Hunan Cuisine/Xiang Cuisine

Written by Ruru Zhou Updated Apr. 18, 2021

 Hunan cuisine also called Xiang cuisine, is one of the eight great cooking styles in China. It is originated in central China’s Hunan Province ( in the Changsha, Zhangjiajie areas).

The distinctive characteristics of Hunan cuisine are spicy, sour, dry, and greasy. With a considerable use of chili peppers, shallots, and garlic, its dishes can be simply noted as purely spicy.  

Hunan food is hot because the region has a very humid climate with sweltering summers and cold, damp winters.   People eat all kinds of chilies and peppers to warm up and expel dampness, and sour condiments can help stimulate their appetite. 

Distinctive Features of Hunan Food

Hunan cuisine is often compared with Sichuan cuisine, which is also very spicy.

However, Sichuan cuisine uses a great amount of dried or preserved ingredients, such as preserved veggies, and gives out a distinctive hot and numbing feeling that lasts for some time after a meal.

Hunan cuisine, on the contrary, favors fresh ingredients, and the menu changes on the season.

Besides its spiciness, Hunan cuisine can also be described as greasy, colorful, and richly flavored. Peanut oil and bacon grease are used generously to create an appealing smell. Different materials are cooked together as a way for them to emerge throughout both tastes and colors.

The Main Flavors of Hunan Cuisine - Spicy and Sour 

Hunan Food is characterized by its spicy and sour flavor, fresh aroma, and greasiness. 

Unlike the hot, numbing, and sweet flavor of Sichuan cuisine, people in Hunan tend to prepare dishes with bold savory tastes, chili-hot tastes, and sour-hot tastes. 

Pickled vegetables and chili peppers are widely used in cooking to add a sour flavor to dishes. People in the region tend to pickled vegetables, chili peppers, ginger, and garlic. These seasonings can help dispel the unpleasant smell of the natural ingredients such as fish and organs, and more, they can also bring a special fragrant sour taste.

Hunan dishes are significantly oilier than other cuisines in China. more oil is used in cooking to make the food deeply colored. the food is also salty.  So if you want to try local food in Hunan, do ask the chef to use less salt when cooking.  

Main Ingredients of Hunan Food

People in Hunan use a variety of ingredients to prepare food. Hunan is located in central China along the middle reaches of the Yangtze River. there are lakes, rivers, mountains, and plains in the region. The different geographic features provide abundant local products for food, which include: wild turtles, citrus, bamboo shoots, many types of fish, silver needle tea, lotus seeds, all kinds of meat, and chili.

Fish and Meat

The main meat types consumed in Hunan include port, beef, goat, chicken, duck, and many types of fish. Chefs in Hunan are particularly good at preparing fish. Fish is always cooked with vinegar-pickled chili peppers with salt called Duo La Jiao (chopped bell peppers). Chopped Bell Peppers Fish Head is one of the most popular Hunan dishes.

Smoked Meat and Bean Curd

Smoked and cured goods are widely used in Hunan Cuisine. Local people like to smoke all types of meat and bean curd.

In the countryside in winter, almost every family smoke meat. Smoking is a way to preserve meat. But on the other hand, Hunan people probably love the smoked flavor so much that some families may smoke a whole pig each year.

Smoked meat is always cooked with pickled red-chili peppers, sometimes green peppers added to enrich the color of the food. Smoked meat from the west of the Hunan Province is famous all over China. Smoked bean curd is also widely eaten.  

Seasonings of Hunan Cuisine

Chilli Powder is widely used as an all-purpose seasoning, while Red fresh pepper is used to add spicy flavor and color to steamed and stir-fried dishes. Picked red peppers release the source flavor to the dishes.

Like the bean paste sauce in Sichuan cuisine, Chefs in Hunan like to use fermented black soybeans (Dou Shi). They are added to the stir-fried dishes and broths for a richer flavor.

The Main Cooking Methods of Hunan Cuisine

Hunan cuisine uses a variety of cooking ways. Frying, stewing, roasting, and steaming are the basic culinary skills for a Hunan chef to be adept at. Furthermore, the chef obtains experiences in ingredient matching, cooking timing, and ingredients choosing upon seasons and locations.

Most Famous Hunan Dishes You Must Like

1. Steamed Fish Head with Diced Pepper

Steamed Fished Head with Diced Peper places a monstrously-looking challenge for almost every westerner. Red and green peppers are chopped up and placed willy-nilly on the fish head that is steamed into white glazed with hot oil. 

This is the most famous and representative sample dish of Hunan cuisine. First, preserve a whole fresh fish head with salt, cooking wine, and soy sauce, and then heat a pan and stir-fry the fresh diced red chilies with oil, minced ginger, and garlic into a fragrant chili sauce; top the fish head with the stir-fried sauce and steam for 12 minutes. Finally, sprinkle some shredded scallion on it, and you can enjoy your work now.

2.  Steamed Cured Meat

Steamed Cured Meat is a characteristic dish of the western Hunan style. Slice some cured pork, fish, and chicken on a plate, top with red peppers, cooking wine, fermented black soybeans, and sliced ginger, and steam for 40 minutes, this simple but delicious dish is complete.

Fenghuang Ancient Town is a great place to taste this authentic dish of western Hunan style. What’s more, its beautiful scenery and unique minority ethnic charms will off you perfect cuisine and a visual feast: Zhangjiajie & Fenghuang Tour from Shanghai.

3. Tasty Crawfish

Tasty Crawfish is actually spicy and juicy crawfish. It is a nationally known dish in Changsha, Hunan, and highly recommended by many Chinese celebrities.

Parboil some crawfish in clean water with garlic and sliced ginger and pick them up when they turn red. Heat a wok and stir-fry peppers with oil, salt, ginger, garlic, scallion, anise, and cassia. After ten seconds, put the prepared crawfish into the wok and stir-fry them with the seasonings for half a minute. Add some water, beer, oyster sauce, and cooking wine, and braise for 25 minutes, and you will have a wok of spicy and juicy crawfish.

4. Dong'an Chicken

Dong'an Chicken is originally named Vinegar Chicken, popular in Dong’an County of Hunan Province. The main ingredients are small chick cut in small trunks, shredded onion, bell pepper, and red pepper. All the materials are firstly cooked shallowly for a couple of minutes and then stewed with salt, wine, and vinegar.

5. Mao's Braised Pork

As the name implies, Mao’s Braised Pork (毛氏红烧肉) is simply related to Chairman Mao. In his late days, his appetite changed from hot and spicy to sweet and tender. His chief chef reformed the traditional braised pork with deeper cooking and more brown sugar. Unlike other spicy food, this dish is more like Shanghai cuisine due to its sugar base. It is the aniseed and prickly ash seeds that put a Hunan touch to it.

Other daily dishes of Hunan cuisine include Changsha-style stinky tofu, Stir-Fried Duck Blood, Stir-Fried Pork with Douchi and Chili Peppers, Shredded Pork with Vegetables and Hunan Eggs. 

Places to Eat Hunan Food in Changsha

Fire Palace Restaurant

It is the most famous traditional restaurant in Changsha. The building was built in 1747 and was used as a temple for the God of Fire (Qianyuan Palace). It now serves Hunan dishes and local snacks.

West Lake Pavilion Restaurant

As the biggest restaurant in China, it is decorated in the style of the imperial palace and serves local meals. There are also performances presenting the Hunan culture while dining.

You May Also Want to Read

Create My Trip

Need Help?

Request a custom itinerary today and get one step closer to your personalized trip

Create Your Trip