How To Order Chinese Food In Mandarin (& Read The Menu)

  • Jasmine Chiam
    Written byJasmine Chiam
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How To Order Chinese Food In Mandarin (& Read The Menu)

If you’re a huge fan of Chinese delicacies and dishes, why not learn to order Chinese food using Mandarin Chinese?

Ordering food in China or Taiwan may prove challenging if you don’t know much Mandarin.

The language barrier may lead to miscommunication, and reading the menu (without a translation app) feels almost impossible.

You don’t want to leave that restaurant with a growling stomach or four different types of vegetable dishes. 😅

So learning how to speak a little food lingo and read a simple Chinese menu will come in useful.

You may even get special treatment and attention from the staff in the restaurant. They absolutely love and appreciate it when people from other countries take the initiative to learn and communicate with them in their native language. 😊

In this guide, I’ll explain how to order some of the most popular Chinese dishes using Mandarin and how to read and understand commonly-used words in Chinese menus.

🥢 Entering the Chinese restaurant

Before entering the restaurant, you may wish to make a reservation, especially if you know the place will be packed during peak hours.

Let’s say you’d like to book a table for five people.

In that case, you can call them up and say:

Listen to audio

我想订一张五人桌

wǒ xiǎng dìng yī zhāng wǔ rén zhuō
I would like to reserve a table for five.

The 五 (wǔ) stands for “five” here, so you can change that accordingly.

Upon entering the restaurant, the waiter may ask you if you have made a booking and how many seats you’ll need at the table.

If you’ve already made a reservation, you can say: 预定了。名字是 Lauren (Yùdìngle. Míngzì shì Lauren).

预定了 means “I’ve made a reservation” while 名字是 translates to “The name is…“. Then you insert the name you made the reservation under.

Say you’re doing a walk-in.

In this case, the waiter may ask how many seats you’d like at the table. You may hear something along the lines of 请问几位? (qǐngwèn jǐ wèi?), which translates to “How many people?”

Your waiter will then take you to the table for dine-in if there are available seats.

You can reply with 一位 (yī wèi) for “one person,” 两位 (liǎng wèi) for “two people,” and so on.

If you’d like to do a takeaway, you can then say 外带 (wài dài), which means “takeout” or “takeaway”. 🥡

Understanding the menu

The waiter will then present you with a menu.

In China or Taiwan, you may find menus with both English and Chinese words, especially if it’s a popular tourist hotspot.

However, the hidden gems most popular among locals do not always include English translations in their menus, and it isn’t very common for their staff to speak English either.

Sometimes, you may get lucky with pictures but hey, it’s always best to be well-prepared for any scenario. 😊

If no pictures or English translations are provided, you can pull out your favorite translation app. Or you could instead pick up some basic Chinese words you’ll see in many menus.

First off, you’ll need to know how to say “menu” in Mandarin. The word to use is 菜单 (càidān).

You don’t have to memorize the name of every single ingredient in the menu, but knowing a few common ones would come in very handy.

The following table lists some ingredients/dishes and their translated Mandarin counterparts.

Ingredient/DishMandarin TranslationPinyin
Ricefàn
Noodlesmiàn
Congeezhōu
Chicken
Porkzhū
Pork ribs排骨páigǔ
Beefniú
Duck
Fish
Shrimpxiā
Eggplant茄子qiézi
Bok Choy小白菜xiǎo báicài
Tofu豆腐dòufu
Eggdàn
Souptāng
Dumplings饺子jiǎozi

Many restaurants divide their menu into sections based on the type of dish.

For meat dishes, each section will be labeled using the terms we’ve learned above.

As an example, pork dishes may be placed under a section labeled (zhū) or 猪肉 (zhūròu), where the 肉 (ròu) just translates to “meat”.

Other examples of sections you may see are 蔬菜 (shūcài), which translates to “vegetables,” 炒饭 (chǎofàn), which means “fried rice,” or 海鲜类 (hǎixiān lèi), which indicates the seafood section.

