kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2012-12-09 04:00 pm

The end of the menu

So it's been nearly a year since I last posted, and it's time for me to admit that the Chinese menu project has run its course.

There are a number of reasons for this, but perhaps the main one is that I lost someone very important to me at the start of 2011, and have spent much of the time since putting my life back together. Everything has changed; nothing is the same. I live in a different area of London now, where good Chinese food is hard to find. But also, my feelings about the menu project are inextricably tied up with the person I lost — he was my primary cheerleader on this, and every time I think of it, I think of him.

I've made myself a new life, full of so many good things, and I think it's OK now to say that I'm not writing a Chinese menu blog any more. The old posts will, of course, stay up, and I will continue to respond to any comments.

(If you like my writing style, and want more, you can always head over to The London Road Tour Project, a series of articles I'm writing for the Croydon Citizen online newspaper The Past and Present of Croydon's London Road. It's a kind of hybrid of local history and city guide, and as far as I know nobody else has done quite this sort of thing before.)

kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-08-22 01:11 pm

Unexpected hiatus

First of all, apologies for the lack of a second dish post last week — I seem to have seriously overcommitted myself this month and am scrambling to keep up with things.

Because of this, I've decided to halt my dim sum month here. I don't want to put up scrappily-written and under-researched posts just for the sake of sticking to the schedule; I'd rather take a break for a couple of weeks, and leave the rest of the dim sum posts I'd planned until the next time.

So! This blog will resume at some point in September. I'm not yet sure exactly when in September, but hopefully not before too long.

(People having dim sum with me this Friday — don't worry, I'm not cancelling that!)

kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-08-10 01:00 pm

No post today

As some of you may know, there's been disruption in London (and other parts of England) recently, including the part of London that I live in. I am OK, but it has been a bit stressful and distracting, so I'm behind on the posts I meant to write (and recipes I meant to test). Hence, no dim sum dish today. Next post will be on Friday.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-08-01 12:30 am

Reading Chinese Menus: It's dim sum month!

Description follows.

[Image: Three pieces of dim sum in a bamboo steamer basket: siu mai (燒賣) and har gow (蝦餃) in the foreground, and cha siu bao (叉燒包) in the background.]

Hello! I've finished moving house and so am back to blogging again. That means it's dim sum time! As previously mentioned, throughout August I'll be posting on two dim sum dishes per week, along with my regular character posts (concept posts are temporarily suspended and will return in September).

Dim sum month is not just for reading and writing about dim sum, though — it's also about eating dim sum. I already have lunches lined up with various people, but if you're not among those people, and you'd like to eat dim sum with me in London this month, please let me know! There's still room in my calendar.

For a quick refresher on how dim sum works, see my dim sum post from last year; and for a list of dim sum dishes I've already posted about, see my dish index.

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.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-06-29 10:45 pm

Small delay to this week's character post

I've had a very busy couple of days, so this week's character post will be up tomorrow (Thursday) rather than today.

On the bright side, I now know how many cubic feet of books [personal profile] bob and I own between us...

kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-06-27 12:30 am

Reading Chinese Menus: Concepts: Keep on keeping on

First off: I'm taking July off blogging. [personal profile] bob and I have bought a house, and now we need to move into it, so I thought it was probably best to remove distractions for a while.

I'll be back on August 1st with the start of another dim sum month, since last year's went so well. My plan is to temporarily halt my concept posts, and instead post two dim sum dishes per week, along with the regular Wednesday character posts (which will move to Mondays for the month). I also plan to eat a lot of dim sum, preferably with lots of lovely people. If you're within reach of London during August, and you'd like to eat some dim sum with me, please get in touch!

I'm not saying anything new in today's post, but I want to highlight something that I think is really important for learning anything. That is, to keep plugging away at it. I have a lot of other commitments, but I still try to do something every day towards my goal of understanding things written in Chinese. Some days I get to spend an hour or two on this, other days less than ten minutes, but every little bit of contact with the language helps to cement my existing knowledge.

