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Chinese Menu Translations

  • j

Let me throw this open to our learned Chinese-food mavens, and anyone else who cares to pitch in:

Chinese restos are overwhelmingly pretty damn good in Toronto, and there are four or five authorities on the subject who post on this board and who've directed us to some solid winners. The trouble is, most of the good ones are uptown, often in areas heavily populated by Asians (that's where you find the good Chinese spots, naturally), and the English translations of the menus handed to us Caucasians often aren't up to much.

For example, last night we went to Sun Star, on Finch Ave. east of Bayview - recommended - I think - by the wonderful Charles Yu, who I suspect never ever eats at home. A lively, deservedly popular joint packed almost exclusively by Asians. Charles had mentioned several dishes he liked, so I thought I'd try at least one of them. But no luck finding any of them on the English menu, or anything that looked like it might even be close. And our servers didn't seem to have enough English for me to question them about what I wanted. Also, the English translations of many dishes, I suspect, aren't all that close to what actually arrives on the plates. I ordered what was described as "spicy salted spare ribs", and got deep-fried pork chops - which were tasty, let me emphasize, but not quite what I had in mind. All the other dishes our table wound up with, like the bitter melon with olives and minced pork (excellent) were reasonably close to the menu translation, but all too often a dish - not just in Sun Star - is, how to put it? "undertranslated". In short, not all that close to what you're gonna get.

I suppose it can be fun, not knowing what's gonna turn up on your table. A little like roulette. But Charles, where was the braised eggplant with Enobi mushrooms in oyster sauce? Or the wok-fried mixed mushrooms and scallions with fillet of veal? Or the sand and salt chicken? You got to ingest all that good stuff on your visit but I didn't on mine. All those dishes were missing in action at Sun Star, at least on the English menu, though it's certainly not the only uptown joint with undertranslated menus.

So what's the solution, if any? Do we insist that Charles and his confreres let us know whether a dish they liked can be found on the English menu? Or do we demand that they type out the Chinese characters on their postings (as someone has done occasionally), the better to allow us to bring a copy to the resto of our choice and point to it, saying "I want that!"? Or should we just import better menu translators, so Chinese dishes are less of a crapshoot to us Caucasians?

Or do we just take our chances, as I've been doing in Chinese restos most of my life - except for a few years when a Chinese friend guided me expertly through his restaurant selections. Ah, those were the days. I just ate when was put in front of me, and it was invariably delicious. Maybe I should make friends with Charles Yu.

I put this problem to the assembled, and eagerly await your answers.

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  1. These aren't long-term solutions for you, but if caught in a pinch you can look around at what people are eating and point at some, its not really considered rude. As well, you could just ask someone at an adjacent table for some help.

    2 Replies
    1. re: szw

      The truth is that there is no solution.
      Even at Elegantview where they know us, sometimes they give us a huge verbal list of translations and suggestions, and some days just a few depending on their mood.
      I have asked them for years to translate the Chinese menu into English, to no avail.
      They even told us very diplomatically that that would deprive them of the pleasure of translating for us.
      So, it is hopeless.
      Sometimes we just tell them what we are in the mood to eat, and usually they will make it for us.
      None of this works if there is no one on staff who speaks English, but this is rare.
      We look at what is coming by, and just recently at Maple Yip, we saw a fish that looked good, and asked our neighbours what they were eating.
      It was a fresh steamed green bass.
      We ended up having a great conversation, with the English speakers translating for their relatives.
      They even suggested their favourite dishes, and insisted on translating every special..
      They were celebrating the (the relatives told me famous) Photographer's recently published book on Szechuan, with beautiful photographs taken shortly after the disaster.
      We were given the book to view, as well.
      So, if you want real Chinese food, you need to go with the flow!

      1. re: szw

        Waiters or people at the next table may not know that enoki mushrooms are called "golden needle mushrooms" or "golden mushrooms" 金針菇 / 金菇 , for example, so if you want a specific dish that you read about, the best bet is to have the Chinese characters printed out. That means those who recommend the dishes should include the characters, but it requires Chinese input software that not everyone has.

        The other problem is that some restos still think that non-Chinese would not be able to stomach anything other than the "sweet and sour pork" category so may be unwilling to serve you what wanted, in case you don't like it. The same reason why the English menu is usually just a subset of the Chinese one.

      2. Oh! What a great post juno! I have always wondered about this. I can understand and speak passable Mandarin, but only know how to read numbers! :) Even being able to speak some, I still wouldn't know exactly what to ask/say!! I tempted to sketch out (on paper, on napkin) the dish I have in mind.

