Jun. 15th, 2011

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

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.


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