Here's what I try to do every day, though I don't always manage it:

  • Transcribe something. A few lines from a menu, or a list of Chinese dish names from a cookbook. Anything that gets me looking at Chinese characters, figuring out what they are, and typing them into my computer.
  • Five minutes or so on Skritter. I've posted about Skritter before; this is an online tool that lets you specify lists of Chinese characters that you'd like to learn to write, and uses spaced repetition theory to test you at the optimal time for remembering.
  • Work through anything due on Anki. I've posted about Anki before as well; this is a flashcard program that again uses spaced repetition to work out when to test you. When I learn a new character or dish name, I enter it into Anki, and Anki takes care of making sure I don't forget it.
  • Do some LiveMocha. I haven't posted about LiveMocha yet, but I will do at some point. It's a community-based language-learning site that gives you basic lessons in your chosen language, and lets you submit written and spoken exercises for assessment by native speakers. It's not at all useful for learning menu vocabulary, but I'm learning some very basic Mandarin grammar from it which I hope will eventually be useful in letting me read Chinese-language cookbooks and so on.
  • Watch an episode of 天天飲食. This is a daily cookery programme shown on China Central Television; it's around 8 minutes long, in Mandarin, and subtitled in simplified Chinese characters. I find it helpful on multiple levels; it shows me how a particular dish is made, it shows me various preparation and cooking techniques, it gets me used to hearing the sounds of Mandarin, and it gets me used to seeing sentences of written Chinese. I can't get the channel here, but fans of the programme upload episodes on YouTube, and I watch it there.

If you've got any suggestions for anything else I should be doing, I'd love to hear them.

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.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-06-13 01:30 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Concepts: The point of all this

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.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-04-25 12:00 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Concepts: A year of Chinese menus

Today is the anniversary of my very first post in the Chinese menu project!

Over the past year, I've noticed a welcome trend among London's regional Chinese restaurants: more and more of them are providing translations of at least part of their Chinese-only menus. When I first visited Sanxia Renjia in June last year, the interesting menu was entirely in Chinese; on my latest visit a month ago, it was entirely bilingual (and illustrated too). Similarly, Royal Palace now has an illustrated English translation of part of their Chinese menu[see footnote 0], and it's a decent enough selection that on my latest visit we ordered almost exclusively from this.

However, even if this trend continues and spreads, I still think it's worth being able to read the Chinese names of dishes. For one thing, the translated/bilingual menu is often only a selection of the full menu; similarly, specials boards are usually Chinese-only. Also, the Chinese name of a dish often gives you more information than the English name. "Noodles with pork", for example: is that 炸醬麵/zhà jiàng miàn, 擔擔麵/dān dān miàn, or even 螞蟻上樹/mǎ yǐ shàng shù? (As an aside, [personal profile] bob mentioned to me the other week that he has a similar advantage when reading bilingual English/Spanish menus.)

On a more personal note, I am very pleased (and slightly surprised) that I've managed to keep this project going for so long. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to everyone who's encouraged me, whether by commenting here or in email, by sending me useful links, by telling me in person that you enjoy reading the posts, or by coming out for yet another Chinese meal with me and being patient while I photograph the menu and interrogate the waitstaff.

I do have a couple of requests today. First of all, is there any way I can make my posts more accessible to you? I try to strike a balance between overexplaining and underexplaining, and between avoiding too much repetition and assuming all readers have read all posts. I also try to use informative alt texts for images (would people prefer to see that in the main text as well/instead?), and to provide transcripts or at least precis of videos that are in English (I don't speak Chinese, yet, so can't transcribe those). In short, I want to do my best not to exclude anyone from being able to read my posts — so if you have any suggestions, I am listening.

Relatedly, is there anything you particularly like or dislike about the way I structure these posts? Do you like (and indeed had you noticed) the model of concept on Monday, character on Wednesday, dish on Friday, vague theme running throughout the three? Do I post too often for you to keep up? And so on[see footnote 1].

Finally, if there's anything you'd like to ask me, anything at all, this is a good time! You can leave a comment, or email me if you prefer (kake@earth.li). Or if you'd just like to say hello, there is a handy tickybox below (should work for both Dreamwidth users and OpenID users).

Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 25


I just want to say...

