Due to the size of the country, many different styles of cooking have developed in different areas. Today the eight most famous are Jiangsu cuisine, Zhejiang cuisine, Shandong cuisine, Hunan cuisine an Sichuan cuisine. Metaphors can be used to tell the differences between these styles. Jiangsu and Zhejiang styles can be likened to southern beauties, whereas Shandong and Anhui styles are like northern males. Canton and Fujian styles have parallels with elegant gentleman, and Sichuan and Hunan styles are like talented scholars.
With regard to signature dishes, Jiangsu style is famous for Steamed Shad, and Lightly-braised Crab Meat Balls. Zhejiang style is famous for West Lake Fish, and Shrimp with Longjing Green Tea Leaves. Shandong style is known for Lotus-shape Prawns, and Sea Cucumbers with chicken Drumsticks, Anhui style for its Duck with Gourd, and Pheasant with Bamboo Shoots. Cantonese style is renowned for Roast Suckling Pig, and Beef with Oyster Sauce. Fujian Style is famous for Assorted Seafood and Fowl Meat Casserole, and Chrysanthemum-shape Sea Bass, whereas Hunan style is for Dong’an Style Chicken, and Shark’s Fin Stew. Last but not least, Sichuan style is known for Special-flavor Chicken and Hot-and-Spicy Bean Curd. Each one of these dishes is unique, yet they are all prefect combinations of color, aroma, taste and shape.
Courtesy and propriety are especially important in Chinese culture. The etiquette of dining is no exception. The Book of Rites, an ancient work recording the correct ways to behave, included many rules and regulations regarding table manners. Among these were the seating order of the participants, the arranging of the dishes, the order of drinking, and how to propose toasts. During meals it also included such precise guidelines as saying that a piece of fish or other meat taken out of the dish plate could not be taken back to it again, and the temperature of staple foods should remain constant.
Confucius was very particular about dining etiquette. He noted “One should not converse while eating”, and “if the sitting mat is not placed in the correct manner, do not sit.” And even more specific, “Do do eat food that has not been cut.” True to the spirit of civility and politeness embodied in his philosophy, he also said “Always make a solemn offering, even for a simple meal of soup and vegetables,” and “When attending a grand feast, be sure to offer thanks to the host.” With regards to age, he made the comment “After a drinking session for the village, the elders will depart before others.”
At feudal banquets, the seat to the left of the host was reserved for the guest of honor. Seats facing east traditionally symbolized respect, and the guests were seated according to age. Nowadays, many of the more complicated conventions are no longer followed, but dining remains an occasion in which elders are respected, the young taken care of, guests are fussed over, and plenty of dishes are supplied.
Dining is also closely related to friendship and interpersonal exchanges. A proverb says “When like minds meet, there can never be too many cups,” or “For congenial friends a thousand toasts are too few.” Weddings, funerals, birthdays, and other celebrations are and have for millennia been occasions in which feasts are held for friends and relatives. Businesses also have dinners for their staff or clients at a new office launch, for the signing of an agreement, or a year-end party. During these occasions, people propose toasts and chat heartily. Business and family feasts share some common features.