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If you’re at a beginner level of Chinese, one of the most intimidating experiences is going out to a local restaurant. You show up to a crowded, noisy place and glance at the menu on the wall. It’s nothing but Chinese characters. The waiter asks you a question, and you have no idea what he just said. Looking around, you notice a few people giggling at you, the helpless lao wai. Before you give up hope and go order McDonald’s for lunch, read on for a list of 7 must-know questions for eating out in China.

Ugh… English menu, please! (Photo by Sasha Savinov)

1. 你们几位?
nǐ men jǐ wèi?
How many of you?

This is the first question you’ll get in any restaurant where you have to get a table and be waited on. It’s easy enough to answer this one. Just say “我们… 位” (wǒ men… wèi) with the number in the middle. For example, “我们三位” (wǒ men sān wèi) means “There are 3 of us.”

2. 你有英文菜单吗?
nǐ yǒu yīng wén cài dān ma
Do you have an English menu?

There’s no shame in asking this question! Sure, you want to learn the Chinese characters (I recommend starting with the 100 most common), but you don’t want to end up ordering chicken feet when you’re super hungry.

Spicy temptation of frog. (Photo by Sasha Savinov)

While you won’t find English menus in hole-in-the-wall joints, many restaurants do have an English menu. Actually, many of them have a Chinglish menu. While not exactly helpful for ordering food, these can at least provide a good laugh!

Chinglish Menu - YouTube

Peruse the Chinglish menu in this funny video.

3. 你有照片菜单吗?
nǐ yǒu zhào piàn cài dān ma?
Do you have a picture menu?

In case the English menu doesn’t exist or is just full of Chinglish – WTF is “chicken without a sex life” anyways? – you can ask this question in hopes that some pictures will help guide you to a nice meal. During my first few months in China when I spoke absolutely no Chinese, I ordered based off pictures alone on multiple occasions. Sure, you get some weird stuff from time to time, but it’s better than just pointing to some random Chinese words you don’t know!

4. 你们有什么特色菜?
nǐ men yǒu shén me tè sè cài
What is your specialty?

When eating out in China, you can always stick to the familiar. All across the country, you can find staple dishes like dumplings (饺子 – jiǎo zi) or kung pao chicken (宫保鸡丁 – gōng bǎo jī dīng). Actually, you can go ahead and print out my list of common Chinese dishes. If you memorize those, you’ll never go hungry!

Local specialties in Yunnan province.

Now don’t get me wrong – I love dumplings. I even wrote a love letter to them. However, every now and then you’ve got to mix it up and try something new. This is my go-to question when I’m in a new restaurant or traveling to a new part of China. Trying the local specialty is a must, and people are usually really excited to tell you about it.

5. 这个有肉吗?
zhè ge yǒu ròu ma?
Does this have meat?

Being a vegetarian (素食主义者 – sù shí zhǔ yì zhě) in China can be tricky. This is definitely a country that loves to eat meat. Sometimes, there’s even meat hiding in a dish that you would otherwise think is vegetarian…

Mmmm.. Mapo tofu.

Take Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐 – má pó dòu fu), for example. This dish would be fine for vegetarians, but it’s often cooked with minced pork. To make sure it’s clear, you can tell your waiter “I don’t eat meat.” (我不吃肉 – wǒ bù chī ròu). I also put together a post on being a vegetarian in China that will help you decide what to order.

6. 你可以给我推荐一个吗?
nǐ kě yǐ gěi wǒ tuī jiàn yī gè ma
Can you recommend something?

For those times when you have no idea what you want to eat and you can’t understand the menu, this is a great question to put out there to your waiter. After all, the people working in the restaurant usually know the menu quite well! I always like to ask this when I’m trying a new place and see what they recommend.

7. 你可以吃辣的吗?
nǐ kě yǐ chī là de ma
Can you eat spicy (food?)

If you ask for a recommendation, don’t be surprised if they respond with this question. After all, Chinese food can be quite spicy, and us lao wai folk aren’t exactly known for our abilities to handle the heat! You can answer one of two ways: “Yes, I can” (可以 – kě yǐ) or “No, I can’t” (不可以 – bù kě yǐ).

The numb and spicy Sichuan hot pot.

If you’re not used to the spiciness of Chinese food, I recommend easing yourself into it. Order up a classic dish of scrambled eggs and tomatoes and just put some chili sauce (辣椒酱 – là jiāo jiàng) on it. Before you know it, you’ll be scarfing down Sichuan hot pot like a champ!

You may be surprised at just how far those 7 questions will get you when eating out in China! Of course, you’ll still want to keep studying Chinese, learning more characters, and improving your fluency, but these questions will at least help ease some of the fear of walking into that local restaurant for the first time.

Learn some more restaurant Chinese and see what’s cooking across the country in this short video I like to call “Scenes From a Chinese Restaurant:”

Scenes From a Chinese Restaurant - YouTube

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We’ve been all over China in the last few months, sampling some of the many delicious flavors that are unique to Chinese cuisine. From the imperial bird that is Beijing roast duck, (北京烤鸭 – běi jīng kǎo yā), to the numbing sensation induced by the Sichuan peppercorns (四川胡椒 – sì chuān hú jiāo), to the world famous Cantonese snacks known as dim sum (点心 – diǎn xīn), we’ve already covered north, west, and south Chinese cuisine. Of course, that means we still must head east! In this post, we’ll take a closer look at Eastern Chinese cuisine.

In the east of China, we’ll find some of the country’s best cuisine in the provinces of Anhui, Fujian, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang, as well as the bustling metropolis that is Shanghai. Although the food from this region may not be as famous as the cuisine from other parts of the country, four of them make the cut in the Eight Great Culinary Traditions of China (中国的八大菜系 – zhōng guó de bā dà cài xì), so they must be doing something right! In case you were wondering which styles make up the list of eight, here they are:

  • Hui (徽菜 – huī cài) – Anhui
  • Yue (粤菜 – yuè cài) – Cantonese/Guangdong
  • Min (闽菜 – mǐn cài) – Fujian
  • Xiang (湘菜 – xiāng cài) – Hunan
  • Su (苏菜 – sū cài) – Jiangsu
  • Lu (鲁菜 – lǔ cài) – Shandong
  • Chuan (川菜 – chuān cài) – Sichuan
  • Zhe (浙菜 – zhè cài) – Zhejiang

One famous quote about Chinese cuisine, which gives you a basic look at the different styles, goes, “South is sweet, North is salty, East is spicy, and West is sour” (南甜, 北咸, 东辣, 西酸 – nán tián, běi xián, dōng là, xī suān). It’s a bit more complex than that, but it’s a fun little line to remember. Now let’s find out what’s cooking over in the east as we check out some common dishes in Eastern Chinese cuisine.

Anhui Cuisine (徽菜 – huī cài)

Lunch – Anhui style.
Photo by David Leo Veksler from flickr.com.
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The style of Anhui cuisine comes from the Yellow Mountain (黄山 – huáng shān) region, and it’s known for its use of wild herbs and spices, as well as simple preparation methods. Chefs in Anhui pay close attention to the temperature of dishes. As such, unlike most other areas of China, frying and stir-frying are not very common cooking techniques here; rather, stewing and braising are more popular. Some common ingredients that are found in the mountainous region include bamboo shoots and a type of mushroom known as xiang gu (香菇 – xiāng gū). Here are a few of Anhui’s finest dishes:

Li Hongzhang Hodge-Podge (李鸿章杂烩 – li hóng zhāng zá huì)

Li Hongzhang was a top official during the late Qing Dynasty. As the story goes, Li was on a trip to the US once and was hosting a banquet for American friends. The chefs, however, were worried that they would run out of food. Li insisted that they dump the remaining ingredients in the kitchen into the pot to make a giant stew, and they obliged. Of course, many different ingredients can be used, but a few common ones include: squid, bamboo, bean curd, sea cucumber, ham, and assorted vegetables.

