One thing that a lot of people learning Chinese want to know is how to order food and how to read a menu, but I’ve found that a lot of Chinese textbooks barely talk about food at all. If you’ve ever seen a menu that’s all in Chinese with no pictures and freaked out, then this video is for you. In the next couple of minutes, I’m going to teach you some basic things to help you start to find your way around a Chinese menu, and avoid any nasty surprises!
The first thing to say is that in China, foods are usually divided into 菜 which means dishes, and 主食, which can be translated into ‘staple foods or basic foods’. The staple foods are the things that you have with the main dishes, like rice, noodles and pastries. This is something we need to bear in mind when we look at a Chinese menu.
Ok, so first of all I’ll teach you three characters you will see on menus all the time. (and by the way, this is the simplified Chinese that’s used in mainland China). Don’t worry about writing them for now, just try to remember what they look like. 饭 means rice, every time you see this you know that you are looking at a rice dish. 面 means noodles, to me it looks something like a cable car hanging on a cable) and 汤 means soup, it’s got the three dots on the left that mean water. Just with these three characters, you have a basic idea what kind of dish you are looking at.
Ok, now let’s add four more essential characters. 肉 means meat. It has two marks inside a sort of frame, which are something like the marks on the flesh of meat. In China, if it just says meat and doesn’t tell you what type of meat it is, then usually it means pork, because pork is the most common meat you find in China.
These next three characters are 牛 cow 鸡 chicken and 羊 sheep. If you put them in front of the character for meat, then you get beef, chicken and lamb. 牛肉 , 鸡肉 and 羊肉
And a few more basics: 鱼 is fish and the character originally comes from a picture of a fish. I don’t know if you see that it looks like a fish. The simplified version has a line right across the bottom. 虾 which means prawn or shrimp. The left hand side of this actually means insect. Ok, just a couple more, I mentioned 菜 already, which means a dish, but it can also mean vegetable, and it’s used in a lot of names of vegetables, and a lot of vegetables usually have a 艹 at the top, which means grass. That’s something to look out for. 蛋 means egg, it’s got the part which means insect, but this time on the bottom, and 豆腐 which means tofu.