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Nov 23, 2008 08:25 AM

Beijing's draft standard for Chinese menu translations into English

In an effort to stamp out confusion and "Chinglish" on Chinese Restaurant menus, the Municipal Government of Beijing has drafted a list of suggested English menu translations. Some background for this list is here:

The official list of nearly 2000 items, categorized, is published on many (mostly Chinese) websites. The most accessible source is here:

I'm working on a spreadsheet version, with Pinyin Romanization included and will post a link when it's completed.

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  1. The list was discussed a bit on the Food Media and News board here.

    which reminds me, I was intending to do a blog post about it.

    Are you finding it helpful? I don't think it would be of much use where I has just a few typical Sichuan dishes, and the cold dishes section has almost nothing that would be served in a 'liang cai' menu section here. I've also had friends come into local restaurants with some menu guide published in Shanghai which was less than useless, so at the moment I am convinced that any Chinese menu tranlsation has to be regionally specific to be of any use and this one is specifically intended for Beijing.

    Anyway, your pinyin version will be a great resource. I usually use a popup translator like pera-kun to read Chinese online but it' s of less value in a restaurant.

    9 Replies
    1. re: pepper_mil

      I hadn't seen that post, wasn't quite sure what to search for. Anyway, my link is to the only version of the list I've seen that's indexed in English.

      I just started working with it. I'm sure it will be useful in building up my recognition of characters and naming patterns if I force myself to study it.. Right now I'm OK at ordering "xiao chi" in Shanghai (to the great amusement of street food vendors) but at a loss with dinner menus.

      Here's a very short Sichuan-specific list. Have you seen it?

      1. re: Xiao Yang

        I wonder how much call there will be for the boiled frog(??)

        1. re: erica

          one heck of a lot if you show that to my pups. They like frog quite well, particularly the youngest.................

          1. re: jenn

            Better not let your pups read this menu translation aid:


            1. re: Xiao Yang

              mmmmmmm, thanks! I will have to print that out for myself!

        2. re: Xiao Yang

          Hadn't seen it, thanks. (Who knew that 'field chicken' means frog?) Seems mainly for Sichuan restaurants outside of Sichuan though- local restaurants don't have the word 'Sichuan' in front of dishes.

          For the proteins, this will steer you to some of the main hits in a Sichuan restaurant though a lot of more basic dishes are omitted. I am impressed that za jiang (scrap sauce) noodles appear in the noodles section (though strangely translated as sichuan brown sauce with minced pork), and the vegetable section includes not only fish fragrant eggplant but fish fragrant eggplant cakes.

          Many of the translations are sketchy or just wrong though - most glaringly, a cold rabbit dish is called 'green broad bean in house special sauce'. Why is silk gourd called sponge? The xiaochi should also get their own category instead of hiding in the desserts or noodles. I mean, dan hong gao is 'house special pancake'?

          Also, the vegetable section is sadly lacking - no dry fried green beans, deep fried corn, Chinese mashed potatoes, corn with peppers, etc.

          1. re: pepper_mil

            I thought that silk gourd is the same thing that in american English is called Loofah which is used as a sponge. Difference is that the English creature is more or less overripe.

            1. re: pepper_mil

              FYI, here's the menu of a Sichuan Restaurant in London that includes PinYin names as well as HanZi and English. I'd love to see that more often.


        3. Why would they do a thing like that? Would the French government ever publish a standardized list of English translation of French dishes? I don't think so. Does the US government publish a list of standard Chinese translation of American dishes? God I hope never.