Table of Contents
- How To Order Chinese Food - March 9, 2021
- Chinese Spring Festival: Everything You Need to Know - February 2, 2021
- How to Say Goodbye in Chinese [Complete Guide] - January 25, 2021
How to Read a Chinese Menu
Reading menus in a foreign language can be an overwhelming experience even to someone who speaks some of it. This mainly happens because not many textbooks or online courses teach people some important key vocabulary that is most likely to show up in a menu.
To add oil to the flames (mmm, food metaphors…), China is famous for its varied cuisine. Cooking styles and flavors vary greatly between the north and the south, the east and the west of China. Even hot pot, the rock star of Chinese restaurants all over the world, comes in different flavors depending on the province.
So, how to order food in Chinese? Fret not. After reading this article, you will be able to read menus in Chinese and order food with minimal hassle!
Generally, all dishes in Chinese menus can be divided into several groups:
- 凉菜 / liángcài / cold dishes
- 热菜 / rè cài / hot dishes
- 汤 / tāng / soups and broths
- 饮料酒水 / yǐnliào jiǔshuǐ / drinks (both non-alcoholic and alcoholic)
- 点心 / diǎnxīn / dim sum; 甜点 / tiándiǎn / desserts
A decent meal for a group of four or more people may include all of the above. Note that while hot dishes is treated as the main course, you will often see different types of food spread out on the table at the same time, with your Chinese friends snacking on 黏糕 / nián gāo / sweet rice cake, washing it down with 鸡汤 / jītāng / chicken broth, then going to town on 煎饺 / jiān jiǎo / fried dumplings and 拍黄瓜 / pāi huángguā / beaten cucumbers indiscriminately. So don’t be shy with your order!
No kitchen can do without a pot and a knife. Some Chinese dishes have names that allude to the way their ingredients have been cut. Cutting methods include:
|丝 / sī||shreds, strips||土豆丝 / tǔdòu sī||potato floss, shredded potatoes|
|块 / kuài||bits, chunks||鸡块 / jī kuài||chicken nuggets|
|片 / piàn||slices||鱼片泡饭 / yú piàn pàofàn||cice with fish fillet|
|条 / tiáo||strips||薯条 / shǔ tiáo||French fries|
|丁 / dīng||dice||宫保鸡丁 / gōng bǎo jī dīng||Kung Pao Chicken, spicy diced chicken|
Cooking methods include:
|煎 / jiān||pan fry||煎饺 / jiān jiǎo; 煎豆腐 / jiān dòufu||fried dumplings; fried tofu|
|炸 / zhá||deep fry||炸鸡 / zhá jī; 炸酱面 / zhá jiàng miàn||fried chicken; noodles with ground pork simmered in salty soybean paste|
|炒 / chǎo||stir-fry||青椒炒肉丝 / qīngjiāo chǎo ròu sī; 番茄炒鸡蛋 / fānqié chǎo jīdàn||stir-fried shredded meat with green pepper; scrambled eggs with tomatoes|
|烧 / shāo||braise, stew, bake, roast||红烧茄子 / hóngshāo qiézi; 红烧鱼 / hóngshāo yú; 烧饼 / shāobǐng||eggplant braised in soy sauce; fish braised in soy sauce; baked cake covered in sesame seeds|
|烤 / kāo||toast, bake, broil, roast||烤鸭 / kǎoyā; 北京烤鸭 / běijīng kǎoyā; 烧烤 / shāokǎo||roast duck; Peking duck; BBQ|
|煮 / zhǔ||boil||水饺 / shuǐjiǎo; 水煮鱼 / shuǐ zhǔ yú||boiled dumplings; Sichuan poached sliced fish in hot chili oil|
|炖 / dùn||stew||炖菜 / dùn cài; 炖牛肉 / dùn niúròu||vegetable stew; beef stew|
|蒸 / zhēng||steam||蒸饺 / zhēng jiǎo; 清蒸鱼 / qīngzhēng yú; 蒸鸡蛋 / zhēng jīdàn||steamed dumplings; steamed fish; steamed omelet|
The four basic flavors are 酸甜苦辣 / suāntiánkǔlà: sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy respectively. Many Chinese foods use combinations of various seasonings to achieve rich flavors, which can be described as:
|酸甜 / suān tián||sour and sweet||锅包肉 / guō bāo ròu||fried pork in scoop|
|糖醋 / táng cù||sweet and sour||糖醋排骨 / táng cù páigǔ||sweet and sour pork ribs|
|麻辣 / má là||numbingly spicy||麻辣烫 / málà tàng; 麻辣香锅 / málà xiāng guō||hot spicy soup; spicy stir-fry hot pot|
|椒麻 / jiāo má||spicy pepper||椒麻鸡 / jiāo má jī||spiced chicken with chili sauce|
|酱香 / jiàng xiāng||soy sauce||酱香排骨 / jiàng xiāng páigǔ||pork ribs braised in soy sauce|
|香辣 / xiāng là||fragrant and spicy||香辣鸡翅 / xiāng là jīchì; 麻婆豆腐 / má pó dòufu||spicy wings; Ma Po Tofu|
|酸辣 / suān là||sour and spicy||酸辣土豆丝 / suān là tǔdòu sī||sour and spicy shredded potatoes|
Whether you can’t handle spicy food or habitually drink lava and want your meal to reflect that, don’t forget to tell the waiter how you like your food: 不辣 / bù là / not spicy, 微辣 / wēi là / a bit spicy, 中辣 / zhōng là / pretty spicy, or 特辣 / tè là / extremely spicy.