The menu will also indicate the style of cooking for each dish.

You don’t want to end up with something too spicy for you to handle or four soy sauce dishes with no variety in flavors. 😅

Picking up a few terms from the table below will allow you to understand the cooking style of different dishes and avoid flavors you and your dining partners may not enjoy.

You may also notice the main ingredient included in the name, as it can define the final flavor and taste of the dish.

Flavor/StyleMandarin TranslationPinyin
Spicy
Stir-friedchǎo
Steamed清蒸qīng zhēng
Braised红烧hóngshāo
Roastedkǎo
Scallioncōng
Garlicsuàn
Butter黄油huángyóu
Sweet and sour酸甜suān tián

You may also wish to order some beverages while you’re at the Chinese restaurant.

One of the most common beverages served at Chinese restaurants is tea. Some restaurants also serve juices, soft drinks, and beer, among other beverages.

The following table may come in handy while you’re looking through the menu to order beverages at a Chinese restaurant.

DrinkMandarin TranslationPinyin
Teachá
Iced water冰水bīng shuǐ
Warm water温水wēnshuǐ
Beer啤酒píjiǔ
Liquor白酒báijiǔ
Coca-cola可口可乐kěkǒukělè
Sprite雪碧xuěbì

This might be quite a lot of digest at once.

Still, you’ll notice that they repeat a lot in Chinese restaurant menus.

It will be a matter of time before you can more or less recognize the ingredients and names of some dishes.

Ordering your food

Understandably, ordering food in a foreign language can be a stressful experience but with some practice, you’ll get the hang of it. 😊

To get the attention of your server, you can say 服务员 (fú wù yuán), which translates to “waiter”.

If you’d like to ask for recommendations, you can say:

Listen to audio

有什么好推荐吗?

yǒu shé me hǎo tuījiàn ma?
Is there anything good you'd like to recommend?

You may also wish to ask whether the dish is spicy. In this case, you can say:

Listen to audio

这个会辣吗?

zhège huì là ma?
Is this spicy?

Once you’ve decided on what to get, you can begin ordering. If you haven’t flagged down a server yet, you can say 点菜 (diǎn cài), meaning “Order food.” while waving at them.

There are various sentences you can use while ordering your dishes. Firstly, you can say 我要 (wǒ yào) 份 (fèn) _

This means, “I want [insert quantity] portions of [insert name of dish]“.

For example, if you’d like one portion of braised pork, you can say 我要一份红烧肉。(wǒ yào yī fèn hóngshāo ròu)

You’d likely be ordering various dishes, and it would sound extremely foreign and unnatural to say 我要 (wǒ yào) before every dish.

Instead, if you’re ordering multiple dishes, you can use 再来 (zàilái) or 还有 (hái yǒu) in between dishes, both of which loosely translate to “and” or ” also” in this context.

For example, you can say:

Listen to audio

再来个红烧肉

zàilái gè hóngshāo ròu
Also give me one portion of braised pork.

Or you can say 还有一份红烧肉 (hái yǒuyī fèn hóngshāo ròu), which carries a similar meaning.

Another short and sweet phrase you can use would be 一份 (yī fèn)__。

This means “One portion of [insert name of dish].” Change the number of portions accordingly.

When ordering beverages, the phrases you use will differ slightly. For instance, if you’d like one cup of warm water, you can say 我要一杯温水 (wǒ yào yībēi wēnshuǐ).

杯 (bēi) means “cup” in this context.

Say you’d like a bottle of beer instead. In this case, you can say:

Listen to audio

我要一瓶啤酒

wǒ yào yī píng píjiǔ
I want a bottle of beer.

瓶 (píng) translates to “bottle”.

Of course, you can change the quantity according to your order.

Once you’re done with your order, you can say:

Listen to audio

就这样

jiù zhèyàng
That's all.

