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

One phenomenon worthy of note to the student of the Chinese menu is the use of certain numbers in the names of dishes. Three (三/sān) and eight (八/bā) turn up particularly frequently, for example as 地三鮮/dì sān xiān ("three fresh things from the earth") and 八珍糯米雞/bā zhēn nuò mǐ jī (eight-treasure glutinous rice with chicken).

The frequency with which these numbers appear is not coincidental — in Chinese culture, as in many other cultures, some numbers are considered to be particularly "lucky". There's some information on this on Wikipedia. [personal profile] shuripentu, who has guest-posted here before, tells me:

I'd say the most important numbers in terms of (un)luckiness are 8 (very lucky), 4 (unlucky), and 14 (incredibly unlucky). If the random witterings I've heard on the topic are indeed true, people will go out of their way (sometimes considerably so) to acquire 8s and avoid 4s and 14s (and apparently also 24s, 34s, etc.).

Numerological superstitions do seem to be a lot more common and more deeply ingrained into Chinese culture than most Western cultures I've come across. Not that most people seem to take those superstitions hugely seriously, but they certainly seem to consider them and talk about them more often in general, and it doesn't seem to be so unusual for such considerations to affect people's decisions. For example, if someone here [in the UK] were to avoid buying a house because it's number 13, I would think it somewhat unusual, whereas if someone in Hong Kong were to do the same with a number 14 flat, I would think they were being silly but I wouldn't think it was odd.

According to Slanted magazine, a Chinese wedding banquet should include eight courses, due to the lucky connotations of the number. Relatedly, some people think that a meal should always include an even number of dishes; the ChineseTones website states that an odd number of dishes "would be appropriate only for occasions such as the meal after a funeral."

Below are the Chinese numbers from 1 to 9, along with 10, 100, and 1000. (I've stopped at 1000 because that's the largest number I've ever seen on a menu!) If you know these, and you also know the rules for combining them to make other numbers (see Wikipedia for these), you can count from 1 to 9999.

1used on menus as 一品 (yì pǐn), which I think means something like "first-rate", i.e. best quality
èr2not usually used on menus; 雙 (shuāng) or 兩 (liǎng) is more commonly used to denote a pair of things
sān3appears frequently on menus; more on this later this week
4occasionally used on menus as part of other words; see earlier post
5used on menus in a couple of contexts; see earlier post
liù6not generally used on menus
7not generally used on menus, though you may see it as 七喜 (qī xǐ), or the soft drink Seven-Up
8frequently used on menus due to its lucky connotation; I'll post about 八 at greater length at some point
jiǔ9not generally used on menus
shí10I've only seen this on one menu, as 十香醉排骨 (shí xiāng zuì pái gǔ), which translates as "ten-fragrance drunken ribs"
bǎi100occasionally used on menus; see the bottom of my post on 白/bái
qiān1000used as 大千 (dà qiān), literally "big thousand", to denote a spicy sauce, e.g. 大千乾燒魚 (dà qiān gān shāo yú), a deep fried whole fish in spicy hot sauce; it also appears in the name of a type of tea, 千日紅花茶 (qiān rì hóng huā chá), literally "thousand day red flower tea"

(NB there's lots more about numbers in the comments to this post!)

Characters mentioned in this post:
Other related posts:
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: 2011-06-20 03:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eatlovenoodles.blogspot.com
In terms of numbers and names, I recently sampled the exuberantly named 十八味豉油雞 - so called because this soy chicken has 18 flavours from the 18 different herbs and spices in the recipe!

Date: 2011-06-21 10:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sunflower-recipes.blogspot.com
Note: all Chinese in traditional writing.

四菜一湯‘si cai yi tang’ a common phrase for Chinese dinner with 4 dishes of anything plus a soup
三菜一湯‘san cai yi tang’ similar to above but with 3 dishes and 1 soup

蠔油燒二冬 ‘hao you shao er dong’ 2 different mushrooms braised with oyster sauce

三文魚‘san wen yu’ salmon literally translated from English
三明治 ‘san ming zhi’ sandwishes literally translated from English
三黃雞 ‘san huang ji’ a type of small chicken in Mainland China
三杯雞 ‘san bei ji’ a famous Taiwanese braised chicken with soy, wine and sesame oil
三絲 ‘san shi’ is a common terms used in Chinese menu related to 3 different shredded vegetables or meat, e.g 拌三丝 ‘ban san sai’ a salad with 3 different shredded vegetables/meat
三層肉 ‘san ceng rou’ another word for pork belly meaning 3 layers meat.

四季豆 ‘si ji dou’ green/ string beans
四神湯 ‘si shen tang’ a Taiwanese soup with 4 Chinese herbals with offals like pig’s stomach and chitterings (intestines)
四喜丸子 ‘si xi wan zi’ another name for the famous Shanghainse meat balls ‘lion heads’ but si xi wan zi must be represented with 4 meat balls per dish.
四喜蒸餃 ‘si xi zheng jiao’ a type decorative steamed dumpling

more on next....

Date: 2011-06-21 10:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sunflower-recipes.blogspot.com
五仁月餅 ‘wu ren yue bing’ a type of mooncake with 5 different nuts
五彩 ‘wu chai’ is a very common term used in Chinese menu to represent colourful or 5 different colours of anything.
七彩 ‘chi chai’ or ‘qi cai’ is used in the same way as 五彩 ‘wu chai’, usually means very colourful not necessary 7 colours
七菜羹 ‘chi chai geng’ or qi cai geng’ an auspicious soup http://sunflower-recipes.blogspot.com/2010/02/cny-day-seven-auspicious-food.html eaten during Chinese new year.
田七 ‘ tian qi’ a Chinese herb like gingseng, common with Chicken soup 田七燉雞 ‘tian qui dun ji’ i.e. tian qi and chicken steamed soup

八寶 ‘ba bao’ or eight treasures it’s commonly used in many menus to represent 8 different things, for sweet and savoury dishes
八珍 ‘ba zhen’ is similar to ‘ba bao’ also related 8 different things in a dish like 八珍豆腐煲 ‘ba zhen dou fu bao’ a braised tofu dish
八珍 ‘ba zhen’ another meaning is a tonic herbal mix usually for pregnant women.
八爪魚 ‘ba zhua yu’ is octopus

九吐魚 read as ‘gau two yue’ in Cantonese, a very soft small fish
九層塔‘jiu cheng ta’ in Mandarin, meaning basil the herb usually related to S E Asian basil.
九大簋 read as ‘gau dai gwai’ in Cantonese meaning a feast of 9 dishes usually related to Cantonese style festive feasts

十三香 ‘shi san xiang’ Sichuan mixed spice like 5 spice but with 13 spices.

Date: 2011-06-21 10:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sunflower-recipes.blogspot.com
Not related to menus, do you also know Chinese numerals can also written in this very old traditional style or word (not related to new and old style writing), the reading is exactly the same as the common style
零 = 0 is the common word used for zero
壹 = 1
貳 = 2
叁 = 3
肆 = 4
伍 = 5
陸 = 6
柒 = 7
捌 = 8
玖 = 9
拾 = 10
佰 = 100
仟 = 1000

By the way, Chinese 萬 ‘wan’ in Mandarin or ‘maan’ in Cantonese = 10,000
億 ‘yi’ in Mandarin or 'yik' in Cantonese = million

Date: 2011-06-21 02:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eatlovenoodles.blogspot.com
Just to add to Sunflower's comprehensive posts, this form of writing numbers is often used in legal documents.

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