Useful Phrases for Ordering Chinese Food
Obviously, reading the menu is just one part of the restaurant experience – the real deal is talking to the waiters. What will you hear from Chinese waiters and what will they expect you to say? Let’s find out!
Before sitting down
|您几位？||Nín jǐ wèi?||How many of you are here?|
|请问有预订吗?||Qǐngwèn yǒu yùdìng ma?||Do you have a reservation?|
|我们预订了座位/五人桌。||Wǒmen yùdìngle zuòwèi/wǔ rén zhuō.||We booked a table / a table for five.|
|请给我们一个靠窗的位置。||Qǐng gěi wǒmen yīgè kào chuāng de wèizhì.||Give us a table by the window, please.|
|服务员，点菜！||Fúwùyuán, diǎn cài!||Waiter, we are ready to order!|
|你们有英文菜单吗？||Nǐmen yǒu yīngwén càidān ma?||Do you have menus in English?|
|我们要一份这个……两份这个……||Wǒmen yào yī fèn zhège……liǎng fèn zhège……||We want one portion of this… two portions of that…|
|几碗米饭？||Jǐ wǎn mǐfàn?||How many bowls of plain rice?|
|请问有忌口吗？||Qǐngwèn yǒu jìkǒu ma?||Do you have any dietary restrictions?|
|不要辣， 不要香菜和葱。||Bùyào là, bùyào xiāngcài hé cōng.||No spice, no coriander, and no leek.|
|服务员，催一下我们这桌的菜。||Fúwùyuán, cuī yīxià wǒmen zhè zhuō de cài.||Waiter, hasten the cooks with our order.|
|我们等人到齐了再点菜。||Wǒmen děng rén dào qíle zài diǎn cài.||We’ll wait till everyone is here and then place our order.|
Paying the bill
|服务员，买单！||Fúwùyuán, mǎidān!||Waiter, we are ready to pay the bill!|
|请问在哪买单?||Qǐngwèn zài nǎ mǎidān?||Excuse me, where do I pay?|
|你们是AA吗？还是一起结？||Nǐmen shì ēi ēi ma? Háishì yīqǐ jié?||Are you splitting the bill? Or paying together?|
|一共多少钱？||Yīgòng duōshǎo qián?||How much money in total?|
|您怎么支付呢？微信还是支付宝？||Nín zěnme zhīfù ne? Wēixìn háishì zhīfùbǎo?||How are you paying? With WeChat or Alipay?|
|需要开发票。||Xūyào kāi fāpiào.||I need the receipt.|
|欢迎下次光临！||Huānyíng xià cì guānglín!||Looking forward to you visiting our restaurant again!|
What to Order in a Chinese Restaurant
Real Chinese food is much different from what you could get at Panda Express. Chinese people like to balance meat and vegetables out, and you won’t find as many deep-fried foods in Chinese restaurants as in the States.
Let’s start with Chinese staple foods: 米饭 / mǐfàn / rice and 面条 / miàntiáo / noodles, lifesavers of absolute beginners in Chinese. No one can go wrong with 炒饭 / chǎofàn / fried rice and 牛肉面 / niúròu miàn / beef noodles! Add 饼 / bǐng / pie and 粥 / zhōu / congee to the mix to eat your fill with 肉饼 / ròu bǐng / meat pie and 小米粥 / xiǎomǐ zhōu / millet gruel.
And if you feel ready to learn more, check out the lists below, compiled by foodies for foodies! But beware: dishes similar in the name may taste differently depending on the province, the city, or even the cook’s mood. It’s all part of the adventure!
