kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
Kake ([personal profile] kake) wrote2010-04-28 12:05 am

Reading Chinese Menus: Characters: 肉 — ròu — meat

One of the first characters I learned when I started teaching myself to read menus was 肉 (ròu in pinyin, pronounced to rhyme with "oh"). It basically means "meat" — and when the type of meat isn't specified, it almost always means pork.

In the context of the Chinese menu, the most important words including this character are:

牛肉 — niú ròu — beef
羊肉 — yáng ròu — lamb

There's also 豬肉 — zhū ròu — which is the explicit way to say "pork", but as mentioned above, the 豬 is usually left implicit

You don't need to worry too much about pronouncing things right at this stage, but if you're interested, the approximate pronunciations are nyoh roh, yang roh, and djoo roh.

Similarly, when you're just starting out with reading Chinese menus, don't worry too much if you have trouble remembering the tone marks. Just bear in mind that they do help determine the meaning of the word; for example, 豬/zhū (first tone) means pig, while 煮/zhǔ (third tone) means to cook, stew, or boil.

Having said that, here's what they mean in terms of pronunciation:

  • the macron on the "ū" of "zhū" means you pronounce it with a high, sustained tone — this is the first tone
  • the acute accent on the "ú" of "niú" and the "á" of "yáng" means you pronounce them with a rising (questioning) tone — this is the second tone
  • the grave accent on the "ò" of "ròu" means you pronounce it with a falling tone — this is the fourth tone

Mandarin has four tones in all; the only one not represented above is the third tone, which is a falling-then-rising tone written with a caron; e.g. ǔ. (See Monday's post for links to a couple of YouTube videos covering tones.)

If you'd like to hear something of how these words sound when spoken, check out this video snippet covering "I like beef; I don't like chicken". Note that while 雞肉 (jī ròu) is used in the video to mean "chicken", on menus you'll often just see 雞 (jī), with the 肉 left implicit.

肉: ròu radical 130 (肉/⺼) Cantodict MandarinTools YellowBridge Zhongwen

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See here for what these posts are all about.
pulchritude: (1)

[personal profile] pulchritude 2010-04-28 01:44 am (UTC)(link)
There are four explicit tones in Mandarin but also the fifth (or as some people call it, the 4.5th :P) voiceless tone, though I'm not sure that's particularly important for menu stuff...

It's interesting seeing what you've written, as I must say that I've never really considered this stuff before! Like 肉 without any modifiers is so obviously pork to me that I would never even think to explain it.
pulchritude: (2)

Re: Fifth tone

[personal profile] pulchritude 2010-04-28 04:30 pm (UTC)(link)
I learned it as 'toneless' and think of it as pronouncing the word...but with its normal tone less emphasized. I think 'taking its pitch from wherever the previous tone in the word/sentence ended up' does describe some instances fairly well.

I'm not sure I'd agree that it's almost not there because it really is, just less emphasized than normal. I am also pretty sure that Standard Mandarin doesn't advocate the elongation - I think it might be a regional thing that is a product of the way one's native topolect is said.
pulchritude: (4)

Re: Fifth tone

[personal profile] pulchritude 2010-04-28 08:51 pm (UTC)(link)

I was thinking about it a bit more - I might also describe it as squeezing the word into half the normal time it usually takes to pronounce it, which because of its nature truncates the sound and causes it to be somewhat toneless.
pulchritude: (4)

Re: Ramblings on the subject of default species

[personal profile] pulchritude 2010-04-29 10:34 pm (UTC)(link)
tbh 蛋 to me is the egg of a chicken as well. I think the use of 雞蛋 is to aid in the way the dish sounds - 雞蛋炒肉, for example, sounds much more natural than 蛋炒肉, which just sounds super lopsided to me. On the other hand, 番茄炒蛋 sounds right to me, and it's understood that it's the egg of a chicken there.
bob: (Default)

[personal profile] bob 2010-04-28 02:58 pm (UTC)(link)
hmmm tasty meat