Steamed Stone Frog (清蒸石蛙 – qīng zhēng shí wā)

This type of frog can be found in caves near the Yellow Mountain, and it is rich in both protein and calcium. Apparently, “it has medical effects of nourishing Yin and treating lung deficiency.”

Wushan Imperial Goose (吴山贡鹅 – wú shān gòng é)

We all know about the Beijing roast duck, but that wasn’t the only imperial bird landing on dinner plates of emperors. This one dates way back to the Tang Dynasty, is light in color, and is both fragrant and salty.

Fujian Cuisine (福建菜 – fú jiàn cài)

A bustling night market in Xiamen, Fujian.

Also known simply as Min Cuisine (闽菜 – mǐn cài), this style of Chinese cuisine is known for its seafood, soups, stews, and visual presentation of its dishes. The food is known to be flavorful, light, and tender, with emphasis on the umami taste (鲜味 – xiān wèi). Braising, stewing, steaming, and boiling are all common cooking techniques in this region. The use of broths and soups is very important as well, and there’s even a saying that goes, “it’s unacceptable for a meal not to have soup” (不湯不行 – bù tāng bù xíng). Here are a few dishes you’ll find in this area:

Buddha Jumps Over the Wall (佛跳墙 – fú tiào qiáng)

This complex dish contains over 30 ingredients, including: sharks’s fin, abalone, dried scallops, mushrooms, and pigeon eggs. According to legend, a monk once breathed in the fantastic aroma of this dish and at once forgot his vegetarian vows; thus, he leaped over the wall to get a taste, and the fancy name for this dish was born.

How To Make The Classic Buddha Jumps Over The Wall - YouTube

Snails Cooked with Wine Lees (淡糟香螺片 – dàn zāo xiāng luó piàn)

As is common with a lot of Fujian dishes, wine lees that results from the production of rice wine is used to cook this one. This province is famous for its “drunken” dishes that are cooked with the actual rice wine or the wine lees. This brings us to…

Drunken Pork Ribs (醉排骨 – zuì pái gǔ)

These ribs are hammered, and absolutely delicious. For best results, marinade the ribs in a mixture or wine, garlic, salt, lemon juice, and chili for at least a day.

Jiangsu Cuisine (江苏菜 – jiāng sū cài)

The cuisine in this region is known to be soft, but not to the point of being mushy. Ingredients are selected according to the season, and great attention is paid to matching the color and flavor of each dish. As with other regions, the cuisine here can be broken up into several sub-categories, the most notable of which is Huaiyang cuisine (淮扬菜 – huái yáng cài). It’s actually considered one of the Four Great Culinary Traditions (四大菜系 – sì dà cài xì), along with Cantonese, Sichuan, and Shandong cuisine.

As far as cooking techniques go, stewing, braising, roasting, and simmering are all popular. The dishes are typically light, fresh, and sweet. Here are a few that you might encounter:

Squirrel Mandarin Fish (松鼠鳜鱼 – sōng shǔ guì yú)

This is one of my personal favorite Chinese dishes, although it threw me off a bit the first time I saw it. As legend has is, Emperor Qianlong was in a restaurant when he saw a tasty looking fish on an altar. He ordered it be cooked for him at once, but as the fish was meant for a sacrifice to the Gods and ancestors, the restaurant owner was unsure of what to do.

Does it look like a squirrel?

He decided to cook the fish in the shape of a squirrel instead, so he could feed the hungry Emperor and not upset the Gods. This dish has been popular ever since, and can be found all over China.

Yangzhou Fried Rice (扬州炒饭 – yáng zhōu chǎo fàn)

Much better than your standard and plain bowl of white rice, this dish incorporates tofu, ham, peas, and other ingredients to make it a perfect side dish for your meal. A good recipe can be found here.

Braised Lion’s Head (红烧狮子头 – hóng shāo shī zi tóu)

One of the best Chinglish names out there for any dish, this one is actually made of pork meatballs and not lion’s heads. The meatballs are stewed with vegetables, and can be cooked in either a white (plain) or red (with soy sauce) style.

Zhejiang Cuisine (浙江菜 – zhè jiāng cài)

Food from this area is known to have a fresh and soft flavor. There are three main styles of Zhejiang cuisine, each deriving from a different city in the province: Hangzhou, Ningbo, and Shaoxing. The Hangzhou style makes liberal use of bamboo shoots, the Ningo style is known to be salty, and the Shaoxing style specializes in poultry and freshwater fish. Some famous dishes from this region follow:

Dongpo Pork (东坡肉 – dōng pō ròu)

Dong Po Pork
Image by Alpha from flickr.com.
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This Hangzhou dish is famous all throughout China, and it consists of fried pork belly stewed in soy sauce and wine.

Beggars’ Chicken (叫花鸡 – jiào huā jī)

As with many Chinese dishes, this one comes with an interesting story. I’ve found a few different versions online, but I liked this one:

“Long long ago, there was a beggar. One day he stole a chicken and was pursued by the owner. When he was almost caught and no place to hide, he suddenly hit upon a good idea. He smeared the chicken all over with clay and threw it into the fire. After a long while the beggar removed the mud-coated chicken from the fire. When he cracked open the clay he found, to his astonishment, that the clay together with the feathers had formed a hard shell in which the chicken had been baked into a delicious dish with wonderful flavor. That night he had a very enjoyable meal. Hence the name of the dish.”

Source – http://www.3us.com/thread-8442-1-1.html

Beggar's Chicken: A Legendary Dish From Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake - YouTube

West Lake Fish in Vinegar Gravy (西湖醋鱼 – xī hú cù yú)

Named after the scenic West Lake in Hangzhou, this dish is prepared by first keeping a live grass carp alive in clear water for one to two days to rinse it well and get rid of the smell. It’s then cooked in a tasty marinade composed of rice wine, ginger, soy sauce, sugar, and of course, vinegar.

That concludes our tour of the different regional cuisines of China. Now that we’ve gone south, west, north, and east, I’m curious to know…

nǐ zuì xǐ huān shén me zhōng guó cài
What Chinese food is your favorite? 为什么?
wèi shén me

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Image via Pixabay

Adjectives (形容词 xíng róng cí) play an important role in any language.

Adjectives are used to describe the noun and they are tremendously useful in daily spoken language. In this post we will focus on five must-know adjectives to describe (mostly but, of course, not only) people. These five traits and their antonyms will help you describe different personalities (个性 gè xìng) in Chinese.

聪明 Cōng míng

Meaning: intelligent, bright, clever, smart

For example:

  • 这个孩子真聪明,三岁就能背诵古诗。

Zhè ge hái zi zhēn cōng míng, sān suì jiù néng bèi sòng gǔ shī.

This child is very smart, only three years old and already recites old poems.

Antonyms: 笨bèn, 愚蠢yúchǔn.

For example:

  • 我哥哥很聪明, 但是我弟弟非常愚蠢。

Wǒ gē gē hěn cōng míng, dàn shì wǒ dì dì fēi cháng yú chǔn.

My old brother is very intelligent, but my young brother is so stupid.

善良 Shàn liáng

Meaning: kind-hearted

For example:

  • 他是一个善良的人,经常接济一些穷苦的人。

Tā shì yī gè shàn liáng de rén, jīng cháng jiē jǐ yī xiē qióng kǔ de rén.