        1. Though I can sometimes read certain characters, I'm completely clueless at any and every form and dialect of Chinese. Fortunately, I have a lot of Chinese friends that I will dine out with when I decide to do Chinese.

          While mostly for the company (as we are perfectly comfortable dining anywhere), this is the one chance I get to eat Chinese without worrying about dying (as I have a severe peanut/nut allergy). If I didn't have a friend that was able to speak to the server, I don't think I'd be able to risk my life, no matter how delicious the restaurant.

          2 Replies
          1. re: tjr

            Wow, how often do you eat chinese? Even with a translator, I would never even risk it, Chinese food is not very forgiving with your needs. A lot of peanuts and nuts in the oils, and depending on which cook you get or staff they may not be familiar at all with allergies or think its a big deal. BTW, "Yes" doesn't mean what you think it means when they say it sometimes!

            1. re: szw

              I haven't died yet, and I've been to HK/China several times in addition to Toronto eateries, where I usually eat Chinese maybe three times a month. I wouldn't eat alone, and always have someone there to ask (in Chinese) about my dietary restriction concerns.

              I grew up in Japan where the majority of people don't believe in allergies, so I'm used to the concept. I also know which restaurants I can/can't eat at, and we usually end up doing kitchen tours/speaking with the cooks before I ever sit down for a meal.

              I'm not really into the whole dying thing, but fear of allergies/death would probably mean that I could never travel or eat in restaurants, so it's something I've come to terms with. While I am certainly a much better cook for it, it has also helped me come to terms with mortality.

              Yes doesn't mean yes when you're white and speaking English, but when a Chinese person is making sure and taking a tour of the kitchen with you, it's a different story.

          2. I was having similar thoughts about Chinese menus just yesterday when I went to grab a quick dinner in Chinatown. Since I look Chinese, but didn't greet them verbally, they gave me all their menus. Usually I order from the English menu or from the specials menu to get the most for my money when seeking week night sustenance. But yesterday I had absolutely no interest in either and wanted to test this idea that the Chinese menu is typically better. So I decided to put my rudimentary knowledge of Chinese characters to work. I can recognize the characters for fish, beef, shrimp, chicken, stir-fry and other basics. I decided that I wanted fish so I looked for that character, but didn't know what all the other characters meant. When the waiter came I just pointed and ended up with stir-fried snow peas, shitake and sliced fish, which wasn't bad. They also served me a complimentary pork broth soup with napa cabbage and carrots to start, which I don't usually get. I think I'll try and strategically expand my vocabulary. I've also thought about bringing a dictionary with me.

            1. Juno, I share your pain as well. Although I'm Chinese, I came to Canada at a very young age and thus cannot read more than 10 Chinese characters. Luckily, I married a Beijing girl that loves food and does all the ordering for me. I end up posting what I can on Chowhound to share with others, but unfortunately I can't do the Chinese character input option (and wife is too busy with 2 kids on our hands). Thanks to Skyline and Bokchoi and others who take the time to type in Chinese for us.

              Learning to read a few simple Chinese characters in hopes of ordering those star dishes can be hit 'n miss too, since a lot of those specialty dishes might be hand written script that's hanging off a piece of brightly colored paper on one of the 4 walls (my wife usually walks around the resto reading all the dishes whenever you venture into a new joint). There are also times when a dish is simply not on the any menu, and yet when you ask for something they might be able to cook it for you.

              Thus, I think your one and only true solution is your final listed option.. make friends w/ Charles Yu. :) (or at least have a Chowmeet up with him).

              6 Replies
              1. re: Royaljelly

                Yes, Royaljelly, skylineR33, Juno....et al. Why don't we 'Chinese food lovers' have a chowmeet?! Feel free to e-mail me for suggestions! I helped to arrange for a Chinese food Chowmeet in Hong Kong earlier on this year. It was most interesting and fun.

                1. re: Royaljelly

                  Hello Royaljelly. I just tried contacting you on your e-mail but was unsuccessful. Can you e-mail me with your up-dated e-mail address?

                  1. re: Charles Yu

                    any word on when and where the dinner might take place?