This lets the waiter know that those would be the dishes you’d like to order for now.

If you’re lucky enough to get a picture menu or don’t remember anything else from this article, you can just say 我要这个。(wǒ yào zhège) while pointing at the dish you’d like to order in the menu.

This just means, “I want this”.

It’s the easy way out, but it works (it won’t make you sound very fluent though)!

Getting your food

You may need to communicate with your waiter while waiting for or receiving your order.

For instance, if you’ve been waiting for your dishes to arrive for quite some time, you may ask the waiter to help you check on the progress of your order.

You can say:

Listen to audio

我点的菜还没来。

wǒ diǎn de cài hái méi lái
The dishes I ordered have not arrived.

The waiter will understand that you’d like them to help you check on your order.

Other than that, you can also say:

Listen to audio

我点的菜麻烦你帮我催一下。

wǒ diǎn de cài máfan nǐ bāng wǒ cuī yīxià
Please help me chase the dishes I ordered.

What this simply means is “hurry up,” but in a polite way!😄

You can also add this behind either of these phrases:

Listen to audio

我已经等很久了。

wǒ yǐjīng děng hěnjiǔle
I've been waiting for a long time.

You may have encountered a mixed-up order before, and here’s what you can say the next time it happens:

Listen to audio

这不是我点的。

zhè bùshì wǒ diǎn de
This isn't what I ordered.

If your server looks a little lost, you can then add 我点的是 (wǒ diǎn de shì) __.

This translates to, “What I ordered is [insert name of dish]“.

This lets them know what dish they got mixed up.

And if the food’s exceptionally tasty or you happened to underorder for your group, you can always let the waiter know that you’ll like another portion.

For example, you may use the following phrases:

Listen to audio

可以加一碗饭吗?

Kěyǐ jiā yī wǎn fàn ma?
Can I add one more bowl of rice?
Listen to audio

可以加一份这个吗?

Kěyǐ jiā yī fèn zhège ma?
Can I add one more portion of this?

Paying the bill

In some Chinese restaurants, the person footing the bill will walk up to the counter to pay for it.

In other places, you can have the waiter bring the bill to your table.

To let your waiter know you’d like to have the bill, you can say 服务员, 买单 (fúwùyuán, mǎidān).

买单 (mǎidān) translates to “bill” You can also say 麻烦结账 (máfan jiézhàng), which essentially conveys a similar meaning.

If you’d like to pay by credit card, you can ask the waiter:

Listen to audio

刷卡可以吗?

shuākǎ kěyǐ ma?
Can I use my card?

Listen out for a 可以 (kěyǐ), which means “yes,” or a 不能 (bùnéng), which means “no” or “cannot”.

In the second case, the waiter may add something along the lines of:

Listen to audio

我们只收现金

wǒmen zhǐ shōu xiànjīn
We only accept cash.

If you’d like to take away your unfinished dishes, you can use the phrase 打包 (dǎbāo) or 带走 (dài zǒu).

Unlike Western countries, tipping is not customary in China. As a traveler, you won’t have to worry about leaving a tip in restaurants, fast food joints, bars, or hotels in China.

The only exception would be high-end restaurants or hotels used to having foreigners come over.

But in other cases, tipping is unheard of and sometimes even frowned upon.

If you’d like to thank your waiter for their exceptional service, a simple 谢谢 (xièxiè), which means “thank you,” will go a long way.

Using 谢谢 throughout your interaction with your waiter will be well-appreciated, too.😊

Learning how to order Chinese food using Mandarin Chinese will take practice

It may take a while to learn how to read a menu and order a few dishes in Mandarin Chinese.

But practicing what you’ve picked up in a real-life setting is the best way to polish what you know.

Hopefully, this guide provides enough phrases and terms for you to use at a Chinese restaurant and order a few of your favorite dishes in Mandarin Chinese.


Did I miss anything?

Let me know in the comments below!

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
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