He’s a kind person, often gives financial help to poor people.

Antonyms: 恶毒 (è dú), 狠毒 (hěn dú).

For example:

  • 我妹妹心地善良, 我哥哥却是一个恶毒的男人。

Wǒ mèi mei xīn dì shàn liáng, wǒ gē gē què shì yī gè è dú de nán rén.

My sister is a kind-hearted, my brother, on the other hand, is such a wicked person.

慷慨 Kāng kǎi

Meaning: generous, liberal

For example:

  • 他对他的朋友很慷慨, 乐意和朋友分享任何东西。

Tā duì tā de péng yǒu hěn kāng kǎi, lè yì hé péng yǒu fēn xiǎng rèn hé dōngxī.

He is very generous to his friends, willing to share everything with them.

Antonyms: 小气xiǎoqì, 吝啬lìnsè.

For example:

  • 他真慷慨, 一下子借给我一百块钱。 他的朋友跟他不一样:一块钱也没给我。他真小气。

Tā zhēn kāng kǎi, yī xià zi jiè gěi wǒ yī bǎi kuài qián. Tā de péng yǒu gēn tā bù yī yàng:

yī kuài qián yě méi gěi wǒ. Tā zhēn xiǎo qì.

He is really generous, leant me 100 Yuan right off. His friend, though, isn’t the same:

he didn’t give me even one Yuan. He’s so stingy.

勇敢 Yǒng gǎn

Meaning: brave

For example:

  • 他真勇敢,什么都没吓到他。

Tā zhēn yǒng gǎn, shén me dōu méi xià dào tā.

He is really brave, nothing scares him.

Antonyms: 懦弱 (nuò ruò), 胆小 (dǎn xiǎo), 怯懦 (qiè nuò).

For example:

  • 他是个胆小的孩子,在广庭大众的场合便不敢说话了。他哥哥挺勇敢的,一点不认生。

Tā shì gè dǎn xiǎo de hái zi, zài guǎng tíng dà zhòng de chǎng hé biàn bù gǎn shuō huà

  1. Tā gē gē tǐng yǒng gǎn de, yī diǎn bù rèn shēng.

He’s a timid child, doesn’t dare to speak in public. His brother is quite brave, not at all

shy with strangers.

认真 Rèn zhēn

Meaning: earnest, serious

For example:

  • 他很认真,每天都努力学习。

Tā hěn rèn zhēn, měi tiān dōu nǔ lì xué xí.

He is very serious, he studies hard every day.

Antonyms: 草率cǎoshuài, 敷衍fūyǎn.

For example:

  • 他不是认真人,每件事都做得太草率了。

Tā bù shì rèn zhēn rén, měi jiàn shì dōu zuò dé tài cǎo shuài le.

He isn’t serious, everything he does he does a sloppy job.

And one bonus adjective for describing appearance:

漂亮 Piào liang

Meaning: handsome, good looking, pretty, beautiful

For example:


Tā zhǎng dé hěn piào liang.

She is a good looker.

Antonyms: 丑陋chǒulòu.

For example:

他每天都打扮得漂漂亮亮的, 但是相貌还丑陋。

Tā měi tiān dōu dǎ bàn dé piào piào liang liàng de, dàn shì xiàng mào hái chǒu lòu.

He dresses up every day, but still looks ugly.


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One of the most common questions I get asked about living in China is “What’s real Chinese food like?” Well, it’s really hard to generalize Chinese food. One thing’s for sure, though – real Chinese food is a stark contrast from the sweet & sour chicken, egg rolls, and fortune cookies that are served up in most American Chinese restaurants. We’ve already taken a closer look at Cantonese food as well as Western Chinese cuisine (Sichuan and Hunan), so today we’re heading in a different direction as we learn about Northern Chinese food (北方菜 – běi fāng cài).

An Intro to Northern Chinese Cuisine

Northern cuisine includes food from Beijing, as well as the provinces of Shandong, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Northwest China, and the Northeast region, which is collectively known as Dongbei (东北 – dōng běi). The North experiences harsh, cold and dry winters, as well as incredibly hot summers, and the bold and salty flavors of the cuisine pair nicely with these rough weather conditions. It’s a long way from Xinjiang province to Heilongjiang, though, so let’s examine some of these different regions of the North individually.


The Imperial Bird – roast duck.

Of course, Beijing cuisine (北京菜 – běi jīng cài) is most famous for its Peking roast duck (北京烤鸭 – běi jīng kǎo yā). A longtime favorite of Chinese Emperors, this delicious duck is now considered one of the national dishes in China, and a restaurant specializing in it is a guaranteed stop on any tour of Beijing. For more on the royal bird, check out my post on the imperial bird.

Beijing Roast Duck (北京烤鸭) - YouTube

Eating roast duck at the famous Da Dong (大董 – dà dǒng).

Beijing is also famous for its many snacks (小吃 – xiǎo chī), which are sold by street vendors or small shops throughout the city. Here are a few examples of some Beijing snacks:

Fried pancake (褡裢火烧 – dā lián huǒ shāo)

A pan-fried roll filled with delicious ingredients such as pork, lamb, cabbage, or green onion, they are fried golden brown but yet manage to remain soft. Dip these in some vinegar, soy sauce, or chili pepper for an extra kick.

Fried sauce noodles (炸酱面 – zhá jiàng miàn)

These are a staple in Beijing, and can be found just about anywhere. The “fried sauce” is salty fermented soybean paste, and it’s mixed in with some stir-fried ground pork, thick wheat noodles, and diced scallions and garlic.

Image by T.Tseng from flickr.com.
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

US Vice President Joe Biden tried these out when he visited Beijing, and the restaurant where he ate now features the “Biden Set Lunch” – an exact replica of what the VP and his entourage ordered. His choice to eat in a local, inexpensive restaurant has been dubbed “Noodle Diplomacy.” Nothing like pigging out to solve geo-political issues!

Joe Biden's Beijing Visit - Lunch at the Fried Liver Restaurant - YouTube

Practice your listening in this video talking about Biden’s trip and other Beijing delicacies.

Beef tripe (爆肚 – bào dǔ)

Famous since the time of Emperor Qianlong, this tender and crispy snack can be found all over Beijing, in restaurants and on the street in several night markets. Sure, it is cow stomach, but if you’re in China, you might as well try it!

Mung bean milk (豆汁 – dòu zhī)

While this is a drink, it needs to be included in any list of Beijing snacks, as Beijingers love this funky looking and smelling bean milk. Don’t let the appearance or stench turn you off, though, as it’s high in protein and vitamin C and thus great for your health!


Due to short growing seasons and very harsh winters, Northeastern cuisine (东北菜 – dōng běi cài) relies primarily on hearty dishes and preserved food. Unlike most other areas, where rice is predominant, wheat is more common in this region, with noodles, dumplings, and steamed buns all featuring heavily in the daily diet.

Here are a few common dishes:

Pickled cabbage (酸菜 – suān cài)

With a taste similar to sauerkraut, this pickled cabbage is often cooked in a stew with some pork – perfect for keeping you warm in those bitter cold winters.

Pork and scallion dumplings (猪肉大葱饺子 – zhū ròu dà cōng jiǎo zi)

The ubiquitous Chinese dumplings are all over the place in the Northeast, which should come as no surprise with temperatures well below freezing during the long, painful winter. Order up a plate of these bad boys, take a big swig of some 白酒, and you’ll be ready to brave the cold.

A tasty plate of dumplings. Image by Sasha Savinov.

