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.
Anonymous (will be screened)
OpenID (will be screened if not validated)
Identity URL: 
Account name:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
HTML doesn't work in the subject.


Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.


December 2012


Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags