Blessed with fertile soils alongside its abundant lakes and rivers, China’s Jiangsu province is part of the region known as the ‘land of fish and rice.’ Salty, sweet and tangy notes enliven its artfully presented dishes to create one the country’s most alluring regional cuisines. Visit the province’s ancient capital Nanjing for its finest examples—allow our guide to Jiangsu cuisine to introduce its must-try dishes.
Jiangsu cuisine has imperial origins that emerged during the Qing Dynasty. Chefs would prepare banquets of deer, fish and roast suckling pigs for emperors and wealthy salt merchants. Precise chopping, elaborate cooking methods and refined presentation underpinned this new culinary style.
Jiangsu nudges up against the East China Sea, which explains the plethora of fresh seafood on its menus. Mandarin fish, shark fins and clear crab shells are commonly used in Jiangsu cuisine, enhanced with native seasonings: chilli powder, lotus root and bamboo shoots.
There’s a saying in Nanjing: ‘It isn’t a proper meal without duck’. Legend has it Ming Dynasty Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang slaughtered all the roosters in an attempt to resolve the city’s noise crisis. Soon after, duck became the poultry of choice. Rice and noodles are Jiangsu cuisine staples, as well as vegetables like water chestnuts and taro. Mostly, ingredients are finely chopped, then stirred, braised, steamed and cooked to perfection. The result? A varied cuisine that’s refreshingly silky and light despite its richness.
What to order
For a regional delicacy that requires two days of groundwork, select the legendary Nanjing salted duck—perfect for sharing. The meat is marinated in Sichuan pepper and salt, before being boiled in a stock consisting of 12 different components, including dried citrus peel and liquorice root. For a memorable Cantonese take on it, try the crisp roasted duck at Lu Chao.
Brightly coloured sweet and sour mandarin fish prepared in a squirrel style is another item to add to your ‘must try’ list. Delicately sliced into a grid pattern so that the flesh fans out, and sizzled in a wok, usually alongside shrimp, nuts and mushrooms. The end product is a true masterpiece of Jiangsu cuisine.
Feeling brave? Duck blood and vermicelli soup is another of Nanjing’s favourite orders. A former ‘poor man’s’ dinner, cubes of duck blood, tofu, shrimp and offal all feature in this consommé.
Where to eat Jiangsu cuisine in Nanjing
The best way to explore the gamut of Jiangsu cuisine is at the pavilions and restaurants that spool out along the Qinhuai River in the bustling Fuzimiao area. Head to Qinhuai Renjia, where the star of the show is Qinhuai Eight Treasures. This concept features eight iconic pairings, such as shredded tofu in a chicken broth, served with a sesame pancake, and pan-fried beef dumplings coupled with beef soup. Nanjing’s many street vendors are equally excellent sources of Jiangsu favourites.
Indulge in the Chinese metropolis’ iconic culinary offerings while staying at Jumeirah Nanjing on the banks of the Yangtze River.