[Part 3] 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 2.


Below are a list of some other types of foods that you might see on a Chinese menu, such as tofu, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms, as well as spices and different types of common flavorings.

竹笋 (zhú sǔn) – bamboo shoots
豆 (dòu) – bean
陈皮 (chén pí) – dried orange peel
豆腐 (dòu fu) – tofu
木耳 (mù ěr) – lit. wooden ear; a type of edible tree fungus
燕窝 (yàn wō) – bird’s nest
面 (miàn) – noodles
饭 (fàn) – rice
汤 (tāng) – soup
皮 (pí) – skin
椒 (jiāo) – pepper
酸辣 (suān là) – hot and sour
麻辣 (má là) – spicy
糖 (táng) – sugar; sweet
盐 (yán) – salt; salted
酱油 (jiàng yóu) – soy sauce
蛋 (dàn) – egg
芥末 (jiè mò) – mustard seed
醋 (cù) – vinegar

Notice again the 木 radical on the character for pepper to indicate that it is a type of plant.

Although not mentioned until this point, take a look as well at the character for sugar, or 糖 (táng). Its radical is 米 (mǐ), and indicates rice or grains or other types of plants that are grown on stalks. Similarly, the characters for glutinous rice and grain also employ this 米 radical, or 糯 (nuò) and 粒 (lì) respectively.

Other than being different kinds of edible foods and spices, the above do not have very much in common in terms of radicals or meaning. It would be best to simply apply what you have learned thus far and see if you can spot any other familiar parts in these characters, as well as to simply memorize this vocabulary.

Methods of Preparation

Just like any type of cuisine, the various kinds of Chinese food that you will see on a menu have different ways in which they are commonly prepared, such as marinating, salting, and cutting into strips, pieces, or thin slices.

There are specific characters for some of these methods of preparation and can be found below.

卤 (lǔ) – marinated
咸 (xián) – salted
片 (piàn) – thin slices
丝 (sī) – shredded
条 (tiáo) – strips
丁 (dīng) – cubes
卷 (juǎn) – rolled, rolls
泡 (pào) – pickled

Again, these characters have nothing in common in terms of their structural make-up, so memorization is best here. However, there will be a section shortly on how all of the characters relating to foods that you have seen thus far actually appear in the names of dishes on a menu. This will put the characters into more of a meaningful context and will hopefully be easier to remember.

Methods of Cooking

Many of the characters used in Chinese menus for the names of dishes include words for how the dish was cooked, such as boiled, barbequed, baked, fried, stir-fried, and satayed, just to mention a few.

烤 (kǎo) – roasted
炸 (zhà) – fried
烩 (huì) – braised
烧 (shāo) – stewed
沙爹 (shā diē) – satayed
蒸 (zhēng) – steamed
煮 (zhǔ) – boiled
煎 (jiān) – pan-fried
炒 (chǎo) – stir-fried
焗 (jú) – baked

If you notice, many of these have the fire (火) radical to their left. As you might know, a character with this radical often indicates something to do with cooking.

Another thing that you should be aware of at this point is that the fire radical is also sometimes found as four dots at the bottom of a character:

You can think of these as “embers” below a character, and in this way, you will still be able to recognize the make-up for a character of this type.

You can also guess the pronunciation of some of these characters if you are able to recognize a little bit more about their make-up. For example, our first character, 烤 (kǎo) consists of 火 (huǒ) and 考 (kǎo). Notice the pronunciation of 考 and see that it’s actually the same as the Chinese character for roasted (烤). However, as expected, the second character means to verify or to test and does not contribute to the meaning of our new character once being combined with 火 (huǒ).

Similarly, 煎 (jiān) consists of both 火 (灬) and 前. 前 is pronounced qián and meansbefore or formerly, and is one of the characters in the word for the day before yesterday– 前天 (qián tiān) – which itself literally translates as former day. As you can see, the pronunciation of 前 (qián) is similar to that of 煎 (jiān), just with a different initial (q- vs. j-) and tone, which you would come to know simply through more exposure to Chinese characters.

烩 (huì), or braised, also has the fire radical to its left, though on its right there is the character 会 (huì), meaning can or to be able to, indeed a very useful word to have as part of your vocabulary. As expected, 烩 (huì) also takes on the pronunciation of 会 (huì).

Interestingly, the word 沙爹 (shā diē) is formed just like the word for broccoli that we saw in Part 2, and you have probably realized by now that it sounds somewhat similar to the English word for satay.

沙 (shā) literally means sand and 爹 (diē) is an informal word for father (think daddy), but together only the respective sounds are being used in order to form this new term. Be aware however that although this word is informally used to describe a method of preparing foods (especially in South-East Asia), it is more formally the name of the sauce used in the preparation of foods (ie, satay sauce).



By Aaron Posehn, howtolearnchinesewriting.com




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

[Part 2] 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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