                  2. re: Royaljelly

                    Yellow banana is what I get called, or CBC. I hate going to a Chinese restaurant unless I'm with friends or relatives who can read Chinese. My husband and I suffer when we go, knowing the good dishes are written in Chinese and/or posted on the walls. It's a real dilemma. My husband can speak Cantonese, but can't read, I can't read and only speak "very" limited words or phrases. If we do find a place we like, I tend to learn and remember the dishes. My very limited Cantonese can get me into trouble at times. I recall a long time ago, I asked for a fork and got extra tea. Fork, tea and an Indian person sound a bit similar, but when spoken in a certain tone, can mean any of the above 3. I get by with remembering my favorite foods at dim sum, so I'm not that useless ...LOL

                    1. re: red dragon

                      I guess people who has limited knowledge in speaking English can also get into trouble too when requesting a fork but mis-pronouns the word "Fork" with another F word.

                      1. re: skylineR33

                        LOL, I've heard that myself.

                        Once, a relative went to TIm Horton's and asked for an apple frigger!!

                  3. Charles Yu: Hands up! Hands up!! :) I thought I'd have to wait until my mom comes to visit - not going to be anytime soon - before I am able to order food from Chinese menu!! I still consider myself new in Chowhound, just been living in TO for a year. Just has been testing out my way in such diversed dining scene in TO, in comparison to *clearing throat* Kentucky, where I lived for 15 years.

                    Missmu: That's very brave on your part!! :) I thought about similar method too, like to find out simple characters and just do 'point and surprise me'. I did once, thinking I sort of know what it means, and we got something completely different!! I couldn't even remember what that was, we ended up giggling and laughing our head off and chewing carefully on the dish. Kinda sad, because if put into test, he wouldn't know what to order in Indian restaurant, if the menu is in Hindi!!

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: ceciel

                      I can see, from the response to my Chinese resto dilemma, that the only viable solution is to make friends with Charles Yu, whether Charles wants me as a friend or not.

                      Charles has indicated on this thread that he's game to organize a Chinese resto expedition. So we should take him up on it. Let him pick the venue, the time and place, and the menu. And negotiate with the proprietor a flat price for the dinner, then dividing it by the number of feeders who turn up (tax and tip included, naturally). All we have to do is indicate our interest to him, show up at the appointed time and place - and eat. What a relief not to have to pore over the menu as if it were an archeological find. Charles would introduce each course, letting us know where it is on the English menu or, if it isn't, where it is in Chinese characters on those hand-written scraps of papers festooning the walls of so many Chinese restos. Then, should we deign to return to the joint on our own, we'd know where to point on the walls for the dishes we crave but can't pronounce.

                      Charles will doubtless be aware that many Chinese-food buffs who contribute to this board are price-sensitive, meaning they probably have mortgages (though mine is paid off), and he will conduct himself accordingly in the choice of venue. He will also be aware which of the restos allow guests to bring their own wine (though I personally don't care for wine with Chinese food, preferring good old tea, there are others who doubtless like a sip of red or white, and most Chinese restos charge no corkage whatever). The reason Charles should select the menu himself, rather than conduct a poll to find out who likes what (always a messy business), is that Charles seems to know his stuff and his choices may introduce us to new taste sensations, some of which may be quite enjoyable. I may even be game for roasted pigeon, which Charles seems to have a taste for.

                      At the end of the evening, we would stride from the appointed place for the street or (more likely) the plaza parking lot. with a lilt in our step and a melody in our hearts, convinced that all's right with the world now that we have an inkling of how and what to order in at least one Chinese resto.

                      Sometime in September, I suggest. A week night would be preferable for many, I think. And to make sure Charles' time and effort doesn't go for naught, indications of interest from at least a dozen hounds, on the assumption that two will have to fink out for one reason or another, leaving a nice round 10 stout-hearted noshers. More than that would certainly be welcome - it might improve Charles' negotiating power with the resto's ownership.

                      Let me be the first to say "I'm in!" With Charles, that makes two. Charles has suggested on this thread that we get in touch with him, so - though I've yet to search for it - I assume his e-mail address is readily available on his profile.

                      Who else? (Bring cash.)

                      1. re: juno

                        This sounds horrible to me. People should get involved/ ask questions in the ordering process and learn how to order what they want so they can use it in the future.

                        1. re: szw

                          Well, to each his own. When I'm in the presence of a pro, I don't mind the pro taking the lead, so that I can learn a thing or two from him. I'm sure Charles will consult with the assembled, noting food allergies, menu balance, strong likes and dislikes and such, and that normal dinner conversation will produce answers to questions you've always wanted to ask about Chinese cuisine. The important thing is: we need a point man on this thing and Charles has graciously volunteered (a decision he may live to regret, given chowhounders' frequently-clashing opinions on all thing culinary). It'll be a fun night. I'm kinda looking forward to finding out what a pigeon tastes like, should he order it (so long as it's not one of those cute little pigeons that gather occasionally outside my back door).