Lamb with cumin (孜然羊肉 – zī rán yáng ròu)

Stir-fried lamb with dried chillies and cumin seeds, this dish comes from the Mongols and is still very popular all throughout China, but especially in the Northeast.

Hot pot (火锅 – huǒ guō)

With how cold it gets up in Dongbei, it should come as no surprise that people love eating hot pot here. The concept is simple – you order up a pot of broth, wait for it to boil at your table, and add whatever you want to it.

Cook your own dinner at hot pot.

When eating hot pot, you can choose a variety of meat, seafood, and vegetables. A popular choice is to split the broth so that one side is super spicy and the other is more mild. It’s the perfect meal to warm you up on a freezing winter day.

Lu (Shandong)

One of the most influential styles, Lu cuisine (鲁菜 – lǔ cài) was once a very important part of imperial cuisine. As Shandong province is on the coast, it should come as no surprise that seafood is prominent in many of the dishes.

Take your pick!

In coastal cities like Qingdao, you can head out to a local restaurant and take your pick from an abundance of delicacies from the sea, including prawns, scallops, and squid.

Here are some classic Shandong dishes:

Braised abalone (原壳鲍鱼 – yuán ké bào yú)

Most seafood is cooked in some sort of light sauce, and both garlic and scallions are often used to add flavor. In this dish, the abalone are simmered in a sauced and served in their shells.

Sweet and sour carp (糖醋鲤鱼 – táng cù lǐ yú)

This is a famous traditional dish of Shandong province, and legend has it that it rose to fame in a small town by the Yellow River. This golden brown, crisp fish will certainly be fresh if you order it in Shandong, and the fragrant smell along with the sweet and sour tastes are sure to leave you satisfied.

Dezhou braised chicken (德州扒鸡 – dé zhōu bā jī)

It’s not all seafood that makes up Lu Cuisine. Take, for example, the fantastic braised chicken from the city of Dezhou. A chicken is deep-fried until it is slightly burned. Then, mushrooms, soy sauce, fruit, sugar, and spices are added. The result is a juice, tender, and savory chicken.

你饿了吗? (nǐ è le ma) – in Chinese, that’s “Are you hungry?” I’m sure you’re probably drooling over all of the amazing dishes covered in this post. Before you run off to eat some yummy Chinese food, though, try answering these questions:

nǐ xǐ huān běi fāng cài ma
Do you like northern cuisine? 你吃过什么北方菜?
nǐ chī guò shèn me běi fāng cài
Which northern cuisine have you tried?
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『我是不是你最疼爱的人』 is one of my favorite Chinese songs. It is also a good source to practice Chinese vocabulary and grammar.

Image via Pixabay

『我是不是你最疼爱的人』 was originally preformed by the Taiwanese singer 潘越雲 (Pān Yuèyún) in the 80’s:

潘越雲-我是不是你最疼愛的人(完整版MV) - YouTube


从来就没冷过 因为有你在我身后

你总是轻声地说 黑夜有我
你总是默默承受 这样的我不敢怨尤

现在为了什么 不再看我

我是不是你最疼爱的人 你为什么不说话
握住是你冰冷的手 动也不动让我好难过
我是不是你最疼爱的人 你为什么不说话
当我需要你的时候 你却沉默不说

从来就没冷过 因为有你挡住寒冻

你总是在我身后 带着笑容
你总是细心温柔 呵护守候这样的我

现在是为了什么 不再看我

我是不是你最疼爱的人 你为什么不说话
握住是你冰冷的手 动也不动让我好难过
我是不是你最疼爱的人 你为什么不说话
当我需要你的时候 你却沉默不说


记得你曾说过 不让我委屈泪流

我是不是你最疼爱的人 你为什么不说话
当我需要你的时候 你却沉默不说

Wǒ shì bùshì nǐ zuì téng’ài de rén

Cónglái jiù méi lěngguò yīnwèi yǒu nǐ zài wǒ shēnhòu

Nǐ zǒng shì qīngshēng de shuō hēiyè yǒu wǒ

Nǐ zǒng shì mòmò chéngshòu zhèyàng de wǒ bù gǎn yuàn yóu

Xiànzài wèile shénme bù zài kàn wǒ

Wǒ shì bùshì nǐ zuì téng’ài de rén nǐ wèishéme bù shuōhuà

Wò zhù shì nǐ bīnglěng de shǒudòng yě bù dòng ràng wǒ hǎo nánguò

Wǒ shì bùshì nǐ zuì téng’ài de rén nǐ wèishéme bù shuōhuà

Dāng wǒ xūyào nǐ de shíhòu nǐ què chénmò bù shuō

Cónglái jiù méi lěngguò yīnwèi yǒu nǐ dǎngzhù hán dòng

Nǐ zǒng shì zài wǒ shēnhòu dàizhe xiàoróng

Nǐ zǒng shì xìxīn wēnróu hēhù shǒuhòu zhèyàng de wǒ

Xiànzài shì wèile shénme bù zài kàn wǒ

Wǒ shì bùshì nǐ zuì téng’ài de rén nǐ wèishéme bù shuōhuà

Wò zhù shì nǐ bīnglěng de shǒudòng yě bù dòng ràng wǒ hǎo nánguò

Wǒ shì bùshì nǐ zuì téng’ài de rén nǐ wèishéme bù shuōhuà

Dāng wǒ xūyào nǐ de shíhòu nǐ què chénmò bù shuō

Nǐ zuì xīnténg wǒ bǎ yǎn kū hóng

Jìdé nǐ céng shuōguò bù ràng wǒ wěiqu lèi liú

Wǒ shì bùshì nǐ zuì téng’ài de rén nǐ wèishéme bù shuōhuà

Dāng wǒ xūyào nǐ de shíhòu nǐ què chénmò bù shuō

The song begins with reliving delicate memories of love: 从来就没冷过,因为有你在我身后 (cóng lái jiù méi lěng guò, yīn wèi yǒu nǐ zài wǒ shēn hòu, “I never felt cold because you were always behind me”).

从来 (cóng lái) means always, but becomes never when used in negative sentence. In that case it will be followed by (méi), (bù), or (wèi) to indicate negation.

The structure 从来不 + verb expresses something one never do as a habit or rule. For example:

  • 我从来不吃早餐,不是为了减肥,是没有这个习惯。

Wǒ cóng lái bu chī zǎo cān, bù shì wèi le jiǎn féi, shì méi yǒu zhè ge xí guàn.

I never eat breakfast, not because I try to lose weight, because I don’t have this


  • 他工作很辛苦,然而从来不叫苦。

Tā gōng zuò hěn xīn kǔ, rán ér cóng lái bu jiào kǔ.

He works hard, but never complains.

The structure 从来没(有) + verb + 过 expresses something one has never done so far. For example:

  • 我从来没有吃过这么鲜美的鱼汤。

Wǒ cóng lái méi yǒu chī guò zhè me xiān měi de yú tāng.

I have never eaten such a delicious fish soup.

  • 爷爷每天早晨到公园锻炼身体,从来没有间断过。

Yé yé měi tiān zǎo chén dào gōng yuán duàn liàn shēn tǐ, cóng lái méi yǒu jiàn duàn


Grandpa goes to the park every morning to exercise, he never missed it.

Another word for always – 总是 (zǒng shì) – appears in the next verse: 你总是轻声地说,黑夜有我 (nǐ zǒng shì qīng shēng de shuō, hēi yè yǒu wǒ ,“you’ve always said softly in the dark night you have me”).The adverb 总是 describes a consistently action or situation. It can precede verbs and adjectives. For example:

  • 老校长的表情总是那么严肃。

Lǎo xiào zhǎng de biǎo qíng zǒng shì nàme yán sù.

