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May 31, 2009 05:35 AM

restaurant/food translations in Chinese

Does anyone know of a web site or book (preferably one I could get a library) that has some food related translations and maybe even pictures? I will be in Beijing

I would like to have some cards or a piece of paper I can point to if language is a barrier, which I suspect it will be.

of particular interest are phrases to help me avoid dishes with with certain ingredients.
no noodles
no sugar

plus other requests:
types of meats
spicy is good!

Do restaurants in Beijing/other parts of China try and get westerners to order boring Americanized dishes like they do in the US? (lol)


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  1. you have some pretty specific requests there. I doubt there is a phrasebook that translates 'no noodles, please'

    For the items you want to avoid, plug 'will not eat _____' into google translate to get the most understandable translation. But for sugar it will specify white sugar and say nothing about other sweet things like tianmianjiang and honey, both used in a lot of foods you will run into in beijing like the famous roast duck and jing jiang rou si.

    spicy is good - 能吃辣

    types of meats, not sure exactly what you mean but just plug '[animal name] meat' into google translate, or for the variety meats '[animal name] [organ]'. May not get the exact term but close enough for them to understand you.

    and yes, restaurants in China steer foreigners towards bland and dull food, and if you come with requests like 'no msg' they will be even less willing to serve you something outside most westerners' comfort zone.

    4 Replies
    1. re: pepper_mil

      Well if no MSG makes me get bland food, I will suck it up and eat it. Thanks for the tip. I will just bring my migraine meds and loose pants (the bloat, my god, the bloat). I am not going miss international good eats for anything. The pleasures of upper GI system trumps the misery of the lower every time.
      I know some of the google translations can be funky but it should make for some cross cultural laughs. I will bring some important phrases:

      I LOVE duck
      I like spicy
      bring me the most popular dish etc.

      1. re: lyn

        Ah, I see your other post now.

        Hmm, another approach might be to pick out some dishes that will work with your diet and then seek out the best versions while you are there. For instance, if I had a low carb guest coming to Sichuan I would take her for hot pot (several kinds), dou hua (soft tofu with seasonings), drunken beef, steamed pork in lotus leaves, spicy grilled fish, steamed egg custard with meat scrap sauce, etc, etc. All not sweet, all low or no carb.

        And it's fine to ask for no (or less) msg, I do it all the time. I just mean that your food choices are going to seem strange to the servers and through a language barrier it's a little hard to convey: "I'm very picky about these few ingredients, but I am very adventurous and exploring in other areas"

        1. re: pepper_mil

          these dishes sound amazing and I like the translations for spicy and popular dishes. I am not a picky person at all! ie I would rather eat odd sea creatures or unknown innards than pastries. I am open to about anything but want to watch my MSG and starches so I will feel better during my trip. I do want to come off as picky at restaurants, kiss of death (boring food). It sounds like the dishes above might be common so I can find them...I .will work on translations

        2. re: lyn

          In cantonese, if you want to say "bring me the most popular dish", you can say

          "mh goi tone all seh gay may nun sau siu choy"

          In writing, it is "唔該同我寫幾味撚手小菜"

      2. Okay, start reading here:
        In GOOGLE search for and choose "automatically translate this page."
        When you get the map, click on Beijing. The next page will be a selectable list.

        Today, at the top of the page it said:
        Beijing cuisine: a total of 31,031 restaurants
        Which sounds REEEEALLY promising!
        Buy this as soon as you can:
        Have fun!!


        PS-- I have another posting about claiming "food allergies" that you might want to read:

        1. You could say

          不加 (bu jiao) meaning do not add followed by

          味精 (wei jing) MSG
          糖 (tahng)

          I do not eat noodles = 我不吃(wuo bu chir) 麵條 (mien tieo)

          although the Chinese characters are traditional, not shorthand form.

          What we do when we go to greasy hole in the wall types (in the US), we request the kitchen use less oil, less salt/sodium/soy sauce


          少油 (shao yoh)
          少鹽 (shao yen)