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Best Resources for Chinese Cuisine? (Identifying Foods and Reading Menus)

David Ma

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@abdcefg how do you imbed pics? is that a privilege?


Click "More Reply Options" at the bottom right corner of the reply box instead of the dark tab which says "Post." This opens a menu from which you can do other things, including add pictures.


Again, my intentions are for the absolute beginner to give them some ray of hope when they stroll into a restaurant...


Sounds like you are talking about "Survival Restaurant Chinese." That can already be found in a number of places such as the Lonely Planet pocket phrasebook, Rough Guide pocket phrasebook, etc. A quick Google search shows other options as well.


The Rough Guide Mandarin Chinese Phrasebook has an extensive two-way dictionary packed with vocabulary and a helpful menu and drinks list reader, perfect for choosing the right dish in any restaurant.


Wikipedia even has a crude list of restaurant terms here:



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Survival Chinese is exactly what I am looking for, But the key difference is that there is a picture guide giving names for popular foods that are completely foreign to travelers. It even sounds like some foods don't even have english names? Point being, even if a travel guide book had an entry for 心儿里美 (xin1er li3mei3) (which translates to a type of radish near Beijing?) the foreigner wouldn't probably recognize it if they saw it in the market (and probably couldn't ask with their limited Chinese) or order to have that vegetable added to hotpot.


You mentioned earlier up about buying a children's illustrated book. I think that's the closest thing to what I am thinking of. But, of course, the whole point of this thread is to see just how ridiculous my whole request is :)


I added a pic (same as before) from the student cafeteria showing what the beginner student might face. Pointing isn't bad but it gets old pretty quick :D


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Geraldc -- I understand. Thanks.


In Kunming we have lots of hotpot restaurants, the main style being modeled after Chongqing 麻辣。 Plenty of Sichuan-style as well. But there are also some popular places that feature a Thai flavor 酸辣 (hot and sour.) Some others specialize in fresh seafood. Went to a fancy one (as a guest) that had fresh abalone 鲍鱼 and lobster 龙虾 flown in live from the coast.


My favorite ones of all are the seasonal ones that cook Yunnan wild mushrooms from late Spring through early Fall. 

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Eating with non Chinese in China, the main problem seems to be that they can't grasp the concept of what we eat. I was eating with some French guys once, and I told them to be careful with a dish, as they weren't haricot vert, but fried green chillies. One of them replied don't silly they were obviously haricot vert, why would anyone eat a plate of stir fried chillies, so he piled his bowl full of them. Oh how I laughed.


The concept of congealed blood (pig or duck) is another one that's hard to explain. Now I just say it's like tofu, but made of meat products. If they like tofu they can accept the texture, and if they know it's from meat, they should have no real problems eating blood.


With animal products it's worth explaining that gelatinous and crunchy (cartilage) are desirable textures in Chinese cuisine, concepts that can be very alien to non Asians.

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  • 2 years later...

Hi David, I have a different viewpoint on this topic 

I think it's not the best use of your time learning Chinese menu's to anything above  30 words or so initially. The majority of menu's in China have pictures on them and in fact many now have English translations  especially in the larger cities. Furthermore many dish names have all sorts fancy names which might be unique to that restaurant.


When i learnt Chinese most students did feel many  topics, dialogues and text books focus too much around restaurants and food. 


My view is that you slowly add words into your Anki /pleco deck as you come across them and have tried the dish. It's much easier to memorize a word once you have actually seen or experienced that word. 


Of course it depends on what you are interested in. If food is a topic you enjoy then sure go ahead. I wasted a lot of time at the start memorizing words lists such as provinces and the capitals, country's of the world. They do sink in eventually but you still find that you know a lot of nouns but can't speak the language.


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