China is truly one of the world’s great food cultures, which means a huge range of cuisines for diners to choose from. Spicy, sweet, sour, fragrant, Western, Asian, traditional, fusion – the streets and malls of China are littered with restaurants filled with mouth-watering dishes just begging to be tried. You could live there your whole life and still wouldn’t be able to sample everything on offer… but that would be a poor excuse for not trying!
Once you have chosen your restaurant, the first obstacle you may run into is the menu – some menus will have pictures of the food, some won’t. Some will have helpful English translations (or sometimes not so helpful – what do you think ‘Buddha Jumps Over The Wall’ contains?) and some won’t. You will also notice the sheer range of dishes on offer – Chinese diners expect choice, and some menus can run to 20 or more pages! It can be overwhelming, even for seasoned expats.
A Helping Hand
So what can you do if you don’t read Chinese characters? For a lot of tourists or new arrivals this is a problem, and may mean they don’t get to sample some of the best China has to offer. Need help? Here are some very common food related Chinese characters to look for, along with their pinyin pronunciations and English translations:
饭(fàn): rice, fried rice.
We also have a lesson just designed for you.
xiānsheng, nǐ yào chī shénme?
Sir, what do you want to eat?
e… wǒ yào zhè gè, zhè gè, zhè gè.
Eh…I want this, this, and this.
a? hǎo de.
Ah? All right.
zhè shì nín de cài.
These are your dishes.
a? dōu shì tāng.
Ah? They’re all soup!
Once you have decided what you want, you need to order it. Actually ordering food in China can be a difficult process for the uninitiated, and there are some cultural differences to be aware of. For example, in the West, diners usually call the waiters discreetly with a gesture, or wait for them to pass the table. Try this in China and you will sit at an empty table, with an empty stomach! In China, you must overcome your inhibitions and shout the 服务员 (fú wù yuán) whenever you need service – in a busy restaurant you may need to bellow it across the heads of other diners, but don’t worry – no one will mind. Dining out in China is a very lively, bustling experience, noisy and exciting, what the Chinese call 热闹 (rè nào) – so don’t be shy, jump right in and enjoy!
One of the most effective tools we’ve found recently is called HelloChinese (no relation to HelloTalk). It’s an app for learning Chinese through self guided videos, audio clips, and more. HelloChinese has an entire section dedicated to food and dining. After mastering this, you’ll be ordering Chinese food like a local!
The app is designed in a fun and highly effective way：
- Game-based Chinese learning
- Immersion lessons help you to have real-life, practical conversations quickly
- Innovative self-adaptive learning games that incorporate Chinese cultural education
- Speech recognition corrects your pronunciation
- Handwriting specially designed to learn Chinese characters at a faster rate
Check out www.hellochinese.cc to download their free app on iOS or Android.