The signature of Jiangsu cuisine is elaborate cooking techniques and sweet—not sweet sweet, but the method of using sugar to elevate savory taste.
Similar to Sichuan, Jiangsu province is historically known as “the land of fish and rice.” But more importantly, it was the home to one of China’s largest granaries, headquarter of the river regulation office and the “Water Transport of Grain to the Capital” project, which focused on digging a river path from Jiangsu to the capital city Beijing to transport grains from the granary. It was also the collection and distortion center for salt. What all these mean was that Jiangsu was the place where the government money and businessmen go.
With money comes corruption; with corruption comes lavish meals and extravagant feasts. It was documented that Jiangsu was the birthplace of the ManHan Imperial Feast, which consisted of at least 108 unique dishes with ingredients varies from monkey brain, bear paws, shark fins and swallows nests. Even more extreme than the lavishness was the preparation. Each dish was prepared by one and only one chef, who was chose among hundreds and thousands of chefs whose lives were dedicated to craft one or two of these particular dishes.
After the fall of the Qing dynasty, most chefs lost the financial backing from the government and became head chefs at restaurants. The lack of access to premium ingredients like bear paws forced them to apply their skills to everyday ingredients and hence invented the Jiangsu cuisine that we know of today.