The old principal’s expression is always so serious.

  • 老师总是热忱地鼓励和帮助每一个同学。

Lǎo shī zǒng shì rè chén de gǔ lì hé bāng zhù měi yī gè tóng xué.

The teacher always willingly encourages and helps every student.

A third adverb describing time appears in the third stanza: (céng). indicates something that happened once. The singer nostalgically recalls what her spouse had once told her: 记得你曾说过,不让我委屈泪流 (jì dé nǐ céng shuō guò, bù ràng wǒ wěi qu lèi liú, “I remember you’ve once told me that you won’t mistreat me”). can appears as two characters phrase – 曾经 (céng jīng), and frequently pairs with or . For example:

  • 我们曾经一起去过 。

Wǒ men céng jīng yī qǐ qù guò.

We’ve once been there together.

The song describes great love and a supportive spouse. The repeated parallelism between never (从来) and always (总是) portrays a stable relationship. But this love song doesn’t have a happy ending. Unfulfilled promises leave the woman broken hearted. The sentence that seals the poem expresses her pain: 当我需要你的时候,你却沉默不说 (dāng wǒ xū yào nǐ de shí hòu, nǐ què chén mò bù shuō, “when I needed you the most you were silent”).

The structure 当。。。的时候 is used when talking about events that happened at or during a particular time. It is used in complex sentence with two clauses at least. The clause uses this structure serves as time frame to the other clause. For example:

  • 当夜深的时候,我就会想起我的故乡。

Dàng yè shēn de shí hòu, wǒ jiù huì xiǎng qǐ wǒ de gù xiāng.

At night, I think about my hometown.

  • 当妈妈不在家的时候, 我自己做饭。

Dāng māmā bù zàijiā de shíhòu, wǒ zìjǐ zuò fàn.

When my mom is not at home, I cook for myself.

The Chinese language has gendered pronouns, but it’s a genderless language in the sense of having no noun class distinctions and verbal conjugations. Only two pronouns appear in the song: (I) and (you). The song was originally performed by a female singer, but according to the lyrics both the speaker and the addressee can be female or male.

Grammatically, the four options are correct. This classical love song received many covers by men. I like the cover of李代沫 (Lǐ Dàimò):

李代沫 - 《我的歌聲裡》 - 我是不是你最疼愛的人 - YouTube

Another male cover was performed in the first season of The Voice of China (中国好声音):

葛林 - 我是不是你最疼愛的人【高清高音質無現場雜音版】中國好聲音 (HD) - YouTube

And by a girl in the second season:

2013.11.16中國好聲音2《萱萱‧我是不是你最疼愛的人》 - YouTube


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After learning all about Cantonese cuisine last month, we’re shifting towards western China to explore the rich flavors of this region. When it comes to the food from western China, the two most notable examples are certainly Sichuan cuisine (四川菜 – sì chuān cài) and Hunan cuisine (湖南菜 – hú nán cài). Let’s head west and delve deeper into these two renowned styles of Chinese food as well look at both Sichuan and Hunan cuisine.

An Intro to the Cuisine of Western China

Both Sichuan and Hunan cuisine are included in the Eight Great Culinary Traditions of China, while only Sichuan represents the west in the Four Major Cuisines (四大菜系 – sì dà cài xì).

Both known for their incredibly spicy dishes, these two famous styles of Chinese cuisine have been influenced heavily by foreigners – for example, Buddhist missionaries introducing the heavy spicing techniques prevalent in Indian cuisine, and Spanish traders bringing chiles in the 16th century.

The numb and spicy Sichuan hot pot.

Western Chinese cuisine also makes heavy use of vinegar (醋 – cù), garlic (大蒜 – dà suàn), onions (洋葱 yáng cōng), ginger (生姜 – shēng jiāng), and sesame oil (芝麻油 – zhī ma yóu). Due to the hot and humid climate of the area, a variety of food-preservation techniques are used, including pickling, salting, drying, and smoking.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these famous culinary traditions of China and learn about some common dishes:


More commonly spelled as Szechuan in the West, this particular style of Chinese food may be second only to Cantonese in terms of worldwide popularity. One of the most unique aspects of Sichuan cuisine is the Sichuan peppercorn (花椒 – huā jiāo – lit. “flower pepper”) – an unassuming little pepper that leaves your mouth feeling incredibly numb.

Sichuan cuisine is also famous for a few sauces: numb and spicy (麻辣 – má là), fish fragrance (鱼香 – yú xiāng), and the strange/exotic taste (怪味 – guài wèi). Both ma la and yu xiang can be found all over China, but the guai wei is mostly only popular in Sichuan province. Although Sichuan cuisine is mostly known for its spicy dishes, not every dish from this region will leave you sweating and red in the face.

Here are some of the most popular Sichuanese dishes:

Bang Bang Chicken (棒棒鸡 – bàng bàng jī)

Served cold as an appetizer, this dish is a combination of shredded chicken, cucumber, and bean thread noodles, topped off with a sesame based sauce. It’s a great way to start a meal, and especially good on a hot summer’s day.

Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐 – má pó dòu fu)

This famous dish – which literally means “pockmarked grandmother tofu” –  has a famous tale that accompanies it about the woman who created it. Although there are different varieties of this dish, the basic recipe calls for tofu, chili/bean based sauce, fermented black beans, and diced meat.

Mmmm.. Mapo tofu.

If you’re a vegetarian, just tell your waiter, “I don’t eat meat” (我不吃肉 – wǒ bù chī ròu) and they’ll whip it up for you minus the pork/beef.

Twice Cooked Pork (回锅肉 – huí guō ròu)

For this fantastic Sichuan dish, pork is first boiled, then returned to the pot to be stir-fried with peppers, chili, and soy. Thus the Chinese name, which literally means “returned to the pot meat.” Some Muslim restaurants make this dish with beef, which I personally prefer to the fatty pork used in most other places, but they’re both delicious.

Dan Dan Noodles (担担面 – dàn dàn miàn)

A big bowl of noodles served in a spicy chili-sauce with preserved vegetables, minced pork, and scallions, this dish gets its name from a type of carrying pole that was used by vendors who carried and sold this dish on the street. As such, it can also be called “Peddler’s Noodles” in English.

Sichuan Hot Pot (四川火锅 – sì chuān huǒ guō)

We can’t talk about Sichuan food without mentioning its legendary hot pot. In what is without a doubt one of the most fun ways to eat on Earth, a pot of spicy chili oil is boiled right at your table, where you’re free to order up your favorite meats, seafood, and vegetables and toss them in to the boiling, spicy goodness.

Numb and spicy Sichuan hot pot.

I usually go for the half and half, with one side incredibly spicy and the other being a mixture of chicken broth and mushrooms. If you’re not used to the spice of Sichuan cuisine, this is a good way to ease into it. This way you can at least say you tried fiery hot local style before giving up and switching to the other.

Check out a clip from “Parts Unknown” where Anthony Bourdain learned how to cook Sichuan cuisine:

Bourdain and Ripert get schooled in Sichuan cuisine - YouTube

Hunan Cuisine

Also known as Xiang Cuisine (湘菜 – xiāng cài), this style of Chinese food comes from the “land of fish and rice” – Hunan province. Known for being “dry hot” (干辣 – gàn là), Hunan cuisine is often spicier than Sichuan food, simply due to a higher chili content.

Super spicy Hunan cuisine.

