Hunan cuisine is a style of Chinese food that originated in Hunan Province in south-central China. It is known for its rich, fiery flavors created by the use of chili peppers and garlic. This style of regional Chinese cuisine is also known for elaborate preparation techniques and beautiful presentation of the dishes. There are approximately 4,000 documented Hunan dishes, many of which are sweet and sour, hot and sour, or hot and spicy. Crispy duck, dong'an chicken, and garlic eggplant are some of Hunan’s best-known dishes.
Smoked and preserved meats such as beef, pork, and lamb are common as main ingredients in Hunan cuisine. Other main ingredients include fish and poultry, especially chicken and duck. Hunan cuisine also features ingredients such as frogs’ legs and turtle.
Hunan Province is a major agricultural region that produces a wide array of fresh vegetables, especially green beans and eggplant. Rice is one of Hunan’s most abundant crops and, therefore, accompanies many meals. Tofu and noodles are also widely used in Hunan cuisine.
In addition to garlic and chili peppers, spices used to flavor Hunan cuisine include star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, and fennel. Many Hunan dishes are served with fresh, whole chili peppers. Oils flavored with chili, garlic, and sesame may be used as flavoring agents for many foods. Shaoxing wine and condiments such as chili-garlic paste and salty black-bean paste may also be used in some Hunan dishes.
Preparation techniques include stir-frying, deep-frying, and roasting. Searing, simmering, and steaming are also common techniques for preparing Hunan cuisine. Some dishes may also require more than one cooking method, and many Hunan dishes may also require marinating, either quickly or overnight.
Hunan cuisine varies according to the seasons. Cold dishes are often served during the hot, humid summer months, and the region’s famous hot pots are popular throughout the cold winter months. Chili peppers are served year-round, however, as they are believed to open the pores to cool the body during the summer and to warm the body in winter.
Known also as Xiang cuisine, Hunan cuisine has evolved over many centuries and is now considered one of the eight regional cuisines of China. It is further divided into three sub-regions: Xiang River, Dongting Lake, and Western Hunan. Hunan Province has its own distinctive style; however, it has been influenced by the style and flavors of the cuisines of surrounding provinces, especially Szechuan, Chonqing, and Yunnan.