[Part 2] How to Read a Chinese Menu, 如何读懂中国的菜单

This post is part of a series about how to read a Chinese menu. If you would like to check out the other two posts, you can click to go to Part 1 and Part 3.



In this second installment of how to read a Chinese menu, today we’re going to look at fruits and vegatables. If you missed Part 1 on the various types of meats you can find on a menu, you can read it here first.

Most fruits and vegatables don’t get carved into interesting little landscapes like in the picture above, but they’re still interesting, and especially in Asia, because you’ll often find that there are a whole range of different types you’ve never even heard of before, such as a sugar apple (释迦 [shì jiā]) or a red bayberry (杨梅 [yáng méi]).

However, many items on a Chinese menu are also the more familiar leafy variants of lettuce, bok choy, and celery and should not appear too foreign.

Some well-known and common terms for fruits and vegetables that you may find listed on a Chinese menu are as follow:

菜 (cài) – vegetable/a dish
菠萝 (bō luó) – pineapple
蘑菇 (mó gu) – mushroom
菠菜 (bō cài) – spinach
茄子 (qié zi) – eggplant
萝卜 (luó bo) – radish
豆芽 (dòu yá) – beansprout
蒜 (suàn) – garlic
胡萝卜 (hú luó bo) – carrot
芹菜 (qín cài) – celery
橙 (chéng) – orange
白菜 (bái cài) – bok choy

In almost every example above, you’ll see that at least one of the characters has thegrass radical (艹) at its head. You may know already that characters with this radical are usually related to plants, and indeed all of the above do have something to do with words for types of vegetation.

For more detail on the grass radical, watch this short clip from YouTube.


Similarly, if you look at the word we just saw above for orange (橙 [chéng]), you may notice that it now employs a 木, or the tree radical, instead of the grass radical. This is another radical that suggests a plant-, wood-, or tree-like connection, with several other character examples being persimmon (柿 [shì]) and pepper (椒 [jiāo]).

The below video provides a bit more detail on the tree radical, 木:

As you may or may not know, some words in Chinese are also formed by using characters that approximate the sound of the corresponding word in English. For example:

沙 (shā) + 发 (fā) = 沙发 (sofa)

沙 (shā) + 拉 (lā) = 沙拉 (salad)

墨 (mò) + 西 (xī) + 哥 (gē) = 墨西哥 (Mexico)

Similarly, there are some foods in Chinese that are transliterated in a similar fashion, one of these beingbroccoli, or 百加利 (bǎi jiā lì).

Even though this literally translates as hundred add benefit, something that has no actual meaning, the sounds of the individual characters have been used to propose a new word in Chinese for a foreign item.

This is similar to the formation of the word for bok choy in English. There are neither the words bok nor choy in the English language that have any discernible meaning in and of themselves, but are simply created with sounds we can put together to approximate the original Chinese version (here, Cantonese).

Many other types of vegetation in Chinese are also named for what they look like or how they are perceived. For example, a potato is a ground bean, or 土豆 (tǔ dòu), and different types of Chinese melons are also described by the characteristics they hold;melon is written 瓜 (guā). Therefore, we can form words like:

黃瓜 (huáng guā) – cucumber
西瓜 (xī guā) – watermelon
苦瓜 (kǔ guā) – bitter melon
冬瓜 (dōng guā) – winter melon

黃 (huáng) means yellow and describes the colour of the inside of the cucumber. 西 (xī) means West and describes the region where watermelons came from in relation to China (ie, the West). 苦 (kǔ) is the word for bitter, and 冬 (dōng) is the word for winter.

Similarly, one of the words for tomato in Chinese is 西红柿 (xī hóng shì). Again, you will see that there is the 西 (xī) character at the beginning, indicating that this fruit was once a non-Chinese food. For reference, 红 (hóng) means red and 柿 (shì), as seen above, meanspersimmon, the closest thing that can be related to a tomato.

By Aaron Posehn, howtolearnchinesewriting.com



[Part 1] How to Read a Chinese Menu, 如何读懂中国的菜单

[Part 3] How to Read a Chinese Menu, 如何读懂中国的菜单

Stuffed Meat Bun, 包子

Thousand-years Old Eggs, 松花蛋

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