Relying mainly on fresh, local ingredients, Hunan dishes change with the seasons. For example, during the hot summer months a meal may start with a cold dish full of chilies to open up the pores. In contrast, hot pot will be the meal of choice on a cold winter night.

Here are some of Hunan’s renowned dishes:

Hot and Spicy Chicken (麻辣子鸡 – má là zǐ jī)

First, chicken is marinated with soy sauce, sherry, and ginger. It is later cooked with scallions and chili peppers, resulting in a tender and spicy dish. Here’s a good recipe so you can try to whip it up at home.

Mao’s Braised Pork (毛氏红烧肉 – Máo shì hóng shāo ròu)

Yes, this dish is named after that Mao. As a native of Hunan province, this dish was Chairman Mao’s favorite, and he even had Hunanese chefs cooking it up for him when he lived in Beijing.

Image by Prince Roy from flickr.com.
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Featuring pork belly, wine, ginger, cinnamon, and other ingredients, it’s no wonder the Chairman loved this dish.

Steamed Fish Head in Chili Sauce (剁椒蒸鱼头 – duò jiāo zhēng yú tóu)

This dish dates back to Qing Dynasty mathematician Huang Zongxian. Apparently, he got caught in a rainstorm and took shelter in a local kitchen. Inside, he saw a woman salt and sauté a fish, and then throw two handfuls of chopped chilies – one red, one green – in to the mix before steaming the fish.

Steamed fish in chopped chili sauce (duojiao) authentic Hunan recipe #4 湖南剁椒鱼头 - YouTube

Being a mathematician, Huang later said he could reproduce the recipe exactly, and this famous dish was born. With a mathematician’s eye for detail and proportion, the scholar later had his cook reproduce the recipe and thus the Hunan fish head with chopped chilies was born.

After traveling and eating my way around China for several years, I can easily say that the spicy food they’re cooking up in the west is some of my favorite. Sure, sometimes it leaves you crying and sweating, but wow is it delicious!

Sampling all of the amazing local food was a major highlight for me when I traveled through Sichuan, whether it was eating hot pot in Chengdu or grabbing a bowl of dandan noodles on the street. I also had tons of fun going out in Changsha, dressed like Santa Claus and feasting on all kinds of crazy spicy food.

How about you??

nǐ xǐ huān chī là de ma
Do you like to eat spicy food? 你吃过川菜吗?湘菜呢?
nǐ chī guò chuān cài ma? xiāng cài ne
Have you eaten Sichuan cuisine? How about Hunan cuisine? 你喜欢吃什么东西?
nǐ xǐ huān chī shén me dōng xī
What things do you like to eat? 你能吃麻辣火锅吗?
nǐ néng chī má là huǒ guō ma
Can you eat numb and spicy hot pot?

Put your Chinese to use and leave a comment below to let us know what you think!

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老干妈 (lǎo gàn mā) is a famous Chinese chili sauce. It is one of the most favored chili sauces in China, a must-have (必备bì bèi) in every house.

Image via Pixabay

In recent years, it has seen growing popularity overseas, too. New York Magazine ranked the spicy sauce in first place. On the Facebook page of The Lao Gan Ma Appreciation Society fans from all over the world share their craving for the crunchy sauce. The brand logo was even plastered on hoodies selling for 120 US dollars at the Opening Ceremony store in New York City.

  • 几乎家家都有辣椒酱,其中最出名的就是老干妈辣椒酱了。

Jī hū jiā jiā dōu yǒu là jiāo jiàng, qí zhōng zuì chū míng de jiù shì Lǎo Gàn Mā là jiāo

jiàng le.

Almost every family has chili sauce, the best known among them is Lao Gan Ma chili


  • 老干妈是居家必备。

Lǎo gàn mā shì jūjiā bì bèi.

Lao Gan Ma it’s a must have in every house.

The Lao Gan Ma factory was established (成立 chéng lì) in 1996 in Guizhou province. It is the largest producer (生产 shēng chǎn) and seller (销售 xiāo shòu) of pepper products in China. Its output value is estimated at billions of RMB every year.

The famous brand of chili sauce is known for its red label and a small portrait of a stern-faced Chinese woman. The woman is Tao Huabi (陶华碧), the developer and founder (创始人 chuàng shǐ rén) of the popular sauce. Her story is incredible. Tao, known as曾经中国最火辣的女人 (céng jīng zhōng guó zuì huǒ là de nǚ rén, the spiciest woman of China) over Chinese social media, was born in 1947, in a remote mountain village in Guizhou Province. Tao was born into a poor (贫穷 pín qióng) family. She never went to school or learned how to read and write. At the age of 20, she got married. But in a few years, her husband had died, and Tao was left alone with two young children.

  • 1947年,陶华碧出生于贵州省。

1947 nián, Táo Huábì chū shēng yú guì zhōu shěng.

In 1947, Tao Huabi was born in Guizhou Province.

  • 20岁时,她结婚了;但没过几年,丈夫就病逝了。

20 suì shí, tā jié hūn le; dàn méi guò jǐ nián, zhàng fū jiù bìng shì le.

At the age of 20, she got married; but in a few years her husband died of illness.

To make a living she became a street vendor and set up a stall (地摊 dì tān). Later on, she opened a small noodles restaurant (餐厅 cān tīng) and served her noodles with homemade spicy sauce. Many enjoyed her cold noodles, and the business was thriving (兴隆 xīng lóng). But one day Tao didn’t feel well, and didn’t go to the market to buy peppers (辣椒 là jiāo). When customers came in and heard there was no spicy sauce, they left without eating. Tao realized the importance of the sauce, and over the years improved its taste and texture.

She kept cooking noodles, but also sold jars of her sauce separately. Gradually, her noodles business tapered off, while her sauce selling blew up. When Tao learned that other noodles shops in the neighborhood were all doing good business by using her home-made sauce, she realized the potential (潜力 qiánlì) of her product (制品 zhì pǐn). From the next day on, she stopped selling her sauce to go.

In 1996, at the age of 49, Tao closed the restaurant, rented a place, recruited forty workers, and opened a factory to produce the Lao Gan Ma (which literally means old godmother) Chili Sauce. The popularity soared, business prospered, and Lao Gan Ma became a point of Guizhou pride. Nowadays, the food factory employs more than 4,000 workers, and Tao herself made it to the 2015 Forbes list of China’s Billionaires.

In an interview from last year, Tao shared some tips: “实实在在地做人,实实在在地做生意, 把你的产品做好” (shí shí zài zài dì zuò rén, shí shí zài zài dì zuò shēng yì, bǎ nǐ de chǎn pǐn zuò hǎo, Be an honest person, conduct your business honestly, create a good product).

老干妈现身辟谣:不离贵州也不上市 - YouTube

 Text vocabulary

辣椒酱 là jiāo jiàng = chili sauce

必备 bì bèi = must-have

成立 chéng lì = to establish

生产 shēng chǎn = to produce

销售 xiāo shòu = to sell

创始人 chuàng shǐ rén = founder

贫穷 pín qióng = poor

地摊 dì tān = stall

餐厅 cān tīng = restaurant

兴隆 xīng lóng = thriving

辣椒 là jiāo = pepper

潜力 qiánlì = potential

制品 zhì pǐn = product


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One of the most famous styles of Chinese food is Cantonese cuisine, known in Chinese simply as Guangdong cuisine (广东菜 – guǎng dōng cài). In terms of the Eight Great Culinary Traditions of China (中国的八大菜系 – zhōng guó de bā dà cài xì), it’s known simply as Yue Cuisine (粤菜 – yuè cài). In this post, we’ll take a closer look at Cantonese food and learn about some common dishes.

