Ordering in Mandarin: A Guide to Chinese Menu Terms and Phrases HSK3-HSK4

Navigating a Chinese menu can be daunting, especially if you need to familiarize yourself with the language. For travelers and expatriates alike, understanding the basics of Mandarin Chinese can transform a potentially confusing dining experience into an enjoyable and authentic culinary adventure. This guide will introduce you to essential Mandarin terms and phrases commonly found on Chinese menus, helping you order food and explore the rich diversity of Chinese cuisine.

Getting Started: Basic Terms

Cuisines (菜系 Càixì)

  • Sichuan (四川 Sìchuān)
  • Cantonese (广东 Guǎngdōng)
  • Hunan (湖南 Húnán)
  • Shandong (山东 Shāndōng)

Courses (菜品 Càipǐn)

  • Appetizer (开胃菜 Kāiwèicài)
  • Main course (主菜 Zhǔcài)
  • Soup (汤 Tāng)
  • Dessert (甜点 Tiándiǎn)

Ingredients (食材 Shícái)

  • Pork (猪肉 Zhūròu)
  • Beef (牛肉 Niúròu)
  • Chicken (鸡肉 Jīròu)
  • Fish (鱼 Yú)
  • Vegetables (蔬菜 Shūcài)

Cooking Methods (烹饪方法 Pēngrèn fāngfǎ)

  • Stir-fried (炒 Chǎo)
  • Steamed (蒸 Zhēng)
  • Boiled (煮 Zhǔ)
  • Fried (炸 Zhá)

Essential Phrases for Ordering

“I would like…” (我想要… Wǒ xiǎng yào…)

This phrase is a polite way to start your order. For instance, “我想要鱼” (Wǒ xiǎng yào yú) means “I would like fish.”

“What do you recommend?” (你推荐什么? Nǐ tuījiàn shénme?)

Asking for recommendations is a great way to try dishes that are popular or special to the restaurant.

“Is this spicy?” (这个辣吗? Zhège là ma?)

If you’re sensitive to spice, this question is crucial. Many Chinese dishes, especially in Sichuan cuisine, are known for their heat.

“Can I have this without…” (可以不放…吗? Kěyǐ bù fàng… ma?)

If you have dietary restrictions or preferences, this phrase allows you to request a dish without a particular ingredient.

A table for…” (…位 Wèi)

When entering a restaurant, use this to indicate the number of people in your party. For example, “两位” (Liǎng wèi) means “a table for two.”

Understanding Menu Sections

Cold Dishes (凉菜 Liángcài)

Often served as appetizers, these dishes range from pickled vegetables to cold meats.

Hot Dishes (热菜 Rècài)

The central part of the menu features various meat, seafood, and vegetable dishes cooked in different styles.

Rice and Noodles (米饭和面条 Mǐfàn hé miàntiáo)

Staples in Chinese cuisine are often ordered to accompany the main dishes.

Beverages (饮料 Yǐnliào)

This section offers drinks from traditional teas to soft drinks to complement your meal.

Specials (特色菜 Tèsè cài)

These are usually the restaurant’s signature dishes or seasonal specials.

Dining Etiquette and Tips

  • Sharing is customary: Chinese meals are typically served family-style, with everyone sharing dishes placed in the center of the table.
  • Use of chopsticks: Familiarize yourself with basic chopstick etiquette, such as not sticking them vertically into a rice bowl.
  • Tipping practices: Tipping is not customary in China and can sometimes be rude.


Ordering in Mandarin can enrich your dining experience in China, allowing you to explore an array of flavors and regional specialties. You can order quickly and show respect and appreciation for the local culture by mastering a few key phrases and terms. So next time you find yourself in a Chinese restaurant, take a moment to try out your Mandarin skills – you might discover your new favorite dish!


Q: Do I need to speak fluent Mandarin to order food in China?

A: No, fluent Mandarin is not necessary. As described in the article, knowing basic menu terms and phrases can help you navigate most menus and make fundamental orders.

Q: How important is it to specify if I want a dish to be less spicy?

A: Critical, especially in regions known for spicy cuisine like Sichuan. If you’re sensitive to spice, always ask if a dish is spicy and request a milder version.

Q: Is it common to find English translations on menus in China?

A: Many restaurants in larger cities and tourist areas offer English-language menus. However, English menus may be rare in smaller towns or local eateries, making basic Mandarin knowledge very helpful.

Q: Can I ask for utensils besides chopsticks in a traditional Chinese restaurant?

A: Yes, you can request utensils like spoons or forks, and most restaurants will accommodate your request. However, using chopsticks is a valued part of the dining experience in China.

Q: Should I tip the waitstaff in China?

A: Tipping is not customary in China and can sometimes be rude. It’s best to follow local practices and refrain from tipping.

Q: How do I indicate dietary restrictions or allergies when ordering?

A: Use the phrase “可以不放…吗? (Kěyǐ bù fàng… ma?)” followed by the ingredient you wish to avoid. Learning the Mandarin words for common allergens or dietary restrictions is also helpful.

Q: Is it necessary to order rice or noodles with every meal?

A: While rice and noodles are staples in Chinese cuisine, ordering them with every meal is optional. You can choose dishes according to your preference and appetite.

Q: How do I ask for the check-in at a Chinese restaurant?

A: To ask for the check, you can say “买单 (Mǎidān)” or signal to the waiter and make a writing gesture.

Q: Is it rude to leave leftovers on the plate in China?

A: It’s generally acceptable to leave some leftovers, as finishing every bit of food on your plate can sometimes imply that you weren’t provided enough food.

Q: Are there any specific phrases to show appreciation for the meal?

A: Saying “这个很好吃 (Zhège hěn hào chī),” meaning “This is very delicious” is an excellent way to show appreciation. You can also say “谢谢 (Xièxiè),” which means “thank you.”

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