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One of the most overwhelming experiences for newcomers to China is walking into a local restaurant and seeing a menu full of nothing but Chinese characters. I remember being terrified in my first few weeks in China every time I walked into such a place. How was I going to order? What if I ended up with a plate of chicken feet? Was I going to be laughed at for my pathetic chopstick skills, which I’d have to attempt since I didn’t even know how to ask for a fork? In an effort to save you the struggle, I’ve put together a Chinese restaurant cheat sheet to help you out.
First off, let’s learn some useful vocabulary that you’ll need in any Chinese restaurant. Here are 30 vocabulary words for going to a Chinese restaurant:
As you can see, there are a few different words for “restaurant” in Chinese. After over 6 years in China, I never figured out the difference. Use any one of those and you’ll be understood if you’re looking for a restaurant.
If the menu is all in Chinese, you can always give it a shot and ask them:
If they do, you can get a little bit of help, but this will only happen in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Either way, you’ll eventually need to call out:
In China, it is perfectly acceptable to yell across the restaurant at the top of your lungs to alert your waiter or waitress. Don’t worry, you won’t be offending anybody, and if you pull the polite, quiet order, you might not get noticed!
Once you’re ready to order, here are a few phrases that can help you out:
There’s lots of meat in the Chinese diet, but there are several options for being a vegetarian in China.
While you’re at it, you might as well learn some common Chinese dishes. While the cuisine of China is very diverse, there are certain dishes that you see in restaurants all across the country.
As there is a lot of spicy food in China, your waiter might ask you:
You can answer two different ways:
Not all Chinese food is spicy, and if you ever want to spice something up yourself, there’s usually a dish of chili oil (辣椒酱 – là jiāo jiàng) on the table.
When everyone is full and it’s time to go, you’re ready to get the bill (买单 – mǎi dān). You can either treat your guest (请客 – qǐng kè) or go Dutch (AA制 – AA zhì) when it comes to paying up.
China is home to a vast array of different cuisines, and it would be a shame if you came all the way here and ended up eating McDonald’s and KFC simply because you cannot communicate with restaurant staff or understand a menu. Study this cheat sheet back and forth and you’ll be ordering like a local in no time!