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Tips for ordering food in Chinese

ordering food in chinese, chinese menu, learning chinese

Get a menu



Go to your favorite restaurant with a Chinese-only menu. Get a copy of the menu. It may only have a menu on a wall, in which case you'll need your digital camera. They may not want to part with one of their menus, but if you pay them something, they'll usually do it. If you're a bold charmer, you might also be able to get them to lend you their menu while you get it photocopied down the street.



Tip: a typed menu will save you a lot of grief.



Type up the menu



Now here's the kicker. You're gonna love it. You have to look up every word and every character you don't know and transcribe them. It may be possible to get an electronic copy of the menu, but honestly, that's not really going to help you. Suffer for your menu. This step will take you some time, but it's the most crucial.



Learn the menu



This is not the part where I advocate rote memorization. If you've done step 2, at this point you will have some vague idea of what most things on the menu are. This will make you very happy, but you're not done! For every dish you're not totally clear on, you either have to ask what it is, or, if you don't have the language skills for that yet, order it. Another option is pointing to what other people in the restaurant are eating and asking the staff to identify it on your copy of the menu while you make notes. If you're smart, you'll usually be going to the restaurant when there aren't many other customers so that the staff will be more patient and accommodating to your wacky laowai menu antics.



Translate the menu



This may seem unnecessary, but it really helps. Translate the entire menu into English. Now, this may be kind of tough to do. Chinese dish names, at times, seem to crafted precisely to defy translation. Advice: Be descriptive, and have fun. So maybe 鱼香 literally means “fish fragrant” and it often gets translated that way, but it's not even fish, and that translation sucks! Go “have fun” route and translate it triumphantly as “fishilicious”.

这一步看似没什么必要,可是却很有帮助。把整个中文菜单都翻译成英文,这样做或许有点困难。感觉中文的菜名有时候完全不能直译。建议:翻译字面意思,同时乐在其中。比如,“鱼香”的字面意思是“fish fragrant”,一般菜单也是这样翻译的。可实际上并不是鱼,这样翻译的话太糟糕了!遵循“乐在其中”的原则,把它翻译为“fishilicious”。


Share the menu



This one is optional. Print out copies of your bilingual menu and share it with the restaurant. Typically, they will absolutely love you for this, because it means they can use it in the restaurant to try to attract the “big foreign money.” You can share it with your fellow foreign students or co-workers. New arrivals to China were especially grateful for this.



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