Hunan Cuisine / Xiang Cuisine – Hot, Spicy, Salty

Hunan cuisine, also called Xiang cuisine, is one of the eight cuisines in China, which is popular not only in Hunan Province, but in the whole China. Hunan cuisine is welcomed abroad as well, such as the United States, Europe, Japan, and Southeast Asia. It has an aromatic and spicy flavor as pepper is the most important condiment. Its representative dishes include Steamed Fish Head with Chopped Chili, Fried Pork with Chili, Tasty Lobster, Changsha Stinky Tofu, Hunan Rice Noodles, Dong’an Chicken, and Spicy Salted Duck, etc.

Chinese Name: 湘菜 xiāng cài
English Names: Hunan cuisine, Xiang cuisine
Popular in: Hunan Province
Flavors: spicy, hot and spicy, sour and spicy, salty and spicy
Famous Hunan Dishes: Steamed Fish Head with Chopped Chili, Steamed Preserved Meat, Fried Pork with Chili, Tasty Lobster
Famous Snacks: Changsha Stinky Tofu, Sugar Oil Baba, Hunan Rice Noodles

Hunan Cuisine History and Origin

Hunan cuisine history is pretty long and is not shorter than other cuisines. It may be originated from the banquet after worship ceremony in ancient Shu State in Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770 - 256 BC). In late Warring States Period (475 - 221 BC), the ingredients and cooking methods had been quite mature. Up to Western Han Dynasty (202 BC - 9 AD), there had been a variety of dishes in Hunan, and those Hunan food formed its own characteristics in material, cooking methods and flavors. In Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD), Hunan cuisine dishes had been quite rich and different Hunan food was cooked for different occasions, like those for birthday, wedding, funeral and promotion. Later, it had a wider influence across China. It welcomed its golden age in Ming (1368 - 1644 AD) and Qing (1644 - 1911 AD) Dynasties. As the pepper was introduced into China, the spicy flavor of Hunan cuisine was confirmed. Meanwhile, advertised unconsciously by many chefs and renowned persons who were from Hunan, it became more and more popular.


Features of Hunan Cuisine – Hot, Spicy, Salty

Hunan cuisine dishes have a general flavor of spicy, in particular aromatic and spicy and sour and spicy, which are their well-known flavor. The raw materials are well matched, so that different tastes of ingredients influence each other to achieve a perfect flavor of a whole dish. These food is usually cooked with more oil and appears to be dark comparing with other cuisines.

In Hunan cuisine recipes, the ingredients cover a wide range of products, from plants, to land animals and seafood. People there like to make pickles and preserved food with vegetables and meat in season, too; which are also widely used as ingredients.

Seasonings of Xiang Cuisine – Chili & Fermented Soya Beans

Hunan people love chili very much, and most Hunan cuisine recipes include chili, either dried one of fresh one. They also invent a great variety of methods to cook chili with different flavors. For example, sour and spicy taste by fermenting chili in pickle jars; numb and spicy taste by cooking chili with Sichuan pepper and garlics. Fermented soya beans, tastes a little bitter, is another important condiment in Hunan cuisine. The fermented soya beans produced in Liuyang is the famous local specialty.  

Special Cooking Skills

Various cooking methods are there for various Hunan cuisine dishes. The most remarkable skill is stewing. There are not a few kinds of stewing: stewing with sauce, water, clear broth or milky broth, etc. Stir-frying is also a prominent cooking skill of Hunan cuisine. In addition, braising, curing, steaming, frying and other skills are of equal importance.

Notable Dishes in Hunan Cuisine


Steamed Fish Head with Chopped Chili

Steamed Fish Head with Chopped Chili

This famous Hunan cuisine dish is spicy with tender fish meat. The fish head is from bighead carp. In addition to chopped chili, soy sauce, ginger, shallot, garlics are added as condiments.


        Steamed           Preserved Meat

Steamed Preserved Meat

Cured pork, cured chicken, cured fish or other preserved meat are steamed with chicken soup. The method is very simple, the taste is rich, flavorful and salty, and the food is easy to digest.