|蛋糕 / dàngāo||cake|
|面包 / miànbāo||bread|
|麦片 / màipiàn||oatmeal|
|包子 / bāozi||baozi, steamed buns with fillings|
|馒头 / mántou||mantou, plain steamed buns|
|烧麦 / shāo mài||shumai, a type of dim sum|
|烧饼 / shāobǐn||baked pie covered in sesame seeds|
|卷饼 / juǎn bǐng||roll with filling|
|豆浆 / dòujiāng||soy milk|
|牛奶 / niúnǎi||milk|
|粥 / zhōu||congee|
|馅饼 / xiàn bǐng||pie with filling|
|小笼包 / xiǎo lóng bāo||xiaolongbao (a type of Chinese steamed bun)|
|锅贴 / guōtiē||potsticker|
|煎饼 / jiānbing||pancake|
|玉米 / yù mǐ||corn|
|面条 / miàn tiáo||noodles|
|番茄炒蛋 / fānqié chǎo dàn||scrambled eggs with tomatoes|
|四喜丸子 / sì xǐ wánzi||braised pork meatballs in gravy|
|北京烤鸭 / běijīng kǎoyā||Peking duck|
|糖醋里脊 / táng cù lǐjí||sweet and sour pork|
|麻婆豆腐 / má pó dòufu||Mapo tofu, stir-fried tofu in hot sauce|
|宫保鸡丁 / gōng bǎo jī dīng||Kung Pao chicken|
|鱼香肉丝 / yú xiāng ròu sī||fish-flavored shredded pork|
|栗子鸡 / lìzǐ jī||chicken with chestnuts|
Popular dishes by province
|河南 / hénán||烩面 / huì miàn||braised noodles|
|山西 / shānxī||刀削面 / dāoxiāomiàn||sliced noodles|
|武汉 / wǔhàn||热干面 / rè gān miàn||hot noodles with sesame paste|
|四川 / sìchuān||担担面 / dàndàn miàn||noodles with a peppery sauce|
|兰州 / lánzhōu||拉面 / lāmiàn||hand-pulled noodles|
Complimenting the chef
|好吃 / hǎo chī||good to eat||这家火锅真好吃！/ Zhè jiā huǒguō zhēn hào chī!||This hot pot is good to eat!|
|可口 / kěkǒu||tasty||他弄得水果沙拉清凉可口。/ Tā nòng dé shuǐguǒ shālā qīngliáng kěkǒu.||The fruit salad he made is fresh and tasty.|
|爽口 / shuǎngkǒu||fresh and tasty||这几道小菜十分爽口。/ Zhè jǐ dào xiǎocài shífēn shuǎngkǒu.||These side dishes are very fresh and tasty.|
|鲜美 / xiānměi||delicious||妈妈做的红烧鱼味道鲜美。/ Māma zuò de hóngshāo yú wèidào xiānměi.||The braised fish my mom cooks is delicious.|
|香甜 / xiāngtián||sweet||爸爸挑选的桃子味道香甜，颜色鲜艳。/ Bàba tiāoxuǎn de táozi wèidào xiāngtián, yánsè xiānyàn.||The peaches my father chose were sweet and bright in color.|
|酥脆 / sūcuì||crispy||这里的炸红薯金黄酥脆。/ Zhèlǐ de zhà hóngshǔ jīnhuáng sūcuì.||The fried sweet potatoes here are golden and crispy.|
|回味无穷 / huíwèi wúqióng||divine, leaving a rich aftertaste||我刚喝了杯特好喝的奶茶，让人回味无穷。/ Wǒ gāng hēle bēi tè hǎo hē de nǎichá, ràng rén huíwèi wúqióng.||I just drank a cup of milk tea, which is very divine, leaving a rich aftertaste.|
|色香味俱全 / sè xiāngwèi jùquán||rich in flavour||这道菜真的色香味俱全！/ Zhè dào cài zhēn de sè xiāngwèi jùquán!||This dish is rich in flavour!|
|味道鲜美 / wèidào xiānměi||delicious||这家海鲜店的菜味道鲜美。/ Zhè jiā hǎixiān diàn de cài wèidào xiānměi.||The dishes in this seafood restaurant are delicious.|
|口感丰富 / kǒugǎn fēngfù||flavourful||梅干菜微甜，微咸，口感丰富。/ Méigān cài wēi tián, wēi xián, kǒugǎn fēngfù.||Prunes are flavourful, slightly sweet and slightly salty.|
Of course, not all food deserves our heartfelt praises. If you want to politely criticize the dish, use 口味偏淡/咸/重 / kǒuwèi piān dàn/xián/zhòng to say that the taste is “somewhat bland/salty/heavy” respectively.
Chinese Table Manners
Last but not least, make sure to familiarize yourself with Chinese etiquette before setting your foot in a Chinese restaurant or family home. Remember: first impressions matter and little acts of politeness can take you a long way!
- The most important person (your boss at a company gathering or your partner’s elderly grandpa at a family get-together) should sit on the seat opposing the door, as far from where the waiters come in to serve the food as possible. Don’t sit down until more important people do.
- If you’ve been invited to a family dinner, the host will encourage you to eat more. Show your respect by asking for a refill – then they’ll know you’re enjoying your meal very much.
- Adding food to the elders’ or children’s plates is considered thoughtful and polite. Many restaurants will provide 公筷 / gōng kuài / communal serving chopsticks for this exact purpose.
- If there is a rotating tray, or “lazy Susan”, at your table, make good use of it instead of standing up and reaching for the food across the whole table, but don’t turn it when someone else is filling their plate.
- Never stick chopsticks upright in your food. That’s something people do with incense sticks during funerals and prayers to their deceased ancestors.
- Never play with your chopsticks and don’t use them as drumsticks. Apart from looking incredibly silly, hitting your chopsticks against the bowl is considered to bring bad luck, because that’s something beggars used to do to attract people’s attention.
- Don’t dig around for something specific in a communal dish – your tablemates won’t be happy to know you’re only letting them eat something you wouldn’t want to eat yourself.
- Don’t talk around a mouthful of food and avoid making too much noise when chewing.
- When in doubt, ask! You have nothing to lose.
That’s it, folks! Hope you found this article useful. Stay tuned for more and make sure to bless the Chinese restaurant in your area with your presence!