                          1. re: juno

                            If we are to hold our Chowmeet at an authentic Chinese restaurant like Scarborough's Fantasy Eatery, then, I would prefer ordering our meal on the day of the event, when all the participants are present. ( During our Hong Kong chowmeet, the final menu was decided upon after the menu content and several signature dishes were reviewed by me to the group in the restaurant ) This way, I could solicit likes and dislikes from the individuals all at once as well as finding out what 'specials of the day' are available. It will also help to eliminate a lot of time consuming back and forth e-mailing with individuals. ( with such a diversified and varied menu that contains dishes involving exotic delicasies such as apex of pigs stomach, duck's tongue, goose web and sea cucumbers...etc, it will take me hours on the internet to find out from all the participants what is considered paletable for them ).
                            BTW, they do have pigeons/squab on their menu. FYI, they tasted better than chicken! Also, for those of you who havn't been, prices at Fantasy Eatery are very reasonable.
                            Lastly, my e-mail is available on my CH profile page

                            1. re: Charles Yu

                              Fantasy has been a standby favourite of mine for years. I, however, have not tried some of their more higher-end offerings, such as the sea cucumber. Charles Yu, is their sea cucumber done well? I find the texture of a number of the restos in TO to be lacking compared to similar ones I have had in HK (i.e. too rubbery).

                              I am also fine with the level of sanitation of Fantasy, though I am not sure how many CHers will be willing to venture to a resto without a washroom within its vacinity, let alone the nightmare stalls that everyone tends to fear with respect to Chinese restaurants!

                              Also, ensure you make a reservation far in advance as it is almost impossible to get a table for a large party there otherwise (just a word of caution for those germaphobes). Personally, I am fine with the cleanliness, I just do not want any shocked CHers, 'tis all.

                              Cheers and Happy Eating!

                    2. I know I am going to sound like a total pain, but my wife is due to pop out our first baby any minute now so a Charles Yu chowmeet is sadly impossible for me for the near future. However, if any of the Cantonese and/or Mandarin speaking/writing folks out there have a few minutes to spare, I would love to get some "signature dishes" perhaps only available as non-English specials from the places we talk about, like Fantasy, Maple Yip, O-Mei, Szechuan Legend, etc., written out for all of us so we can print and take to show waiters.

                      I know that skylineR33 does this sometimes, and I have searched his posts looking for Chinese characters to print and bring to places. But this thread seems like a great chance to create a valuable resource bank that people can consult in the future!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: childofthestorm

                        out of the restaurants you listed, I think the "signature dish" of the lot is O Mei's Buddha Jumps Over the Wall (佛跳牆). It's a soup filled w/ expensive ingredients like abalone, shark's fin, etc. There is a corresponding price to match.

                        Another funny thing about O Mei is that they have one of the worst English vs Chinese menu problems out there. You really are not eating at the same restaurant if you only order from the English menu there.

                        1. re: aser

                          aser, what are some of the best menu items on the Chinese menu? Planning to head there sometime, but not sure what to try (reasonably priced please - abalone does not really do anything for me at that price).


                          1. re: aser

                            O Mei's Buddha Jumps Over the Wall is a cheapy version with only $19.99 per urn, does not mean it is not good, it is good if you like strong herb taste. You can hardly find any shark fin in it, but it comes with a small abalone. I like it.

                        2. Any places to recommend for the MSG intolerant?

                          33 Replies
                          1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                            Best of luck.

                            With respect to many 'good value' and authentic Chinese restos around town, you are, more often than not, going to be struck with a nasty case of MSG-hangover. I have a pretty severe reaction to it as well. I find that though Fantasy contains MSG, it is not amongst the worst in the city.

                            You would fare better with sticking to higher end restaurants, such as Lai Wah Heen and Grand. Though I find they may contain a touch of it at times (I cannot say if they have been barred of it completely), whatever amount they use is minimal and any adverse reaction is nominal. Restaurants that utilize fresher ingredients tend to get by without this additive.

                            1. re: BokChoi

                              Anyway you want to do it, Charles, is all right with me. Any dish (sea cucumber, pigeon, whatever) .Any joint you select. Any level of MSG. Any washroom cleanliness quotient. Any price level. I'm an indiscriminate eater, especially in Chinese restos. I'll just sit back and take whatever arrives at the table. Maybe I'll finally discover what sea cucumber looks like. I look forward to the festivities to come.

