This week's character may be familiar to regular readers already, as it not only appears in the icon I use for this series, but has already been mentioned in my posts on 擔擔麵/dàn dàn miàn, 粉/fěn, 豆/dòu, and getting in some practice.
菜 is written in pinyin as cài. The initial consonant is a sort of short "ts" sound, and the final vowel rhymes with "eye". It's pronounced with the fourth (falling) tone.
The radical of 菜 is radical 140, 艸/cǎo/grass. According to Wikipedia, this is the most common radical in the Kangxi Dictionary, being used in nearly 2000 characters. As shuripentu points out in a comment on Monday's post, the actual form that a radical takes can vary. However, radical 140 is a fairly simple one — it pretty much always looks like 艹, and appears at the top of the character.
Here are some other characters that have the same radical as 菜:
|苗||miáo||sprout (see for example 豆苗)|
|茄||qié||aubergine (as 茄子/qié zi)|
Usage of 菜 on menus breaks down into two broad categories — it either refers to some kind of vegetable, or it means something like "dish", "course", or "cuisine". There are many, many menu words that include 菜; here are some of them.
|韭菜||jiǔ cài||Chinese chives (may possibly mean spring onions or leeks also, but see comments)|
|白菜||bái cài||literally "white vegetable" — Chinese leaf in the north of China, bok choy in the south [see footnote]|
|菜花||cài huā||cauliflower (literally "vegetable flower")|
|生菜||shēng cài||lettuce (literally "raw vegetable")|
|東北菜||Dōngběi cài||Northeastern Chinese food|
|四川菜||Sìchuān cài||Sichuan food|
|湘菜 or 湖南菜||Xiāng cài/Húnán cài||Hunan food (湘 is the name of a river that runs through Hunan province, and is also used as an abbreviation for the name of the province)|
|涼菜||liáng cài||cold dishes|
|熱菜||rè cài||hot dishes|
There are more characters than usual in this post, so I won't list all the pronunciations — but if there are any you're particularly interested in, feel free to ask in comments.
Footnote added July 2010:  The credit for telling me about the regional split in the meaning of 白菜 goes to Mr Noodles, by the way. My local Chinese restaurant takes the sensible route of differentiating the two vegetables with the terms 小白菜 (xiǎo bái cài/"small white vegetable"/bok choy) and 大白菜 (dà bái cài/"large white vegetable"/Chinese leaf).
|菜:||cài||radical 140 (艸/艹)||Cantodict||MandarinTools||YellowBridge||Zhongwen|
|Sybaritica: Culinary Chinese 101|