An Introduction to Cantonese Food

The food in Southern China is known to be especially fresh, which helps to maintain the natural flavors. Unlike in Western Chinese cuisine, the dishes here contain only modest amounts of spices so as not to overwhelm the taste buds. Many cooking methods are utilized in Southern China, most commonly steaming and stir-frying.

There is a saying about Chinese people (mainly Southerners) that “they will eat everything with four legs except for the table“, and nowhere does that ring as true as in the southern part of the country. Whether it be chicken feet, duck’s tongue, or snakes, there isn’t much that people won’t eat down there (cats and dogs can still be found on some menus, although not as much as in the past).

It’s believed that eating the internal organs of an animal will help your own internal organs – eating a liver will help your liver, eating lungs will help your lungs, and so on. And before you ask, guys, the answer is yes – eating an animal’s penis is believed to help with virility. On a less weird note, there’s an abundance of fresh seafood as well, along with yummy soups and sweets.

CANTONESE HOMESTYLE FOOD (Guangzhou Style) - Fung Bros Food - YouTube

Learn more about Cantonese food in this video from the Fung Bros.

When people in the US and other Western countries eat Chinese food, there’s a good chance that it’s Cantonese food. This is because a majority of Chinese immigrants who moved to the US in the 1800’s were from this part of the country, so they were the first to introduce Americans to Chinese food.

Of course, the Chinese food that you’ll find in any given American-Chinese restaurant is a far cry from what you’ll find in Guangdong province or Hong Kong, so let’s examine some of the more well-known dishes from this region of China.

Common Cantonese Dishes Dim Sum (点心 – diǎn xīn)

The name of this dish can be translated as “touch the heart,” and a good meal of dim sum does just that. Eating dim sum in a restaurant is known in Cantonese as “yum cha” (饮茶 – yǐn chá), which means “to drink tea.” These days, eating a hearty dim sum breakfast with tea is very popular in Hong Kong and other areas of Southern China.

Dim sum in Guangzhou.

This tradition goes way back, when travelers along the Silk Road would stop to rest their weary feet and have a cup of tea. Eventually, tea houses started serving various snacks to go along with the drinks, and thus the tradition of dim sum was born.

Dim sum is basically a variety of different dumplings and steamed buns stuffed full of just about anything, including: beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, and vegetables. One serving usually has about 3 or 4 pieces, so it’s best to go family style and just order up a bunch and pass them around.

Dim sum – a huge part of Hong Kong culture.

So, what exactly are they pushing around on those carts? Here are a few of the most common dishes you’ll find when eating dim sum:

  • shrimp dumpling (虾饺 – xiā jiǎo)
  • soup dumplings (小笼包 – xiǎo lóng bāo)
  • pot stickers (锅贴 – guō tiē)
  • siu mai (烧卖 – shāo mai)
  • spring rolls (春卷 – chūn juǎn)
  • rice noodle roll (肠粉 – cháng fěn)
  • meatballs (牛肉丸 – niú ròu wán)
  • steamed pork ribs (蒸排骨 – zhēng pái gǔ)
  • BBQ pork bun (叉烧包 – chā shāo bāo)
  • pineapple bun (菠萝包 – bō luó bāo)
  • taro cake (芋头糕 – yù tou gāo)
  • congee/porridge (粥 – zhōu)
  • sticky rice (糯米飯 – nuò mǐ fàn)
  • egg tart (蛋挞 – dàn tà)
  • mango pudding (芒果布甸 – máng guǒ bù diān)

When out for dim sum, remember that it’s custom to fill your companion’s tea cups before your own. Also, when someone has poured your cup, it’s best to tap your fingers on the table. This is a sign of respect.

11 Classic Dim Sum Dishes You MUST Try! - YouTube

The Food Ranger shows you 11 dim sum dishes you must try.

Sweet and Sour Pork (咕噜肉 – gū lū ròu)

Image by Sam Pangan from flickr.com.
Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

This classic Cantonese dish is famous round the world, and for good reason. Slices of deep fried pork are stir-fried in a sauce made from a mixture of sugar, vinegar, ketchup, and soy sauce, along with pineapple, green peppers, and onions. The Cantonese original is made with preserved plums and hawthorn candy.

Drunken Prawns (醉虾 – zuì xiā)

These shrimps are nice and liquored up before they are cooked, as they are soaked in rice wine for a while prior to being steamed. More adventurous eaters can try this one the way a lot of people like to – alive. I’m not sure about you, but I’ll stick to the cooked version.

Shrimps getting Drunk & Dancing [Vlog 71] - YouTube

See how drunken prawns are prepared in this short video.

Zha Liang (炸两 – zhà liǎng)

Image by Alpha from flickr.com.
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A common Cantonese breakfast snack, this is made by wrapping rice paper around a stick of fried dough, known in Chinese as youtiao (油条 – yóu tiáo). It’s usually eaten alongside some soy milk or congee.

Slow Cooked Soup (老火湯 –  lǎo huǒ tāng – lit. old fire soup)

This style of soup is made by simmering meat and other ingredients over low heat for many hours. Since Chinese herbs and/or medicine are often used, this popular dish has plenty of medicinal value, and it’s thought to heal or improve your health. Unlike in other parts of China, people in the South will usually eat their soup first, whereas people on the mainland tend to serve soup last.

老火湯其實唔健康 不如試試滾湯 - 東張西望 - YouTube

Practice your Chinese listening in this video about the famous soup.

Now that we’ve learned a bit about Cantonese food and some common dishes, I have a few questions for you:

nǐ xǐ huān yuè cài ma?
Do you like Cantonese food? 你吃过什么粤菜?
nǐ chī guò shén me yuè cài?
What Cantonese food have you eaten?

Leave a comment below in Chinese and let us know!

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It-白.png by Arlas! it on Wikimedia Commons under public domain

When learning a new language you should begin with the basics: numbers, directions, colors, etc. And this is how I was introduced to the character 白 (bái). A simple five-stroke-character meaning “white”. While pursuing my Chinese studies I occasionally encounter this character. Sometimes it maintains its meaning as white, but sometimes it means something else. To learn more about this character, here is a list of 5 useful words using 白:

白日梦 (bái rì mèng, daydream)

Whenever I get bored I drift off in a daydream, so this is a sentence I frequently hear: 你别白日做梦了 (nĭ bié bái rì zuò mèng le, stop daydreaming). In this three words phrase – 白日梦 (bái rì mèng), 白 means bright, 明亮 (míng liàng). Together with time unit words like日 (rì, day), it means daytime. This is also true of other phrases like 白天 (bái tiān) and 白昼 (bái zhòu). It also appears in the idiom 真相大白 (zhēn xiàng dà bái), meaning the truth appeared in daylight.

明白 (míng bái, to understand)

明白 (míng bái, to understand) is one of my favorite verbs. Easy to pronounce and very useful.

你明白了吗? (nǐ míng bái le ma?) = do you understand?

我明白了 (wǒ míng bái le) = I understand

But I never stopped to realize that 白 in this phrase actually means clear, 清楚 (qīng chǔ). As in other words, like the adjective 浅白 (qiǎn bái), meaning easy to understand, in which 浅 stands for easy and 白 for clear. Another example is the word 辩白 (biàn bái), which the Chinese dictionary stresses the importance of the presence of 白. While 辩 means to debate, 白 donates clear. Together it means to plead innocence, to clear oneself.

