Hunan cuisine, sometimes called Xiang cuisine consists of the cuisines of the Xiang River region, Dongting Lake and western Hunan Province, in China. Hunan cuisine is consisted of three styles: Xiang River style which is represented by dishes of Changsha, Dongting Lake style which is represented by dishes of Hengyang, and western Hunan style which is represented by dishes of Xiangtan.
Known for its liberal use of chilli peppers, shallots and garlic, Xiang cuisine is known for being dry hot or purely hot, as opposed to the better known Sichuan cuisine to which it is often compared to. Known for its distinctive málà (hot and numbing) seasoning and other complex flavour combinations, Sichuan cuisine frequently employ Sichuan peppercorns along with chilies which are often dried, and utilizes more dried or preserved ingredients and condiments. Hunan Cuisine, on the other hand, is often spicier by pure chili content, contains a larger variety of fresh ingredients, tends to be oilier, and is said to be purer and simpler in taste. Another characteristic distinguishing Hunan cuisine from Sichuan cuisine is that, in general, Hunan cuisine uses smoked and cured goods in its dishes much more frequently.
Another feature of Hunan cuisine is that the menu changes with the seasons. In a hot and humid summer, a meal will usually start with cold dishes or a platter holding a selection of cold meats with chilies for opening the pores and keeping cool in the summer. In winter, a popular choice is the hot pot, thought to heat the blood in the cold months. A special hot pot called (yuān yāng hǔo gūo) lover's hot pot is famous for splitting the pot into a spicy side and a milder side.
Hunan cuisine is one of the eight regional cuisines of China and is well known for its hot spicy flavor, fresh aroma and deep color. Common cooking techniques include stewing, frying, pot-roasting, braising, and smoking. Due to the high agricultural output of the region, ingredients for Hunan dishes are many and varied.