(湘菜 – Xiāng Cài)
Hunan Cuisine (Xiang Cai) consists of 3 primary styles: the Xiang River style, Dongting style, and Western Hunan style. The Hunan style has many bold and spicy dishes; the spicy dishes a likely influence from its western neighbor, Sichuan.
The Sichuanese are not afraid of chili heat;
No degree of hotness will affright the people of Guizhou;
But those Hunanese are terrified of food that isn’t hot.Fuchsia Dunlop, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook
Their spicy diet is said to to be the reason why this region is home to several of China’s politicians and soldiers – Zeng Guofan, General Zuo Zongtang, and communist leader, Mao Zedong.
While spicy dishes are the major feature of the style, there are many more varied flavors because of the region’s rich agriculture. Common cooking techniques include stewing, frying, pot-roasting, braising, and smoking. One popular dish that originated from the region is Red Braised Pork (Hong Sau Rou), a cuisine popular across all of China, which is not spicy at all.
Another famous dish, General Tso’s Chicken’s flavor originates from this region. While the bold flavors are similar to other dishes in the region, the sweetness is not. It was added to the dish, to adapt to American tastes. Hunan dishes rarely mix the sweet and savory flavors together.
This short description of the Hunan Cuisine does not do the style justice. For a more detailed description of the region and its cuisine, read Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, Recipes from Hunan Province, by Fuchsia Dunlop. Definitely check it out!