                              1. re: juno

                                That's a good attitude, Juno. Chinese food can be quite the adventure for some. However, I will eat just about anything that comes across my plate.

                                You may want to look up a photo of a sea cucumber before you head off to dinner, just to prepare yourself mentally. I never had a problem with it, but its appearance is, let's just say, unconventional.

                                btw, excellent choice on restaurant, Charles Yu. I also feel it is the best restaurant to introduce many different authentic items, as well, the prices are exceptional there. Waitstaff are also quite proficient in English (for return visits). However, I would like to get my hands on their most recent interior decorator and give them a piece of my mind. Their old walls, though drab as they were, were brilliant compared to the atrocious decor that has replaced them.


                                1. re: BokChoi

                                  I'm afraid to look at a sea cucumber in advance. Besides, if I know what it looks like in advance, that would rob me of the delightful anticipation of confronting it should it come to the table. But if it DOES come to the table, I will eat it, no matter how scary in appearance. I won't allow a sea cucumber to push me around. See you at dinner.

                                  1. re: juno

                                    Point taken. Good for you, juno. If only more people would be as adventurous as you, we would have a more eclectic dining scene in Toronto! No more sweet-and-sour chicken balls...

                                    1. re: juno

                                      juno, do report back.
                                      Hope you are as enthusiastic.
                                      Sea Cucumber is an acquired taste, as well as texture.

                                      1. re: erly

                                        The taste and texture of Sea Cucumber depends a lots of how good it is prepared and the type of it as well as the size as there are quite a few types.

                                        After trying sea cucumber, next level is the sea cucumber ovaries, bachikco, which has a very heavy taste of seafood freshness and consider as a delicacy in Japan.

                                        1. re: skylineR33

                                          A sea cucumber has OVARIES? And they're EDIBLE? Who knew? This is like suddenly learning that a salad vegetable has reproductive organs that can be happily ingested. Now I'm REALLY scared. I may spend the dinner hiding under the table, to crawl back up into my seat only when the sweet-and-sour chicken balls are served.

                                          1. re: juno

                                            Don't be scared Juno. If you have ever eaten Uni you've had ovaries/gonads/testicles- so it is the same deal. btw, you know that sea cucumbers aren't a vegetable right? Just checking, because you started to talk about salads....
                                            Luckily, I don't think that Fantasy serves up the ever popular deer testicle soup that instils virility (in men)!

                                          2. re: skylineR33

                                            What about "osmanthus flower clam" - 桂花蚌, which is not a clam but the intestines of the sea cucumber.

                                          1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                            I think poor juno should take it one step at a time. She'll be in for quite a shock during the dinner WRT geoduck and the sea cucumber alone if they are ordered. Luckily geoduck usually comes sliced thinly so she can avoid its natural appearance.

                                            1. re: BokChoi

                                              Not all the sea cucumber are ugly, there are some kinds like the "Po" or "white stone" sea cucmber which has no spike and yellowish in colour, like a french bread. Some are even cut in thick slice when served.

                                              1. re: skylineR33

                                                I have seen those and actually those are the ones I have eaten - not the brown ones - and still find them not the most appealing looking creatures to have inhabited the earth. But then again, if you have not ever seen a crab or lobster before - those can cause your stomach to churn a bit as well...I guess that's why vegetarians stick to vegetables.

                                                1. re: BokChoi

                                                  Vegetarian sticks to vegetable not because they are scared by the creature, because they don't want to eat meat. I never know a vegetarian who is scared by a cow.

                                                      1. re: skylineR33

                                                        ahh... you got me with that zinger.

                                                        Peace to all vegetarians out there. We mean no offense. We love you all.

                                                        1. re: BokChoi

                                                          I'm terrified of spiders, but I've eaten them before.

                                                2. re: skylineR33

                                                  I don't think sea cucumbers look that bad when they are cooked/prepared. Yeah at marine world they look pretty weird but its nothing like what you get on your plate. I had sea cucumber for the first time at a wedding banquet (my family is chinese) last month and it was great, but even half my family (i'm the youngest) wouldn't eat them I found it didn't really have any flavor itself and the texture was like eating tendon, which I love.

                                                  1. re: szw

                                                    same goes for a lot fo chinese delicasies, shark fin, swallow's nest, etc. The cooking focuses on the sauce that goes with these ingredients. For the highend ingredients, you are really just enjoying the texture only

                                                    1. re: szw

                                                      Are you sure you weren't eating tendon? :) When I was in Taiwan a few years back, my family was treated to several banquets and a common dish was sea cucumber with beef tendon.

