kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
[personal profile] kake

Apologies for making another meta post so soon after my "first anniversary" post, but I just wanted to briefly discuss the reasons behind (a) learning to read Chinese menus, and (b) blogging about it.

I've had a few people express admiration at my teaching myself to do this, and I wanted to make it clear that I'm not doing it to show off, and I'm not blogging about it to show off.

When I started teaching myself to read Chinese menus, which was a few months before I started the blog, I had no idea if it was even a plausible thing to do. All I knew was that there was delicious food, served in restaurants within walking distance of my house, that I had very little chance of being able to eat otherwise.

In November 2008, I took this photo. I'm not sure I can even remember why I took it; I don't think I had plans to learn to read Chinese at that point. Judging by comments on that photo, in May 2009 I could identify a couple of characters, and by February 2010 I could tentatively translate most of it. As of now I would happily and confidently order from it (though sadly I can't, since the restaurant has closed), and in fact last Thursday I successfully ordered from a Chinese-only menu that I'd never seen before (usually I like to get the menu and study it in advance).

I may be rambling a bit here, but I think the point I want to make is that this is possible. I am monolingual and have no particular talent for languages as far as I can tell. I realise that I'm lucky in that I can afford to eat out at restaurants, I have time and space to study at home, I have pretty good internet access, and I have plenty of Chinese restaurants and supermarkets within easy reach. I'm not saying that if I did it anyone can do it. I'm just saying that if you're reading this and wondering if you can teach yourself to read Chinese menus, one of the main reasons I started this blog was to encourage people like you to give it a go.

(For the avoidance of doubt, this post wasn't written in response to criticism — everyone who's spoken to me about the project, or linked to it from their own journal/blog/website, has been very positive about it!)

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.

Date: 2011-06-13 12:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tamarindandthyme.wordpress.com
I think your project is absolutely brilliant! I'm terribly impressed by your determination to learn!

Date: 2011-06-13 12:59 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] ex_pinetree696
Great post!

As I've said before in comments, it really blows my mind to read that you don't speak Chinese. I had always assumed that you did since you seemed to be so comfortable and proficient with the language. I think it's great that you've managed to learn so much just through the menus you collect; that's a great way to learn the language. I have learned quite a bit of Chinese just from signs I see around town while on the bus.

Anyway, keep up the good work!

Date: 2011-06-13 03:24 pm (UTC)
laughingrat: A detail of leaping rats from an original movie poster for the first film of Nosferatu (Default)
From: [personal profile] laughingrat
I think it's a really cool project!

Date: 2011-06-13 05:46 pm (UTC)
pseudomonas: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pseudomonas
I'm intrigued as to why there are Chinese-language-only menus at restaurants in London. Is there just little enough demand from non-Sinophones for the dishes on them that they're not worth translating?

Oh, and I add my voice to everyone else's - this is a fascinating series of posts to follow :)

Date: 2011-06-14 01:06 am (UTC)
trinker: I own an almanac. (Default)
From: [personal profile] trinker
At a guess, and I cannot speak definitively -

Chinese language only menus have food that is not de-Sinified. There's a certain sort of non-Chinese restaurant goer who's very problematic for Chinese staff, and not translating forms an easy barrier to entry. Also, Chinese staff may not know how to translate a menu item into English readily.

(Kake, you might have success with classes designed for Japanese people who are learning Chinese, if such a thing exists in your part of the world. Those classes presume a knowledge of kanji but not of Chinese pronunciation or grammar.)

Date: 2011-06-13 11:10 pm (UTC)
serene: mailbox (Default)
From: [personal profile] serene
Just as a datapoint, never for a minute have you read as showing off to me.

Thanks

Date: 2011-06-23 02:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thenaturalstone.blogspot.com
This has only ever been fantastically interesting and useful to me. Never in any way coming across as showing off.

I have an excellent chinese restaurant close to my work with a chinese-only menu and started, exactly like you, with the aim of being able to order from this. I really started making progress when I found you blog and without it I doubt I would have got as far as I have now. I've no where near your breadth of knowledge but can now confidently identify most of the common dishes.

I notice one of the comments saying they are surprised menus are only in chinese. All I can say is this is not confined to London. Where I am the place caters for a strong local chinese community and has a range of regional dishes. I tried the Hakka-style deep-fried large intestines at dim sum the other day, which were excellent.

So a big thanks from me.

Re: Thanks

Date: 2011-06-24 11:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thenaturalstone.blogspot.com
I've put pictures of three menus from the restaurant on an album available here for anyone interested:
https://picasaweb.google.com/117995485644350661307/BentoMenus?authkey=Gv1sRgCLyb7ZmKx-jT0wE

Date: 2011-06-25 09:20 pm (UTC)
mrs_leroy_brown: (dead weather jack)
From: [personal profile] mrs_leroy_brown
This project - and you - are completely awesome and inspiring :D I read every post, though I don't often comment (and I even read the meaty menus even though I'm never going to cook or eat them. I'm a sucker for all things cookery!)

Date: 2011-11-06 11:33 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I moved from London to Hong Kong a couple of years ago and have recently decided to learn how to read Chinese menus, as many places have Chinese only menus. I stumbled upon your site, and this is exactly what I needed! Thank you for doing this, it has made it much easier and enjoyable than it would have been otherwise.

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