It has been a while since I placed a post about the regional variation of food in China. That post focused on typical local produce and traditional dishes and snacks.
Today, I am posting some information about the regional distribution of the production of a few major product groups. There is a certain relation between that distribution and the information in the previous post, but also distinct discrepancies, linked to facts like the presence of a major producer, the location of large urban centres in a province, etc. There are also interesting differences between more traditional products and foods related to the modern life style. In other words, today’s post is a genuine ‘Chinese food and culture’ one.
I will illustrate the distribution in the form of tables indicating the top 3 production regions (provinces) of each product in terms of percentage of the total national volume of 2021. The total of those percentages is a good indication of the degree of concentration of that product.
The dairy industry is traditionally concentrated in the norther half of China, which makes sense as dairy cows prefer a cooler climate. A consequence of this was that most Chinese in the south would drink milk reconstituted from milk powder. Recently, the production of fresh pasteurised or UHT milk has increased considerably in the major urban regions. Look at the differences in the distribution of milk powder and liquid milk production.
Heilongjiang, Shaanxi and Inner Mongolia are all traditional dairy regions. Hebei as well, though much smaller. However, Hebei supplies dairy products to the large Beijing – Tianjin urban conglomerate, and is the home of some of the country’s top dairy processors.
Although most Westerners still perceive Chinese as eating rice as a staple, the Northern Chinese traditionally eat wheat products. The most popular wheat product traditionally is flour. Chinese use it to make dumplings, mantou (steamed bread), noodles, and many other products at home. This does not always agree with the pace of life of the modern city dweller and even Chinese living in smaller towns do not want to spend so much time in the kitchen. This is reflected in the distribution of the flour and instant noodles.
Henan and Shandong together form China’s main wheat belt, hence Henan’s top position for both products. However, the production of instant noodles does not necessarily take place in those provinces. Guangdong and Tianjin are located in major urban regions (the Pearl River Delta and the Beijing – Tianjin region) and local production there makes distribution a lot easier.
China has a wide range of traditional sweets, but candy is a Western product. This is probably the reason that production is concentrated in the richer southern coastal provinces of Fujian and Guangdong. These are also sugar cane regions. Hubei is an exception.
Sichuan has been the top producer of traditional Chinese spirits (baijiu) for many years. Although beer and wine are growing in China, the big money makers are still the spirits. Shandong’s position is probably related to the availability of cereals, but it is also the home of Tsingtao Beer and is China’s oldest wine region. Guangdong’s third position is based on beer, which is undoubtedly due to the fact that the Pearl River Delta is one of China’s most affluent regions.
Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success