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

For some time now, I've wanted to learn to read Chinese menus. Part of the reason for this is that many of the Chinese restaurants here in London have separate Chinese-only menus — and these menus are where all the interesting stuff is hiding.

I'm really not very interested in special fried rice and chicken chow mein. I want to eat tripe in chilli oil, home-style kelp, crunchy sweetcorn with salted egg yolks, fish stewed with pickled greens, red-braised pork belly, strange-flavour rabbit, mouthwatering chicken, cucumber with shredded jellyfish, clay-baked chicken, and eight-treasure tofu.

So, I'm teaching myself to read Chinese menus, and I thought I'd blog about it too. If you're interested, why not follow along and learn with me?

I'm planning to post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (until we have scheduled posts, these will go up just after midnight London time). Monday posts will cover concepts (pinyin, stroke order, pronunciation, useful tools, etc), Wednesday posts will focus on one or more Chinese characters, and Friday posts will discuss a specific dish, with photos and links to recipes.

I would love to hear any questions that anyone has, and if I don't know the answers I'll do my very best to find them out.


  • I'm not a trained teacher, and I don't actually speak Chinese. I have very little idea of Chinese grammar, and pretty much everything (including my pronunciation) is self-taught. I'm always willing to be corrected in comments if I write anything wrong or misleading in a post, and I'll edit corrections into the post so people reading it later aren't misled.
  • I'm native to the UK, and will occasionally take short-cuts in explanations by using concepts that would be familiar to someone who grew up here. If you don't understand something I've said, please speak up and I'll have a bash at explaining it some other way.
  • I live in a capital city (London) so it's very easy for me to get the ingredients I'll be discussing in my Friday posts. I know it's less easy in many places, so if you have trouble finding something please let me know and I'll help you find it online.
  • Because of the narrow focus and the nature of the material, much of the stuff I'm posting may be irrelevant or uninteresting to blind or partially-sighted people. Similarly, I'll be posting links to videos and podcasts that may not have transcriptions, since the point of linking to these will be to offer examples of people actually speaking Chinese. I will try to make sure that the Friday posts on Chinese dishes are interesting and accessible to as many people as possible.
  • I can't guarantee that reading these posts will help you learn to read a Chinese menu. Having said that, I've got myself to the point where I can make a pretty good stab at ordering from a Chinese-only menu in a London restaurant. It took me about three months of non-intensive study to get confident enough to try this out "in the field", but it was really, really worth it.

Date: 2010-04-25 01:02 pm (UTC)
bob: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bob
what does the icon say?

Date: 2010-04-26 09:24 pm (UTC)
pulchritude: (7)
From: [personal profile] pulchritude
I hope you don't mind if I butt in...but this is a very strange construction to me! It makes sense, but I don't know anyone who would use this term...the usual term is 「中餐」. ^^

Date: 2010-04-26 10:02 pm (UTC)
pulchritude: (4)
From: [personal profile] pulchritude
菜單 is the term with which I'm familiar. :)

Date: 2010-04-25 02:11 pm (UTC)
afuna: Cat under a blanket. Text: "Cats are just little people with Fur and Fangs" (Default)
From: [personal profile] afuna
Oh neat, I'm definitely following along.

(I'm a second-generation Chinese immigrant, which means I am familiar with a very little Chinese: enough to say I'm hungry, but not enough to read from a menu, unless it's something I already know *g*)

Date: 2010-04-25 03:06 pm (UTC)
pseudomonas: Small Round Orange Citrus Fruit. (scorf)
From: [personal profile] pseudomonas
This looks interesting, mainly cos languages are fascinating (awful though I am at speaking them).

Date: 2010-04-25 07:10 pm (UTC)
marahmarie: (M In M Forever) (Default)
From: [personal profile] marahmarie
Learning to read Chinese menus will be...different. The fact that the Chinese seem to draw their language in characters rather than writing it out in letters/words always fascinates me, and of course I don't understand a bit of it. Looking forward to future posts on the topic. :)

Date: 2010-04-25 11:54 pm (UTC)
vampwillow: Monkey (monkey)
From: [personal profile] vampwillow
Good luck, and I shall follow this with interest. Many years ago I bought a Chinese->English dictionary for semi-similar reasons, but it just sits on the shelf.

Good luck with...

Date: 2010-06-11 03:19 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Good luck with:

1. Totally allegorical menu items whose literal translations tell a story. You've seen them on the Sichuan menus.

2. Things that don't translate at all. My girlfriend usually gets about 75% of a menu item but glosses over stuff she has no clue how to translate.

Looking forward to this!


December 2012


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