Chinese Language Blog

A Common Chinese Menu Posted by on Nov 30, 2015 in Culture

When I first got to China with zero Chinese abilities to speak of, I quickly realized that it was going to be difficult to eat. In most restaurants, the menu lacks pictures or English translations. Plus, oftentimes when there is some English on the menu, it is totally incomprehensible. What exactly are you going to be eating when you order “tom flower elbow sauce”? Check out our previous post about Chinglish Menus for more hilariously failed translations.



Not wanting to get stuck eating at 老外-friendly places every day – Western menus equals expensive – I knew I was going to have to get to studying local menus pronto. During my first session with a local language partner in Beijing, he asked me what I wanted to study. In response, I pulled out a pile of take-away menus from hole-in-the-wall restaurants in my neighborhood. Before I got to chatting with people, I was going to have to learn how to order food.

For those of you who find yourself in a similar predicament in China, never fear – we’re here to help. To get you started, here are some common headings you might see on a Chinese menu. Study them, memorize them, and become good friends with these characters:

  • snacks (小吃 – xiǎo chī)

  • cold dishes (凉菜 – liáng cài)

  • rice (饭 – fàn)

  • dumplings (饺子 – jiǎo zi)

  • noodles (面 – miàn)

  • stir-fried dishes (炒菜 – chǎo cài)

  • soup (汤 – tāng)

  • specialty (特色 – tè sè)

  • drinks (饮料 – yǐn liào)

Understanding the menu can be tricky...

Understanding the menu can be tricky…

Now that you’ve got those down, why not learn a couple of common items from each heading?


  • chicken feet (鸡爪 – jī zhuǎ)

  • dried tofu (豆腐干 – dòu fu gān)

  • steamed bun (馒头 – mán tou)

Cold Dishes

  • cucumber salad (拍黄瓜 – pāi huáng guā)

  • “wood ear” mushroom salad (凉拌木耳 – liáng bàn mù’ěr)

  • shredded potatoes (土豆丝 – tǔ dòu sī)


  • white rice (白米 – bái mǐ)

  • egg fried rice (蛋炒饭 – dàn chǎo fàn)

  • Lanzhou fried rice (兰州炒饭 – lán zhōu chǎo fàn)


Mmm.... dumplings.

Mmm…. dumplings.

  • steamed dumplings (蒸饺 – zhēng jiǎo)

  • boiled dumplings (水饺 – shuǐ jiǎo)

  • fried dumplings (煎饺 – jiān jiǎo)


  • pulled beef noodles (牛肉拉面 – niú ròu lā miàn)

  • fried noodles (炒面 – chǎo miàn)

  • sliced noodles (刀削面 – dāo xiāo miàn)

Stir-Fried Dishes



  • Kung Pao chicken (宫保鸡丁 – gōng bǎo jī dīng)

  • fish-scented shredded pork (鱼香肉丝 – yú xiāng ròu sī)

  • scrambled eggs and tomatoes (西红柿炒鸡蛋 – xī hóng shì chǎo jī dàn)


  • cabbage soup (白菜汤 – bái cài tāng)

  • wonton soup (馄饨汤 – hún tún tāng)

  • egg drop soup (蛋花汤 – dàn huā tāng)


  • big plate of chicken (大盘鸡 – dà pán jī)

  • hot pot (火锅 – huǒ guō)

  • Beijing roast duck (北京烤鸭 – běi jīng kǎo yā)


  • green tea (绿茶 – lǜ chá)

  • Coca-Cola (可口可乐 – kě kǒu kě lè)

  • beer (啤酒 – pí jiǔ)

Alright now, young Padawans – you’re ready to get out there and eat the local stuff. If the menu seems too complicated, just remember to use the force. Sorry… Star Wars is coming out soon and I must admit I’m caught up in the hype. In all seriousness, though, don’t be that lame foreigner who only eats in the Western-style cafes and McDonald’s. Eat the real Chinese food while you can in China, because you’ll miss it the second you get back home and it’s all egg rolls and sweet & sour chicken again. Trust me, I know from experience!

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.

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