                                                  2. re: BokChoi

                                                    well, if you're adventurous in food you may very well be more adventurous in other aspects of your life and therefore more comfortable with phallic eats.

                                                    1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                      Some of the best eats are phallic, though I've never considered a sausage to be "adventurous."

                                                      1. re: tjr

                                                        i don't disagree but seeing a geoduck or sea cucumber in person really pushes the limits of mental associations with male members or just really bizarre looking sea creatures.

                                                      2. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                        I'm pretty much game for anything. I just didn't want juno to be too scared about what might end up on her plate that night. Everything in Fantasy is pretty tame IMO is what I was trying to convey.

                                                        1. re: BokChoi

                                                          The wait time won't be too tame there.

                                                          1. re: skylineR33

                                                            That's true, especially depending on how many CHers plan on showing. Hope Charles_Yu can make a reservation early enough in advance. Note, they don't hold a table - you only get seated once every member of the party has arrived.

                                                          2. re: BokChoi

                                                            but i think that's the problem here... short of finding out what allergies there are or major issues with flavour or texture.... we shouldn't even bother discussing any of this! we're more than likely creating an apprehension about the impending meal that isn't necessary. many many people have eaten and liked things they couldn't identify and then only balk at the idea of it afterwards when told exactly what it is.

                                                            we should just let the meal be what it is and stop with the fear mongering of exotic animals. if i was told that the dimsum i enjoyed so much at age 8 was pig's blood, i may not have eaten it. however calling it "beef jello" after trying it on my own didn't phase me at all.

                                                            1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                              True enough. I will refrain from mentioning anymore 'delicacies'. Juno hasn't actually been responding much lately... I hope we have not scared her off...
                                                              We will now employ the "don't ask, don't tell" policy (j/k).

                                                              1. re: BokChoi

                                                                I haven't been responding much because I'm just enjoying the wildly entertaining to and fro on this thread about what intriguing delicacies can turn up during a Chinese dinner. I'm also intrigued to learn that even Orientals have some difficulty navigating a Chinese menu. Sea cucumbers and geoducks be damned, I will be at that Charles Yu-organized dinner in September. Though I must admit that, up until some years ago, I thought a geoduck was some sort of fowl and a sea cucumber was a vegetable that preferred growing up in salt water rather than boring old dry land. Imagine my surprise when I first stared at a geoduck in the fresh fish department of a Chinese supermarket. I think the geoduck stuck its tongue out at me. Or was that its sexual organs?

                                                    2. re: juno

                                                      Sea cucumbers are really not all that grotesque.

                                                    3. re: BokChoi

                                                      For me Fantasy Eatery always equates to late night eats, I've never been there earlier than 11pm I think. There's always some re-run tvb sitcom playing in the background. Nothing more satisfying than chowing down on crabs and some beer.

                                                      The one ingredient that cracks up the white folk the most when I tell them is hasma (雪蛤). That lovely mango sago pearl you just had might have had some dried frog fallopian tubes in it.

                                              2. I find learning the dishes in Cantonese helps a bit more than having characters typed out. Being able to navigate the menu and communicate to them in their native tongue goes a long way. Especially for Caucasians. Chinese, for whatever reason, are overly impressed when non-Chinese are able to speak their language.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: goodcookiedrift

                                                  I'm in too. I've had the same issues at Chinese restaurants. Looking forward to getting the details.

                                                2. Perhaps we can create a thread listing restaurant and suggested menu items in English and Cantonese/Madarin. This way we can print it out and hand it to the server?

                                                  Is Luk Yue the same as Maple Yip? I went to Maple Yip on Saturday. I was actually looking for Luk Yue but saw Maple Yip and remembered it was also a CH recommendation. I got lost in the english menu, I couldn't find any of the recommendations from this board.