白手起家 (bái shǒu qǐ jiā, to build from scratch)  

白 means empty, 空的 (kōng de). You’ll find it in words like: 空白 (kòng bái), meaning blank; 白地 (bái dì), meaning a land that is not farmed or occupied;  and 白卷 (báijuăn), meaning unanswered examination paper. For example:

  • 听到这个消息他脑中一片空白了。

Tīng dào zhège xiāoxī tā nǎo zhōng yīpiàn kòngbáile.

Hearing this news, his mind went blank.

  • 他把考试交了白卷。

Tā bǎ kǎoshì jiāole báijuàn.

He handed in the exam unanswered.

The idiom in the title – 白手起家 (bái shǒu qǐ jiā) is literally translated as to establish a house from an empty hand, and it means to build up something from scratch.

白吃 (bái chī, to eat without paying)

One of 白’s many meanings is free of charge, 没有付出代价的 (méi yǒu fù chū dài jià de). In the famous book Chronicle of a Blood Merchant by the author Yu Hua, the protagonist Xu Sanguan is introduced to the villagers’ way of making money – selling their blood. Xu Sanguan is told that selling blood to the city hospital is preceded by a blood test. 35 Yuan is paid out for every blood “donation”, but not for the blood test. 是白送给医院的 (shì bái sòng gěi yī yuàn de), the blood test is freely given to the hospital. With the same meaning goes the word 白吃, and the phrase 白吃白喝 (bái chī bái hē), meaning freeload.

白白 (bái bái, in vain)

白 also means in vain, 徒然 (tú rán). The word 白白 (bái bái) means in vain, and it can be abbreviated to one character. 白 can be added to other verbs to indicate that a certain action was pointless. For example:

  • 他白忙了半天。

Tā bái máng le bàn tiān.

He got to a lot of trouble for nothing.

  • 跟他说好话是白说了。

Gēn tā shuō hǎo huà shì bái shuō le.

Kind words are wasted upon him.

  • 他白等了。

Tā bái děng le.

He waited in vain.

  • 所有的工作都白做了。

Suǒ yǒu de gōng zuò dōu bái zuò le.

All the work was done for nothing.

That was only 5 examples but believe it or not 白 has many other meanings. Check the dictionary, explore the internet, and let us know what other definitions you find.


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It’s been over 40 years since Mao Zedong (毛泽东 – máo zé dōng) passed away, but he remains a very important figure in China to this very day. While the China of 2019 would certainly be unrecognizable to Chairman Mao (people driving Audis, drinking Starbucks, and eating KFC), he is still ever-present in the modern Chinese society. After all, it is his face that graces the Gate of Heavenly Peace and the front of all of the RMB notes. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny Mao’s importance in world history.

Statues of Mao remain common all across China

I’ve written a lot about Chairman Mao on the blog over the years, as I was always interested to learn more about him, his policies, and their effect on China and the world at large. Here’s a recap of all the Mao-related posts, with links to each one so you can read further.

From Birth to the PRC

In this post, you’ll learn about Mao’s early life up until he founded the modern-day People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国 – zhōng huá rén mín gòng hé guó). Some facts may surprise you. For example, did you know that Mao began his time in Beijing as a library assistant sharing a crowded room with seven other people? Or that his first wife was executed by the Kuomintang? Read on to learn more!

Early Years of the PRC

On October 1st, 1949, Mao Zedong stood in Tiananmen Square and proclaimed: “The Chinese people have stood up!” (中国人民站起来了 – zhōng guó rén mín zhàn qǐ lái le). From that day on, he would be known as Chairman Mao (毛主席 – máo zhǔ xí). In this post, you can read all about those first pivotal years of the PRC, including Mao’s humiliating meeting with Joseph Stalin and the reforms he enacted to redistribute land to the peasants who supported him.

Maoist slogans line the ceiling in this building in the 798 Art District.

Hundred Flowers and Anti-Rightist Movements

In 1956, Mao started the Hundred Flowers Campaign (百花运动 – bǎi huā yùn dòng), which encouraged citizens to criticize the government. The name actually comes from a famous Chinese poem:

百花齐放,百家争鸣 bǎi huā qí fàng, bǎi jiā zhēng míng “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.”

As it turns out, Mao didn’t take to the criticism very well. He made an abrupt change of face the following year and launched the Anti-Rightist Movement (反右派运动 – fǎn yòu pài yùn dòng) to silence his critics. You can learn all about both of these and the impact they had on Chinese society in this post.

The “Gate of Heavenly Peace” before the Forbidden City.

Great Leap Forward

Chairman Mao had big plans for the new China, which he hoped would become a modern, industrialized nation that could rival the US. He enacted major changes as part of the country’s 5-year plan from 1958 to 1963, which became known as the Great Leap Forward (大跃进 – dà yuè jìn). His plan turned out to not be so great after all, and was instead rather disastrous. Head to the post to find out why and what happened as a result.

Cultural Revolution

After the catastrophic failure of his Great Leap Forward, Mao resigned as the State Chairman. For a while there, it seemed as if he was going to step to the side of Chinese politics. He was still very popular, though, and was basically just biding his time thinking of a new plan. That plan turned out to spur the Cultural Revolution (文化大革命 – wén huà dà gé mìng). He targeted “counter-revolutionary revisionists” in the government and had them purged. He also had schools shut down and turned the Chinese youth into his Red Guards (红卫兵 – hóng wèi bīng). With this army of young, impressionable people on his side, he set about destroying the “Four Olds” (四旧 – sì jiù) – old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas. Once again, Mao’s ideas turned out to be incredibly disastrous for the country. Read all about the Cultural Revolution by following the link to the post.

Mao Zedong and International Friends playing cards.

Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book

In souvenir markets all across China today, you can still buy copies of Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book.” Officially known as “Quotations from Chairman Mao” ( 毛主席语录 – máo zhǔ xí yǔ lù), this is one of the most printed books in history. As a matter of fact, only the bible has been printed more! If you look at propaganda posters from this time period, almost every person in them is clutching their copy of Mao’s little red book. The book covers 33 topics with over 400 quotes from Chairman Mao, including:

“Political power grows out of the barrel of the gun.”
qiāng gǎn zi lǐmiàn chū zhèng quán

Head to the post to learn more about the little red book and read some of the more famous quotes that are in it.

Later Years

There’s no denying that Chairman Mao was and remains a controversial figure. While most people in the west regard him as a brutal dictator, he is still beloved in China for uniting the country after the Japanese invasion and a long and bloody civil war. After his disastrous policies of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, Mao had one more big surprise up his sleeve in his later years – bringing a US president to China for the first time ever. Nixon (尼克松 – ní kè sōng) traveled to China in 1972 to meet with Mao, which began the normalization of relations between the two countries. You can read all about their meeting as well as the final years of Mao’s life in this last post in the series.

Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

Although Mao Zedong had wished to be cremated, his wishes were ignored. Instead, his body was embalmed and a mausoleum was constructed in Tiananmen Square to house it. His final resting place is the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall (毛主席纪念堂 – máo zhǔxí jì niàn táng), which is visited by thousands of people a day. They line up to buy plastic flowers, which are then collected and re-sold to the next group. It’s a bit ironic, as some believe that the body itself is in fact a wax replica.

It’s hard to wrap your head around Chairman Mao and his role in the history of both China and the world at large. While many of his policies were absolutely catastrophic, he remains somewhat of a deity in Chinese culture. Although his policies during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution likely set China back several decades, he also opened up relations with the US. It’s hard to imagine where the world would be today if Mao and Nixon hadn’t met a few decades ago.

I hope you found this series on Chairman Mao insightful and interesting. I sure enjoyed the many hours I spent researching and writing it. If you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to leave a comment below.

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