View Answers

Hello Kake!
25 (100.0%)

Footnote 0: There is actually a faint possibility that my frequent visits and requests for the Chinese menu despite not being Chinese had something to do with this, though I haven't asked.

Footnote 1: Before I saw how popular last Friday's post was, I was also going to ask if people would prefer the Friday posts to have more of a focus on restaurants and less on home cooking...

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.
kake: The word "kake" written in white fixed-font on a black background. (Default)
2011-04-03 03:45 pm

About this blog

The main purpose of this blog was to document my journey in learning to read Chinese menus. I started this project around the beginning of 2010 because I was intrigued by the many restaurants here in London that have Chinese-language menus with different dishes from the English-language ones. I find I generally prefer the food offered on the former type, so I needed a way to acquire it. A year later, I had become fairly confident in ordering from a Chinese-language menu, but decided to continue the blog because researching and writing the posts was a good incentive to continue learning more about the different cuisines of China.

The Chinese menu project is now officially retired, though the posts will remain open for comments.

I may in the future decide to use this blog for other kinds of posts. If you're only interested in the Chinese menu stuff, just follow my "chinese menu" tag and the other stuff will be filtered out: web, RSS, Atom.

Here are some useful posts to read if you're new here:

kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-02-21 11:00 am

Reading Chinese Menus: Meta: Character index

I'm sorry I've taken so long to do this, because I know people have been wanting it for a while, but here, finally, is an index of the posts I've made on individual Chinese characters. I did have rather grander ambitions for this, which is why it's been a while coming, but I had to scale back a bit in the end. Anyway! Here it is.

Also, you may have noticed that I've started putting a little infobox at the bottom of each character post, in which I give the character, its pinyin, its radical, and links to its entry in three dictionaries: CantoDict, MandarinTools, and YellowBridge. I'm happy to consider linking to other dictionaries too, if anyone has any suggestions, though I don't want the infobox to get too wide.

Here are the characters arranged by radical and number of strokes:

Read more... )

And here they are in alphabetical order of pinyin:

Read more... )

 

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.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2010-11-26 02:36 pm

On hiatus.

I'm sorry for the lack of warning, but this blog is on hiatus until further notice. I have some things to sort out. Hopefully back soon. Back at the end of January.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2010-11-01 12:20 am

Reading Chinese Menus: Meta: Dish index

I'm back from my month off, and have lots of interesting things to post about — but for today, I'm just going to put up this index of all the dishes I've posted about so far, to go with the subject index I posted a month or so ago. Please do let me know if you think there's a better way to organise it.

I'll be keeping this up to date as I write about more dishes, and it's also linked in the sidebar.

Skip to: dishes by main ingredient | dishes by other interesting ingredients | cold dishes | dim sum | vegan and veganisable dishes | specific cooking techniques | dishes not otherwise categorised.

Dishes by main ingredient

Dishes using other interesting ingredients

Cold dishes (涼菜/liáng cài)

Dim sum (點心/diǎn xīn)

Vegan and veganisable dishes

Note that I've only included here dishes that I think are just as good in the vegan versions as they are in the meaty ones. For example, I don't feel that 擔擔麵 actually needs the pork mince, but 乾煸四季豆 wouldn't be the same without it. Obviously, this is subjective. Another point worth noting is that you will need a good (preferably home-made) vegetable stock to use in place of the chicken/pork stock that flavours many of these dishes, and you may find that the texture is more watery than it should be due to lack of gelatin — this latter point also applies to the meaty versions, if you're using e.g. stock cubes instead of proper stock.

Posts which mention specific cooking techniques

Dish posts not otherwise categorised


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.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2010-09-29 10:00 am

Reading Chinese Menus: Meta: Subject index

Since I'm taking October off for research purposes, I thought now would be a good time to have a go at making a subject index of all my Chinese menu posts so far, to make it easier for people (including me) to find things. I'd welcome any comments and suggestions regarding ways of making this easier to use. Update, April 2011: I now have a dish index and a character index as well.