                                                  9 Replies
                                                  1. re: Apprentice

                                                    I'm pretty sure Luk Yue and Maple Yip are one and the same place because, if I recall, in his original review of the place on this board, the reviewer - I'm confident it was the omnipresent Charles Yu - mentioned that it had two names. However, unlike you, I found Maple Yip to be one of the few places up that way where I could find most of Charles' recommended dishes on the English menu. Not ALL the dishes he listed, mind you, but most of them - a refreshing change. I've since been back many times and find, though spoken English is at a premium at Maple Yip, you can ask for May (who always seems to be there) and, though her English isn't flawless, she knows enough to guide you. Maybe that's part of why I like the place, though it helps that the Cantonese cooking is very good, straightforward dishes with clear, fresh, intense tastes. Especially good with fish and seafood. The rest of the staff are helpful as well, and nearby diners who speak English always seem game to explain a dish on their table. An insanely popular place, possibly because the price is right, too. Maple Yip is a prime example of my theory that Chinese restos are the last great places in Toronto where a couple (or two, or three) can have an eminently delicious and satisfying feed for a very modest outlay.

                                                    1. re: juno

                                                      Seriously? I didn't find any of Charle's recomendations - shrimp w/ maggi sauce, lobster noodle casserole, shan-tin squab...

                                                      I will say this - their portion sizes are HUGE!!!!

                                                      1. re: Apprentice

                                                        Live spotted shrimp w/maggi sauce is very seasonal. However, lobster noodle casserole and the roast squab should be their stapled items. However, for weekends, its better to call and reserve ahead. Enjoy!

                                                        1. re: Charles Yu

                                                          I am in Hong Kong right now and just saw some great translations. (As a Thai reader, those menus are easy. It's just "this fried with that" etc.) But Chinese names are incredible. I just had to copy these down from a little restaurant in Causeway Bay.
                                                          Not many clues into what you're ordering:

                                                          - Kale Fries the Wax Taste
                                                          - Raise the Continent to Fry MiFun
                                                          - The Balsam Pear Meat Fries the Egg High
                                                          - The Spiced Salt Shrimp is Mediocre
                                                          - Rumble Spareribs
                                                          - The Salad the Pig Digs Up
                                                          - The Garlic Deer Velvet Fries the Cabbage Whelp
                                                          - The Sly Person Fries the Beef (I tried this - runny eggs and beef over rice)

                                                          1. re: koknia

                                                            I think someone has a warped sense of humour, because if some of these are translated back to Chinese, it's the right sounds but not the right words, so it's not even a case of mis-translation. (Unless both his Chinese and English are bad!)

                                                            wax taste 蠟味 - should be wind-dried meat 臘味, including sausage, dried bacon and dried duck
                                                            Raise the Continent 升洲 - should be Singapore 星洲 (so it's Singapore noodles)
                                                            Egg high 蛋高- could be cake 蛋糕
                                                            Shrimp is Mediocre - medium sized shrimp

                                                            no idea about the rest, though Cabbage Whelp probably means young bok choi or similar.

                                                            1. re: Teep

                                                              Interesting, thanks.
                                                              I don't think it was a sense of humour as it was just a little back alley place in Causeway Bay that didn't look to get many gweilo at all. It was a huge menu where they had done this exercise for every dish.
                                                              Now I know a couple of things to order!

                                                            2. re: koknia

                                                              These dish translations sounds so dynamic, like something from a Tai Chi instruction manual. :)

                                                              1. re: Royaljelly

                                                                ...Hmm, I suppose while the chefs are "raising the continent to fry mifun", they can also reach down and grab the "needle at the bottom of the sea"... :)

                                                                Anyway, I can't remember exactly where, but I've seen this type of "translation" before, where the sounds match but not the words, as Teep stated, resulting in the (sometimes) horrific or (always) befuddling names above.

                                                                Actually, for "bananas" (Chinese on the outside, western on the inside) like my brother and I growing up, this is exactly the kind of thing we would make up and say to make each other howl with laughter!

                                                                Who knows, maybe it was an inept non-native Chinese speaker who was haphazardly "commissioned" to translate their menu. Or sometimes cheap computer translation software can accomplish the same.

                                                                1. re: homebaker

                                                                  I have a slightly different problem. I'm white, and my wife is Chinese, but she speaks Fukien, not Cantonese. She knows a bit of Cantonese and a bit of Mandarin, but not much. As for reading Chinese, after living in Toronto for almost 30 years, she told me that she doesn't really read Chinese very well any more.

                                                                  And, as some posters have pointed out, the names of many dishes are more poetic than descriptive. Remember that great scene from "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman" where the sous-chef was in a tizzy because the "Buddha Sleeps Under The Tree" (or whatever; I can't remember the exact names) was messed up. He approaches the master chef and asks what to do. The master chef gives him some simple instructions and tells the sous-chef to call the dish "Emperor Jumps Over the Wall" (or whatever). The sous-chef asks if the guests will know what's been done; the old master shrugs and says "It doesn't matter; they couldn't tell the difference anyway."

