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

To follow up on Monday's post, which was aimed at encouraging other non-Chinese-speakers to learn to read Chinese menus[1], I thought today I'd go back to basics and cover one of the more fundamental menu characters that I haven't yet discussed: 牛 (niú).

In a general context, and on its own, 牛 means "ox" or "cow", but when paired with the character 肉 (ròu/meat), it means beef: 牛肉. On menus, the 肉 is often omitted, or another character is used to make the specific cut more explicit, as in 牛腩 (niú nǎn/beef brisket), 牛健 (niú jiàn/beef shank), or 牛柳 (niú liǔ/beef fillet)[2].

However, the presence of 牛 in the name of a dish doesn't always mean that it includes beef per se, as in the muscle tissue of cows; this character is also found in the names of various types of beef offal and other parts. I've collected some in the table below:

牛筋niú jīnbeef tendon
牛舌niú shébeef tongue
牛尾niú wěioxtail
牛肚niú dǔbeef tripe
or 牛百葉
niú bǎi yèbeef tripe from the omasum, i.e. the third chamber of the stomach (leaf/book/bible tripe); the names literally mean "cow's cypress leaves" and "cow's hundred leaves" respectively
牛雜niú záliterally "beef miscellaneous"; I think this means assorted beef offal (and [blogspot.com profile] eatlovenoodles confirms this in comments); according to this blog post by [blogspot.com profile] buddyscottiecadet, it refers to all the offal from inside the abdomen

Note also that 牛油 (niú yóu) is neither meat nor offal, but butter (literally "cow grease")[3]. You might see this used in the name of a common dim sum item, 牛油馬拉糕/niú yóu mǎ lái gāo (steamed sponge cake).

Here are some dishes with 牛 in the name:

五香牛肉wǔ xiāng níu ròufive-spice beef
水煮牛肉shuǐ zhǔ niú ròuwater-cooked beef
紅燒牛肉hóng shāo niú ròured-cooked beef
孜然牛肉zī rán niú ròucumin beef
麻辣牛肚má là níu dǔnumbing-spicy beef tripe
姜蔥牛柏葉jiāng cōng niú bǎi yèbeef tripe with ginger and spring onions
粉蒸牛肉fěn zhēng niú ròusteamed beef with roasted rice powder
乾炒牛河gān chǎo niú hédry-fried beef ho fun

1 Although thanks to the lovely comments, it also ended up being quite encouraging to me as well!

2 See [blogspot.com profile] buddyscottiecadet's post on deciphering meat cuts for more cow-parts vocabulary.

3 While butter is 牛油 in Cantonese, [personal profile] pulchritude notes in comments that 黃油 (huáng yóu) is a more common word for butter in Mandarin, and [blogspot.com profile] buddyscottiecadet points out, also in comments, that in Taiwan butter is 奶油 (nǎi yóu/"milk oil").

牛: niú radical 93 (牛/牜) Cantodict MandarinTools YellowBridge Zhongwen

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: 2011-06-15 11:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eatlovenoodles.blogspot.com
牛雜 niú zá is mixed beef offal. The southern Chinese style sees it cooked and served with master stock (滷水).

Thank you for using my blog post as ref

Date: 2012-03-20 04:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] buddyscottiecadet.blogspot.com
Hi Kake - I came across your journal entry on beef 牛 by chance and realized that you refer to my blog post on beef offal. Appreciate the reference. I recently wrote another post on beef and would love to hear your thoughts.


Also on the subject of 牛油. Butter is called different thing depending on where you are even if you speak Chinese. As you correctly pointed out, it's 牛油 in Cantonese, but 黃油 in Mandarin. However, in Taiwan's Mandarin, butter is known as 奶油 (as oil / fat derived from milk). And to make it even more confusing 鮮奶油 is fresh cream.


Date: 2011-06-16 08:30 pm (UTC)
pulchritude: (13)
From: [personal profile] pulchritude
I suspect 牛油 is region and/or dish-specific, as everyone I know from mainland China calls butter 黃油. I would use 牛油, however, to refer to actual cow oil.

Date: 2011-06-16 10:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eatlovenoodles.blogspot.com
I think you're right as butter is 牛油 in Cantonese yet the Mandarin-English dictionary that I own translates butter as 黃油.

Date: 2011-06-17 11:53 am (UTC)
pulchritude: (2)
From: [personal profile] pulchritude
Oil derived from frying cow fat....Or is there another term for it in English?

Date: 2011-06-17 12:09 pm (UTC)
pulchritude: (1)
From: [personal profile] pulchritude
Both (given that animal oils are solid at room temperature and become liquid once used).

Neither of those terms imo seem to describe what I would understand as 牛油, as they both require what appears to be more processing. I've actually never had 牛油 actually and I doubt it's very common...but we do fry pig fat for 豬油, so 牛油 for me would absolutely be an analogous product.

Date: 2011-06-17 04:17 pm (UTC)
pulchritude: (1)
From: [personal profile] pulchritude
Fat, to me, is 肥肉, which is absolutely not the same as the 油 derived from frying 肥肉 (the 肥肉 becomes 油渣 afterward). Unless there's an English term for 肥肉? Fatty meat?

Date: 2011-06-17 06:50 pm (UTC)
pulchritude: (5)
From: [personal profile] pulchritude
Yeah, I suppose my understanding of 肥肉 as 'fat' derives from the fat/lean opposition you describe.

I suppose tallow works well enough, though (if I want to use a word that would be understood by everyone easily), but 'rendered beef fat' is possibly the best description, yeah.


December 2012


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