mainly associated with Hunan cuisine.


Why do Hunan people like smoked meat? A common argument is based on geography and climate. Surrounded by mountains and hills, Hunan is U-shaped, open to the north. The result is a typically damp climate where meat can easily rot or mildew. Locals early on discovered ways to preserve meat and for many years have used several methods including to slowly cold smoke the meat, hang it outdoors or bury it in a barn.     

 Cured meat (pronounced "La rou" in Chinese) gets its name as it is generally prepared in winter or in the twelfth lunar month (which is pronounced "La Yue" in Chinese), around the Chinese Lunar New Year Smoked meat is thus a food associated with New Year feasts. Making it in the cold winter weather is that it keeps the meat from getting maggots or going moldy.  


Livestock sacrificing, a part of ancestor worship ceremony, is often held in the twelfth lunar month before Chinese Lunar New Year. The pre-Chinese Lunar New Year pig sacrifice ritual is still carried out in some regions of Hunan, and the surplus meat is cured and stored for the coming year.       


Around the Chinese Lunar New Year, cured meat can be seen hanging in almost every household, whether it is in the mountainous areas of western and northwestern Hunan, or in the alluvial plains of central and northern Hunan. It is just not a Hunan Chinese Lunar New Year's Eve feast without the smoked meat! It represents the product of climate, geography, and human resourcefulness, the integration of nature and customs. It is as if a strong, unseen force has determined the long-lasting lifestyle and eating habits of Hunan people. 


Hunan Specialties:




Chairman Mao's Family Style Red-Braised Pork


Chairman Mao's family style red braised pork is said to have been one of Chairman Mao's favorite dishes, and is served at many Hunan restaurants across China. Hunan provincial government has codified the recipe of the dish, in particular deciding that only meat of the celebrated Ningxiang breed of pig should be used in authentic Chairman Mao's family style red braised pork.



Kouwei Crayfish


The crayfishis stir-fried with pepper, aniseed, fennel, garlic, ginger, wine and other seasoning. It is very spicy, but one cannot help eating it again and again.



Stinky Tofu 


Stinky Tofu is made of Liuyang fermented soybeans, bittern, winter bamboo shoot, dried mushrooms and koji wine. The fried stinky tofu is crispy outside and tender inside. It is delicious to eat with capsicum oil, castor oil and sauce.



Sanzi: a Kind of Deep-fried Dough Twist


Sanzi is a kind of deep-fried noodles in twisted shape. It is made by pulling wheat flour dough into thin ropes, which are deep-fried. Bunches of the ropes are then shaped into fans or pillows. It tastes either sweet or salt, served for dessert or as a dish.





Dong'an Spring Chicken


Created by the Dong'an people of Hunan Province as early as the Tang Dynasty (618-907), it has a history over 1200 years. This kind of dish is attractive in shape, color and nutritionally rich. It tastes hot, crisp, sweet, tender and tart.



Crispy duck


Another popular dish is crispy duck. The duck is seasoned with peppercorns, star anise, fennel and other spices, steamed and then deep-fried.


Zu'an Shark's Fin


One of the traditional Xiang dishes, the prepared shark's fin is simmered together with dried scallop soup, Shaoxing wine, salt and clear soup. It is nice in colour and delicious in taste.

Tortoise and Mutton Soup
Mutton and tortoise meat are boiled in a pot  with crystal sugar, lanceolata, angelica, scallion and ginger. This soup can strengthen your body and refresh your spirit.


Lotus seeds with Crystal Sugar

A famous dish in the valley of the Xiang River and Dongting Lake area, it is prepared with lotus seeds, dried longan pulp, diced pineapples, green beans and cherries through steaming and boiling. This dish is bright in colour with a sweet and refreshing taste.



Deyuan Steamed Bun


Deyuan Steamed Bun has thin skin and lots of stuffing. The sweet stuffing is made of candy, rose candy or sweet-scented osmanthus candy and the meat stuffing is made of pork, dried mushrooms and jelly oil. Nowadays, it is well known for eight different kinds of stuffings, which are Rose and Sugar, Dried Mushroom and Pork, Sugar and Salt Vegetable, Crystal Sugar, Sesame, Shrimp and Pork, Seashell and Pork, and Barbecued Pork Baozi.



Liu Defang Tangyuan (Dumpling in Soup)


Liu Defang Tangyuan is a famous snack from Changsha City. It is only sold in Liu Defang Tangyuan Restaurant established in the Daoguang Period (1812-1850) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). Liu Defang, nicknamed Liu San, was born in a poor family and sold tangyuan to make a living. Due to its good quality and nice taste, his tangyuan became very famous. In 1852, Liu Defang went to buy flour and found that there was a sycee in the flour. So he went to buy another six bags of flours and found another six sycees. With the silver, he bought a restaurant for tangyuan. The restaurant became very popular because of the delicious taste of its tangyuan.

Cured meat (La Rou) in Hunan


Cured meat fried with bamboo shoots 

Common dishes in Hunan's restaurants


Preserved eggs with ground chili peppers (cold dish)


Cichorium endivia in sauce (cold dish)


Crispy pickled white radish peel (cold dish)


Liquor preserved dried fish (cold dish)


Stewed beef with rich soup


Dry-fried okra


Stir-fried fish slices with chili peppers


Lamb chops


Stir-fried sweet potato leaves


Venison pancake with chopped green onion


Pineapple shuaibing (a thin pastry pancake)


Stewed asparagus in earthenware casserole


Tangyuan fried with suan cai (Chinese sauerkraut)


Braised shrimp


Short ribs roasted on a sizzling iron plate


Stir-fried lotus root slices, snow pea, tree ear (/wood-ear)


Poached fish in chili oil


Braised mandarin fish (Chinese perch) with green peppers


Spicy hot bullfrog


Fish head steamed with chopped chili


Steamed perch with scallion and black beans


Spare ribs with garlic


Sautéed spare ribs with cumin


Diao fish (Culter alburnus) fried in a pan


Braised swamp eel


Steamed prawns with minced garlic


Zimei Tuanzi


* Zimei Tuanzi is a typical Hunan dessert. Traditional Zimei Tuanzi is a pair of flat-bottomed and conical-shaped pieces of glutinous rice powder. One is filled with meat and dried mushroom, and another filled with sugar and sesame.


Zimei means sisters in Chinese. According to legend, in 1920s, two sisters with a family name of Jiang sold their handmade Tuanzi at the bazaar of Fire Palace Temple. The Tuanzi sold well for its cute shape and good taste. Hence the name Zimei Tuanzi.


Tang You Baba (glutinous rice dumpling fried in sweet oil)


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