                                                                  But sometimes Pat (my wife) feels we get less than perfect service from some servers because she's obviously Chinese but not Cantonese. More than once I've had to go up to the manager and tell him tables that were seated after us were eating, and we still had no food at all.

                                                                  And of course, like all white people, I constantly suspect some places of offering the same dish at a cheaper price on the Chinese menu than it is on the English menu. My wife just laughs at me.

                                                    2. A variation on this problem is where a restaurant has a separate menu altogether in Chinese that comes with different prices even.

                                                      At E-Pan recently for a family meal I was ready to order off the regular menu when someone pointed out the 'other' menu indicating a selection of items avaialable at X number of dishes for $Y. It required my mom to read and order, and most dishes were what we customarily have when eating out with a couple of exceptions, Everything was good -- all the positive reports here are accurate -- but ordering off the Chinese menu saved quite a bit of money.

                                                      The next time I go, without the family, ordering will definitely be more of a challenge.

                                                      5 Replies
                                                      1. re: neighborguy

                                                        I'd be very, very surprised if Chinese restos made a habit of offering Chinese and English menu items at differing prices, with the English prices being higher. Given the number of Chinese and English-speaking friends who dine together, such an outrageous ploy would be easy to discover, the word would get out, and the offending resto would quickly lose lots of potential customers. Only a fool of a resto owner would try it. I was certainly unaware of such a scam whenever I ate out regularly with a Chinese friend some years ago. And he would have mentioned it for sure if he'd spotted it, as he always browsed through both the Chinese menu and its English version (occasionally chuckling at the hilarious English translations).

                                                        Incidentally, last night at Sun Star on Finch Ave. W., I THINK I stumbled upon one of the dishes Charles Yu had said he enjoyed when he went there, but which I couldn't find on the English menu when I went there the first time. The dish, according to Charles, was sand and salt chicken. Sand and salt chicken? Not on the English menu, or even something close to it. But last night I thought I'd try the fried chicken. Delicious. And it came to the table with a small condiment dish of salt on one side and a sand-colored soy sauce on the other. This dish, I suspect, is the mysterious sand and salt chicken (in Chinese), and simple fried chicken in English. The chicken was so tasty, it didn't need an application of sand or salt to enhance it. Next time there, I'll see if I can dope out the couple of other dishes Charles said he enjoyed. If I go to Sun Star enough times, I should be able to find them eventually.

                                                        Good service. The place was packed with serious eaters, overwhelmingly Asians who seemed to know their food. Sun Star is just about on a par, in taste, quality and price, with Maple Yip. Which makes it pretty damn good.

                                                        1. re: juno

                                                          I have the Sun Star take out menu in front of me. It's actually "wind sand chicken" I believe, but on the menu it's # 132 "crispy chicken" (half) $8.95. I'll upload the menu for you guys to the Sun Star link later on after the kids are asleep. To put us out of our misery, perhaps Charles can tell us all by item # which dishes he liked. :)

                                                          1. re: juno

                                                            While I've not seen the same item offered at different prices (though anything is a possibility), I think what neighborguy was saying the same thing that many others are saying: there is often a menu not written in English, often with excellent prices and great dishes, while the English menu includes different dishes, lacks the dishes on the Chinese menu (and those at a great value), or mainly offers Westernized dishes. This, in fact, happens fairly often, especially in areas where the clientele is mostly Chinese.

                                                            1. re: tjr

                                                              The Chinese menu had a list of about 40 dishes to choose from, and the price depended on the number of dishes (2 for $X, 3 for $Y, etc.) One of the plates I know definitely not on the English menu was a delicious stir-fry with lotus root.

                                                              My estimate for what we saved from this alternate menu was about $30 on a dinner for eight.

                                                              1. re: neighborguy

                                                                Ah yes, you are talking about the "combo dinners" that are available at almost all Cantonese restos around the Spadina/Dundas area. This is not considered part of their regular menu, and are targeted towards Chinese customers mainly because certain dishes are rather "home style" and the usual ideas is that non-Chinese would not know about these dishes and would be afraid to try them, e.g. "white and black fungus on young loofah gourd".

                                                                And usually there is an alternative combo dinner menu in English, which consists of items like "egg drop soup" and "general Tso chicken", with different pricing too.

                                                                For Hounds who would like the authentic experience, this is truly a challenge. I actually have a project in mind, to translate all the combo dinners in Chinatown into English. But don't hold your breath, I have too many projects on my hands :-)