Hunan Cuisine/Xiang Cuisine — Hot (Spicy) and Sour

Hunan cuisine

Most tourists who visit China get to know the spicy red hot flavors of Sichuan cuisine since it is a tourist favorite. But in Hunan Province, the food is maybe even hotter. Their food tastes less numbing and sourer.

  • Names: Hunan food, Xiang cuisine (湘菜 Xiāngcài /sshyang-tseye/)
  • Location: Hunan Province (southern central China) — Changsha, Zhangjiajie
  • Distinctives: spicy, favoring sautéing, stir-frying, steaming, and smoking

The Flavors of Hunan Cuisine — Hot and Sour, and Salty 

Eating Hunan food is fun. You'll have a chance at trying your tongue on a new kind of cuisine. If you've experienced the burning numbness of Sichuan or Chongqing food, see how your body reacts to the vinegar/chili mix of Hunan food.

The many different tastes of the food partly stems from an unusually wide variety of agricultural products. Several kinds of chili peppers are grown. Citrus fruits are one of the major crops, and it lends the yummy sour flavor to dishes such as the popular Hunan Orange Chicken.

'Chopped chili' (剁辣椒 duò làjiāo /dwor laa-jyaow/) is made from vinegar, chili peppers, and salt. It is liberally applied in noodle soups and meat dishes to produce the sour, hot flavor they love.

Stimulate Your Appetite the Chinese Way

Hunan food is actually hotter than Sichuan food. The Sichuanese use pepper corn that numbs your mouth so the food all starts tasting the same. Instead, the Hunanese use vinegar with the pepper. It serves to stimulate the taste buds and make them tingle, so you can better perceive the wide range of flavors and the rich variety of ingredients and spices.

The numbing Sichuan food might give you a higher blood pressure/pulse rate so that you'll need to drink something cold or go out for a walk to cool down. Hunan food does the opposite. Vinegar lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels too. So it is good for those with high blood pressure.

Why Such Hot (and Sour) Food?

Common saying: 四川人不怕辣,湖南人辣不怕,贵州人怕不辣! (Sìchuānrén búpà là, Húnánrén là búpà, Guìzhōurén pà búlà!) It means: "Sichuan people don't fear hot food, Hunan people don't fear any degree of spiciness at all, and Guizhou people fear to eat food that isn't spicy."

Perhaps the wet hot summers and chilly wet winters drive the people to eat sour hot foods. The Chinese think that extra heat (yang) of peppers and other hot spices balances out the excessive cold and wet (yin).

Vinegar also packs yang, and along with helping with digestion, you'll find that it helps cool your body on hot days. In traditional Chinese medicine, vinegar is used to help people be more comfortable in the heat of summer and stay healthy. It also kills parasites and bacteria that grow in hot weather.

Notable Features — Many Vegetables, Hot Seasonings, and Rice

Crunchy vegetables: Eating a wide variety of vegetables keeps them healthy as does their cooking method. They generally like to sauté with a little oil so it is still crunchy "al dente." It preserves vitamins in food this way.

  • Refreshing summertime vegetable: 'Slapped cucumber' (拍黄瓜 pai huanggua) is an appetizer of cold cucumbers served in garlic, dried chili flakes, and vinegar. To prepare it, cucumbers are 'slapped' down to absorb the vinegar dressing.

Daily staple: The area is in the subtropical rice growing area of China, so white rice and rice noodles are the the main staple cereal foods. For example, mi fen (长沙米粉 mǐfěn) rice noodle soup is popular in Changsha.

Seasonings of Xiang Cuisine

Yang sources: They use hot peppers and green onions, shallots, garlic, ginger, spicy oil, duo la jiao and cassia cinnamon to provide the needed daily yang. Soy sauce and tea seed oil are also used in cooking.

Sweet foods: Honey is enjoyed in some dishes, and sugar is used in some dishes and candy. They like sweet food, but not as much as the Cantonese further south. Lotus seed candy is a local product.

Their Favorite Cooking Methods

Their cuisine is thought of as the melting pot of the larger regional cuisines around them. Their cooks use various ways to prepare food. They commonly boil soups or stews, stir-fry, sauté (炒香), bake, braise, smoke, pickle or ferment.

Fermentation: To store vegetables and meat for the winter or preserve it through the hot summers, Hunanese have traditionally eaten much pickled and fermented food. They pickle tofu by letting it sit for few weeks. It is then mixed with liquor, salt, star anise, and chili and fermented in pickling jars for a month or more.

Best Places to Eat Authentic Hunan Cuisine in Changsha

West Lake Building Restaurant

The huge restaurant seats food people in a variety of venues. It is a gourmet mega restaurant where the diners arrive in hungry droves.

  • Chinese name: 西湖楼 Xihu Lou /sshee-hoo loh/
  • Average price per person: 90 yuan
  • Address: Kimmar Food City, Hongshan Tourist Region, Kaifu District (diagonally opposite the Provincial Broadcast Center) 开福区洪山旅游区金马美食城内(省广电中心斜对面)

Good Vogue Restaurant

This is a combination Cantonese and Hunanese restaurant.

  • Chinese name:: 好食尚(八一路店)Hao Shi Shang (Eight One Road Branch)
  • Average price per person: 90 yuan
  • Opening hours: 10am – 2:30pm; 5pm – 9:30pm
  • Address: Floor 1–5, Hongfei Mansion, 245 Bayi Road, Furong District 芙蓉区八一路245号鸿飞大厦1-5楼

Xiang Cuisine Menu

English Chinese Pronunciation Characters
Steamed Hams làwèi hé zhēng Laa way her jnng 腊味合蒸
Pork Tripe Soup tāng pào dù Tung paoww doo 汤泡肚
Spicy Chicken málàzǐ jī Maa laa-dzrr jee 麻辣子鸡
Steamed Fish Head with Diced Spicy Red Peppers duò jiāo yútóu Dwor jyaoww yoo-toh 剁椒鱼头
Money Fish jīnqián yú Jin-chyen yoo 金钱鱼
Red Roasted Shark's Fin hóng wēi yúchì Hong way yoo-chrr 红煨鱼翅
Sugar Candy Lotus bīngtáng xiāng lián Bing-tung sshyang lyen 冰糖湘莲

Taste Authentic Hunan Cuisine with China Highlights

Our Hunan tours combine seeing attractions around Hunan with meals in carefully selected restaurants.

Recommended Zhangjiajie Tour

4-Day Essence of Zhangjiajie Tour — see the amazing rocky pillars and enjoy Hunan food

Recommended Chinese Food Tour

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See more Chinese Food Tours.

Or we could tailor-make you a Chinese food tour for you.

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