         Chairman Mao’s          Red Braised Pork

Chairman Mao’s Red Braised Pork

This is one of Chairman Mao's favorite dishes. It has a complicated taste of spicy, salty and sweet, with a dark red color in appearance. The pork should be half fat and half lean, and is cut into big dices evenly.


             Fried Pork              with Chili

Fried Pork with Chili

Fried Pork with Chili is a popular home cooking in Hunan, as the pork tastes aromatic and spicy. The chili in this dish are those linear hard ones with the same size of your fourth finger.


              Tasty               Lobster

Tasty Lobster

This is a nationwide crazily welcomed Hunan cuisine dish. The bright red lobsters are fresh and spicy, which is more palatable with beer.


          Changsha            Stinky Tofu

Changsha Stinky Tofu

Although Changsha Stinky Tofu smells unpleasant, it is extremely delicious with aromatic and spicy taste. The hard surface is crispy, and the inside is flavorful with sauce.

Read more: Top 10 Hunan Foods You Have to Try

Menu of Hunan Cuisine

English Chinese Pinyin
Steamed Fish Head with Chopped Chili  剁椒鱼头 duò jiāo yú tóu
Steamed Preserved Meat 腊味合蒸 là wèi hé zhēng
Chairman Mao’s Red Braised Pork 毛氏红烧肉 máo shì hóng shāo ròu
Fried Pork with Chili 辣椒炒肉 là jiāo chǎo ròu
Tasty Lobster 口味虾 kǒu wèi xiā
Changsha Stinky Tofu 长沙臭豆腐 cháng shā chòu dòu fǔ
Hunan Rice Noodles 湖南米粉 hú nán mǐ fěn
Spicy Salted Duck 酱板鸭 jiàng bǎn yā
Gold Fish Playing Lotus 金鱼戏莲 jīn yú xì lián
Dong'an Chicken 东安子鸡 dōng ān zǐ jī
Sugar Oil Baba 糖油粑粑 táng yóu bā bā


Best Hunan Cuisine Restaurants in China

Yu Lou Dong
Chinese Name:玉楼东
No. 125, Wuyi Avenue, Furong District, Changsha
No. 288-290, Middle Shuguang Road, Yuhua District, Changsha
No. 118, Middle Xiangfu Road, Yuhua District, Changsha

Xi Hu Lou
Chinese Name:西湖楼
Location: Jinma Food City, Jinma Road, Hongshan Tourist Area, Changsha

Lekoufu Restaurant
Chinese Name:乐口福家常菜馆
Location: diagonally across Zhangjiaie City People's Hospital, Guyong Road, Yongding District, Zhangjiajie

Auspicious Bird Hunan Restaurant
Chinese Name:吉祥鸟湘菜馆
Location: No. 103, Jixiangli, Chaoyangmenwai Street, Beijing
See more Hunan Restaurants in Beijing

Xiangxuan Restaurant
Chinese Name:湘轩酒楼
Location: No.411, Liuzhou Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai
See more Hunan Restaurants in Shanghai


3 Major Styles of Xiang Cuisine

Xiangyang River Style: As the representative of Hunan cuisine, Xiang River style cuisine is centered in Changsha, Hengyang and Xiangtan. The dishes are generally oily with a deep color, and the flavors are mainly spicy, fresh and aromatic. Steamed Preserved Meat, Stir-fry Chicken with Hot Chili, Braised Meat with Black Bean Sauce, are all the famous dishes of Xiang River area.

Dongting Lake Style: Freshwater fishes and poultry meat are the favorite ingredients of the Dongting Lake style cuisine. The frequently used cooking methods are stewing, braising, steaming, curing, etc. The food are oily with thick starchy sauce, salty and spicy, and tender with a charming aroma. People there like to stew food in stove, and eat while stewing, just like hot pot. The representative dishes include Dongting Gold Tortoise, Barbecued Dongting Mandarin Fish, and Lotus Seedpod with Crystal Sugar.

Western Hunan Style: Smoked bacon and various preserved meats are featured ingredients. People there prefer a flavor of salty and aromatic, sour and spicy. The notable delicacies are Braised Mushrooms, Xiangxi Sour Meat, etc.

- Last updated on Aug. 08, 2022 -
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