Dheera Venkatraman, MIT Alum | CTO, Robby Technologies | http://dheera.net/麻省理工学院校友| 罗比科技技术总监| http://dheera.net/
Commonly spoken of are the "Eight Great Chinese Cuisines" (八大菜系). I'll describe them as best as I can, though note that I'm vegetarian myself so my knowledge of the meats in these cuisines is limited:
1. 粵菜 Cantonese cuisine

Of all the authentic Chinese food in the United States, Cantonese cuisine dominates most of it. "American Chinese" Food is unauthentic but based on Cantonese cuisine. As a southern coastal province and major trading port, Cantonese cuisine is known for its use of very fresh ingredients and also tends to use the greatest variety of ingredients, including just about any edible meat and seafood. [Preserved ingredients also exist (fermented tofu and preserved eggs, for example), but tend to be simpler methods of preservation and rarely a central part of the dish.] Cooking methods can be complex. Cantonese food tends to use a lot of soy sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce and other "sweet-and-sour" ingredients. Cantonese food is rarely spicy. Also, Dim Sum has complex origins, but is a particularly Cantonese tradition.

2. 川菜 Sichuan cuisine
Sichuan food is probably the second most common type of Chinese cuisine in the United States, but Cantonese food dominates so much that it's relatively hard to find authentic Sichuan food unless you're in a big coastal city of the USA. In stark contrast to Cantonese food, Sichuan food is known widely for its extreme spiciness and use of both the spicy and aromatic "Heaven-facing" peppers (朝天椒) and the mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorn (花椒) (which isn't really a peppercorn at all, just looks like one). The combination of these two spices gives a characteristic flavour to many Sichuan dishes. Vinegar is also a common ingredient, giving a "hot-and-sour" taste to some dishes. Not all Sichuan dishes are spicy, but spiciness is usually somewhere in every meal. As an agriculturally-heavy region, Sichuan cuisine has no shortage of vegetables as well as vegetarian versions of its traditional foods to serve the Buddhist population. Meat is often used but typically pork, chicken, beef and other relatively common meats; seafood is nearly absent, except for fish which has made its way into the cuisine in recent times. In contrast to Cantonese food, Sichuan food uses very little soy sauce; many dishes use none at all in the most authentic renditions. Also in contrast to Cantonese food, Sichuan is known for its use of more complex preserved and pickled ingredients: no Sichuan kitchen would be complete without some crucial ingredients: 郫縣豆瓣 (spicy broad bean paste from Pixian county near Chengdu, very different from the bean pastes from other parts of China), 碎米芽菜 (chopped mustard greens pickled with a particular combination of spices -- ideally, made in 宜賓 Yibin, a city in Sichuan), 酸菜 (sour pickled mustard greens), 榨菜 (pickled mustard tubers). This is all just the basic gist; Sichuan cuisine can be further broken down regionally.
川菜可能是美国第二常见的中国菜,但粤菜占主导地位,以致于除非你身处美国沿海大城市,否则很难找到正宗的川菜。与粤菜形成鲜明对比的是,川菜以其极度辛辣而闻名,它同时使用了辛辣又芳香的朝天椒和令人麻木的花椒(其实根本不是辣椒,只是看起来像)。这两种香料的结合使许多川菜有了独特的风味。醋也是一种常见的配料,给一些菜肴带来“酸辣”的味道。不是所有的川菜都是辣的,但是每顿饭通常都会有辣味。作为一个重农地区,川菜不缺蔬菜,也不缺素食版的传统食品,可向佛教徒供应。肉类经常被使用,但通常是猪肉、鸡肉、牛肉和其他相对常见的肉类;海鲜几乎不存在,除了最近一段时间在烹饪中流行的鱼类。与粤菜不同,川菜用的酱油很少,在最正宗的烹饪中,许多菜肴根本不使用酱油。同样与粤菜不同的是,川菜以使用更复杂腌制食材而闻名:没有一些关键的配料,四川的厨房就不会是完整的:郫县豆瓣(来自成都附近郫县的辛辣豆瓣酱,与中国其他地区的豆瓣酱截然不同),碎米芽菜(切碎的芥菜,加上特殊的香料腌制,理想情况下是在四川宜宾制造),榨菜 (腌制的芥菜)。这仅仅是基本要点;川菜可以根据区域进一步细分。
3. 閩菜 Fujian (Minnan) cuisine
Seldom found by itself in the USA, though since Taiwanese and Malaysian cuisines contain a large number of Fujian and Fujian-style dishes, so you may find them in the USA in those restaurants. Fujian cuisine tends to value light, well-balanced flavours and broth preparation. Soy sauce is used but sparingly. Common seasonings include simple salt and sugar, 沙茶醬 (Shacha sauce), wine, and various seafood-based sauces (shrimp paste, fish sauce, oyster sauce, etc.) Much preparation involves boiling ingredients; oil/stir-frying are less common. Note that there are a lot of regional variations within Fujian cuisine.
4. 湘菜 Hunan cuisine

Like Sichuan cuisine, known for its spicy flavours and preserved ingredients, but seldom uses Sichuan peppercorns so does not have the numbing and slightly citrusy taste characteristic of Sichuan foods. The spiciness is rather much more direct. Hunan is also a agricultural region and it is rich in use of seasonal ingredients.

5. 徽菜 Anhui cuisine
6. 蘇菜 Jiangsu cuisine
7. 魯菜 Shandong cuisine
8. 浙菜 Zhejiang cuisine

There are also other distinctive cuisines and regional foods, not part of the so-called "Great Eight" but great nonetheless, and found commonly in Mainland China:

· 新疆菜 Uyghur cuisine
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Found chielfy in Xinjiang province, it is a beautiful combination of both central Asia and east Asia. Staple carbohydrates are hand-pulled noodles and naan (a type of flat bread cooked in a clay oven, but different from the naan you may have seen in Indian restaurants -- crispier, thicker and with a crust. Generally, only halal meats are used; lamb is the most common. Seasonings tend to be influenced by the Silk Road: common ingredients include dried chili peppers, cumin, nuts and sesame seeds. The region is well-known for its dried fruits and even they are sometimes incorporated into dishes.

· 西藏菜 Tibetan cuisine

Barley is the staple carbohydrate. Popular dishes include various stewed dishes and soups, and steamed dumplings with various fillings. If meat is used, yak meat is common (though Buddhism promotes vegetarianism, Tibet is home to some of the harshest weather on Earth, and many Tibetans do eat meat). Yak butter is also commonly used, especially in yak butter tea and drunk throughout the day. Note that in altitudes of Tibet, water can never reach the sea level boiling point of 100 degrees C; 85-90 degrees is more realistic. As a result, teas and other water-based things need to be brewed/stewed for a significantly longer time. Rice is difficult to cook at high altitudes, though pressure cooking has made it possible in recent times.

· 客家菜 Hakka cuisine

As the Hakka people are known for their migration throughout southeast Asia, you are more likely to find this cuisine outside (mainland) China than within; Malaysia and Taiwan are excellent places to look.

· 山西 Shanxi cuisine
· 陝西 Shaanxi cuisine
· 海南菜 Hainan cuisine
· 雲南菜 Yunnan cuisine
· 京菜 Beijing cuisine (and the associated Imperial Cuisine)

What I've written above is just the beginning. Just about every region, every city and ethnic group has its own set of traditional dishes.