Meta (posts about these posts)

Subtypes of Chinese food

Regions of China

Specific ingredients

In the restaurant

Mandarin Chinese basics

Chinese culture

Looking things up

Practising

Computer-related stuff

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.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2010-08-30 10:00 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Concepts: dim sum wrap-up!

A checkbox-style dim sum menu offering around 60 options.  Written in black marker at the bottom is: Dim sum until 4:45pm only.

So, that's the end of August and the end of my dim sum extravaganza. I hope you all enjoyed it! Especially those of you who came and ate dim sum with me in real life :)

Here's a list of all the dim sum posts, in case anyone missed some:

I think I will do this again next year! So please let me know which of your favourite dim sum items I didn't cover this time, and I'll do my very best to fit them in.

And I mean that — I want to hear from you! Yes, you! Even you lurkers thinking "nah, she doesn't mean me!" If you have trouble leaving a comment, just email me and let me know.

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.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2010-07-26 11:30 am

Reading Chinese Menus: Meta: Come in, sit down, have a cup of tea, and ask me a question.

A white porcelain cup on a matching saucer, about two-thirds filled with a clear, honey-coloured green tea.

Apparently I am capable of keeping this thing going! Who knew?

So I now have three months' worth of Chinese menu posts on here, which I think calls for some kind of mini-celebration. I thus decree that August will be dim sum month! I'll be temporarily suspending my character posts to make room for more dish posts — so each week in August, I'll post about two of my favourite dim sum dishes. Also, in honour of the fact that it was the London Perl Mongers who first introduced me to the delights of dim sum, August's "concept" posts will focus on working with Chinese characters in computing contexts.

I thought I'd also take the chance right now to solicit some feedback. I really appreciate all the comments, questions, and corrections that people have been leaving on these posts (or asking me when they see me in real life). I haven't yet put out a call for comments on the series as a whole, though.

So, are there any general questions you'd like to ask me? Is there an aspect of Chinese food that you've always wondered about? Is there a concept, character, or dish that you'd like me to cover? Would you like to see more variation in the types of dish covered, or do you think I've got it about right?

Conversely, are you an expert who's been biting their tongue at all my mistakes? Do you think my quest for good Chinese food outside China is fundamentally doomed? Do you think I'm going about this all entirely wrong? I'm always up for hearing constructive criticism, and I promise to be polite in response.

I'm pretty happy with the way the structure of the series is working out (a concept on Monday, a character on Wednesday, a dish on Friday), but I don't mind hearing any comments or suggestions that you have on that. Also, I've been pondering setting up a more extensive tagging system, and would love to hear any thoughts on that, or indeed on any other ways that I could make it easier for people to find the content they're looking for.

Please do let me know what you think on any of the above — or, if you have no particular thoughts in those directions, just say hello! Or tell me what your favourite Chinese dish is. Or recommend me a Chinese food blog that's worth reading. Or anything else that springs to mind!

And if you happen to be within reach of London during August, and would like to eat some dim sum with me, please drop me an email :)

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.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2010-06-08 04:26 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Meta: Search box, and posts here that aren't about Chinese menus

The lovely Dreamwidth developers added a new feature in their latest code push — search boxes for journal sidebars — so there's now a convenient way to search through all my posts. TwoThree caveats:

  • The search doesn't work properly for Chinese characters. Dreamwidth are aware of this but I don't know when it will be resolved. In the meantime, it's best to search in English or pinyin (you don't need to include the accents for the pinyin).
  • It searches all my posts, not just the ones about Chinese menus. You can get around this to some extent by adding "chinese menu" to your search term.
  • Because resources to run the search are currently a bit limited, the search is only available to logged-in users (and hence the search box will only appear for logged-in users). However, you don't need a Dreamwidth account to log in to the site — you can do it via OpenID, and I've confirmed that the search works fine for OpenID users.

While I'm posting, I thought I should mention that although all my recent posts have been about Chinese menus, I may from time to time use this journal for other kinds of posts. If you're only interested in the Chinese menu stuff, just follow my "chinese menu" tag and the other stuff will be filtered out: web, RSS, Atom.

kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2010-04-25 01:46 pm

On learning to read Chinese menus.

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.

Disclaimers:

  • 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.