As the name suggests, the Jiangsu cuisine, one of the Eight Culinary Traditions of Chinese cuisine has been derived from the native cooking styles of the Jiangsu province including the regions – Yangzhou, Suzhou and Nanjing. In general, Jiangsu cuisine’s texture is characterized as soft, but not to the point of mushy or falling apart. For example, the meat tastes quite soft but would not separate from the bone when picked up. As the style of Jiangsu cuisine is typically practiced near the sea, fish is a very common ingredient in cooking. Other characteristics include the strict selection of ingredients according to the seasons, with emphasis on the matching color and shape of each dish and using soup to improve flavor.
Jiangsu cuisine is sometimes simply called Su cuisine, and one of its major styles is Huaiyang cuisine. Although Huaiyang cuisine is one of several sub-regional styles within Jiangsu cuisine, it is widely seen in Chinese culinary circles as the most popular and prestigious style of the Jiangsu cuisine – to a point where it is considered to be amongst one of the four most influential regional schools that dominate the culinary heritage of China, along with Cantonese cuisine, Shandong cuisine and Sichuan cuisine.
The Jiangsu cuisine has several branches including Shanghai cuisine, Nanjing cuisine (known for its duck recipes), Suxi cuisine (with its famous flowery hues), etc. Overall, the cuisine is also known as Su Cai. It’s influence reaches the broader area of the middle and lower reaches of Yangtze river and enjoys a huge reputation. Jiangsu cuisine is characterized by an extensive variety of raw ingredients mainly collected from the surrounding lakes, rivers and the sea; exquisite cutting techniques and varied cooking methods. Most popular cooking methods with Jiangsu cuisine are stewing, braising, simmering and warming. The main aim is to preserve the original flavors, maintaining clarity, freshness, mildness along with versatility.
Jiangsu is a land of bounty with abundant produce and culinary resources. The area’s famous aquatic produce include the three fresh delicacies of the Yangtze River (sturgeon, the long-tailed anchovy and catfish), Taihu Lake silver fish, Yangcheng Lake fresh water crab, Longchi Lake crucian from Nanjing and other varieties of sea foods.
The exquisite and elegant styles of Jinagsu cuisine are apparent through the exquisite cutting techniques and their variety. Cold dishes are those of arts and crafts, and hot dishes are those of designs and colors. The carvings of melons and fruit are exquisitely made, in core removing or overall carving or openwork carving, serving as a demonstration of the superior cutting techniques. Maintenance of clarity, freshness and mildness as well as the preservation of the original flavors and versatility are the basis of Jiangsu cuisine. Chefs prize the presentation of the “delicate flavor” of an ingredient’s original taste, when they cook food coming from rivers and lakes as well as being poultry and seasonal vegetables.
Jiangsu cuisine is famous for the emphasis being placed upon cooking times and exquisite cutting techniques. Stewing, braising, simmering and warming are the best of its techniques. Famous representative dishes include the “three heads of Zhenyang” ( simmered pig head and large meatballs boiled in a clear soup with crab meat and braised chub head), “three chickens of Jiangsu” (beggars’ chicken, young chicken with watermelon and stewed chicken with Zaohong orange) and the “three roast foods of Jinling” (roasted duck, roasted mandarin fish and roasted suckling pig).
Combinations within Jiangsu cuisine are also one of its characteristics. The pairing of dishes is important in daily diets as well as various banquets and feasts. In addition, there are the distinctive “three banquets”. One is the banquet held on a ship which can be seen on the Taihu Lake, the Slender West Lake and the Qinhuai River; another one is a vegetarian dish banquet which may be seen in the abstinence halls of Jinshan Mountain and Jiaoshan Mountain of Zhenjiang, Lingyan abstinence hall in Suzhou and Daming Temple’s abstinence hall in Yangzhou etc. The other style of banquet is the full banquet, for example there are full banquets of fishes, full banquets of ducks, full banquets of eels and full banquets of crabs etc.