- China.org.cn, April 21, 2015
The cooking techniques employed in Hunan cuisine were standardized as early as the Western Han Dynasty, which means that the province's food culture has a history of more than 2,100 years. Hunan is located in southeastern China along the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, north of the Five Ridges. It is home to a vast number of rivers, lakes, mountains, rolling hills, plains, and ponds that provide abundant delicacies like game, fish, shrimp, crab, and turtles. Making full use of these rich resources, local people have created a wide variety of delectable and unique dishes. The repertoire of Hunan cuisine consists of more than 4,000 dishes, more than 300 of which are very famous. Hunan food is characterized by its hot and sour flavors, fresh aroma, oiliness, deep color, and the prominence of the main flavor in each dish. It combines regional cuisines from the Xiangjiang River Valley, the Dongting Lake region, and the province's western mountainous area.
Human food 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 cold.
The cuisine of the Xiangjiang River Valley is represented by the food of Changsha, Xiangtan, and Hengyang. The region has good transportation, talented people, and abundant culinary resources. Local dishes require meticulous preparation of raw ingredients and stress cutting skills, length and degree of cooking, color, and appearance. Primary cooking methods include stewing, simmering, curing, steaming, stir-frying, frying, and quick-frying. The flavors are pungent, fiery, fresh and thickly fragrant. Dishes such as fried chicken with hot and spicy sauce, stir-fried tripe slivers, tripe in duck's web soup, dried scallop with egg-whites, and dog meat hot pot are all typical of the cuisine or the Xiangjiang River Valley.
The Dongting Lake region, surrounded by Changde, Yiyang, and Yueyang, is a major tourist area. "The Story of Yueyang Tower," written by Fan Zhongyan, a statesman and a man of letters during the Song Dynasty, stressed the beauty of the landscape and assigned a cultural aspect to the making and naming of local dishes. Representative dishes are Xiaoxiang turtle, Wuling snake in both, mashed shrimp in lotus pods, D ongting wild duck, jade-belt fish rolls, and fish fillet in velvet. Deep color, hot and salty flavors, heady aromas, a soft mouthfeel, and beautifully shaped and patterned serving dishes characterize these famous local dishes.
Jishou, Huaihua, and Dayong are the most important settlements in Hunan's western mountainous area. Because the area is mountainous, it has abundant game, mushrooms and fungi. Its dishes are simple, rich and pure. The mountain dwellers also make smoked and cured meats that are salty, fragrant, hot, sour and delicious. For example, steamed cured meat, Double Ninth Festival cold fungi, deep-fried loach (a fish similar to a carp) and hot and spicy frog legs all embody the rich flavors of this mountainous region. Mountain cuisine stresses pungent flavors, and its dishes made from cured products have also made an important contribution to Hunan's culinary heritage.