Chinese Food Vocabulary

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Chinese cuisine is an essential part of China's rich cultural heritage. With a wide variety of dishes, knowing food-related terms can be crucial for dining experiences. This article is designed to guide you through some fundamental vocabulary related to Chinese food.

Exploring Chinese Food Vocabulary: Dishes, Ingredients, and Regional Meals

Common Ingredients

Chinese cuisine is known for its vast array of ingredients, each contributing unique flavors and textures. As a language learner, understanding these common ingredients will enhance your ability to describe and appreciate Chinese dishes. Let's explore the essential elements that make up many Chinese recipes.

  • Bok Choy: a type of Chinese cabbage; crisp and often used in stir-fries.
  • Tofu: a protein-rich food made from soybeans; also known as a plant-based cheese.
  • Ginger: a root used as a spice; adds flavor to many dishes.
  • Dumpling: a dough filled with meat or vegetables; a popular appetizer.
  • Rice: a grain; a staple food in Chinese cuisine.
  • Sesame Oil: a fragrant oil; used to add flavor.
  • Soy Sauce: a liquid condiment; made from fermented soybeans.
  • Spring Onion: a green and white vegetable; used for flavoring.
  • Shiitake Mushroom: a variety of mushrooms; adds texture and flavor.
  • Bamboo Shoots: young bamboo stems; often used in stir-fries.
  • Eggplant: a purple vegetable; commonly cooked in various ways.
  • Sea Cucumber: a marine animal; a delicacy in Chinese cuisine.
  • Lotus Root: the root of the lotus flower; crispy texture.

With these Chinese food words, you've delved into the foundation of Chinese cuisine through its common ingredients. Learning and practicing these words will give you insights into menus, recipes, and culinary conversations.

Popular Dishes

Chinese food has gained worldwide popularity with a variety of dishes that tantalize the taste buds. For language learners, recognizing the names and characteristics of popular Chinese dishes will enrich your culinary vocabulary and cultural understanding. Let's delve into some common dishes that define Chinese cuisine.

  • Dim Sum: a style of Chinese snacks; served in small bite-sized portions.
  • Beijing Duck or Pecking Duck: a famous duck dish; roasted to crispy perfection.
  • Hot Pot: a simmering pot of soup stock; everyone cooks their ingredients in it.
  • Kung Pao Chicken: a spicy, stir-fried chicken dish; often includes peanuts.
  • Chow Mein: stir-fried noodles; can include meat and vegetables.
  • Mapo Tofu: a spicy tofu dish; includes minced meat.
  • Sweet and Sour Pork: a dish with a tangy sauce; includes battered pork.
  • Mongolian Beef: a beef dish; stir-fried with vegetables and sauce.
  • Egg Fried Rice: a rice dish; includes scrambled eggs and vegetables.
  • Wonton Soup: a soup with meat-filled dumplings; often served as a starter.
  • General Tso's Chicken: a sweet and spicy chicken dish; deep-fried.
  • Baozi: steamed buns; filled with meat or vegetables.

You've now been introduced to some of the most celebrated dishes in Chinese cuisine. These Chinese food words will enable you to recognize and request these dishes at restaurants or even prepare them at home. Continue to explore, taste, and use these words to deepen your connection with Chinese culinary culture.


Regional Chinese Cuisines

Chinese food varies widely by region, reflecting local tastes, ingredients, and cooking methods.

Sichuan Cuisine

If you're fond of bold and spicy flavors, Sichuan cuisine is a must-try. Known for its use of Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, and various chilies, this regional style is famous for its intense flavors. As you explore these dishes, you'll encounter a complex fusion of tastes.

  • Ma Po Tofu: spicy and numbing tofu dish; with minced meat.
  • Twice-Cooked Pork: pork belly; simmered then stir-fried.
  • Sichuan Hot Pot: spicy hot pot; with various meats and vegetables.
  • Dan Dan Noodles: spicy noodles; with minced pork and chili oil.
  • Chongqing Chicken: spicy deep-fried chicken; with lots of chili peppers.
  • Sichuan Pickles: various pickled vegetables; with spicy brine.
  • Fish Fragrant Eggplant: stir-fried eggplant; with a unique spicy sauce.
  • Sichuan Cold Noodles: cold noodles; with a spicy and tangy dressing.
  • Spicy Beef Stew: slow-cooked beef; with chili and Sichuan peppercorns.

Now that you've been introduced to Sichuan cuisine, you can recognize some of the key dishes and flavors from this region. Practice using these terms, and don't be shy to order them next time you visit a Chinese restaurant. 

Cantonese Cuisine

Cantonese cuisine is synonymous with the culinary traditions of Guangdong Province. It's characterized by the use of fresh and diverse ingredients and a preference for steaming and stir-frying. These terms will introduce you to some classic dishes and techniques.

  • Char Siu: barbecued pork; sweet and salty.
  • Wonton Noodles: noodles with shrimp-filled wontons; in broth.
  • Steamed Fish: fish steamed with soy sauce and herbs.
  • Claypot Rice: rice cooked with meats in a clay pot.
  • Cantonese Roast Goose: goose roasted; with crispy skin.
  • Cantonese Lobster: lobster stir-fried with ginger and scallions.
  • Mango Pudding: a popular dessert with mango flavor.
  • White Cut Chicken: poached chicke, served with ginger-scallion dip.

You've just explored some of the fundamental dishes of Cantonese cooking. As you learn these terms, you'll begin to appreciate the depth of flavors found in this cuisine.

Shandong Cuisine

The world of Shandong cuisine is known for its emphasis on fresh seafood and artful presentation. This northern Chinese cuisine features braising and deep-frying techniques, and its flavors are often described as fresh and salty. Here are some dishes from this cuisine:

  • Sweet and Sour Carp: deep-fried carp; coated in sweet and sour sauce.
  • Braised Chicken: chicken cooked with mushrooms and other ingredients.
  • Sea Cucumber Stew: sea cucumber cooked with other seafood.
  • Stir-Fried Clams: clams quickly stir-fried with garlic and chili.
  • Dezhou Braised Chicken: chicken braised with soy sauce and spices.
  • Braised Intestines: pork intestines slow-cooked with spices.
  • Shandong Pancakes: thin pancakes, usually served with fillings.
  • Stir-Fried Scallops: scallops cooked with vegetables and sauces.
  • Braised Pork Ribs: pork ribs slow-cooked with a rich sauce.

With these Shandong cuisine terms, you have a window into the culinary traditions of this coastal region. These Chinese food words can be a valuable asset in understanding menus or conversing about the country’s cuisine.

Fujian Cuisine

Fujian cuisine represents the rich maritime tradition of Fujian Province. Known for its seafood, soups, and complex flavor combinations, this style emphasizes the natural taste and texture of the ingredients. Learn these terms to explore the unique characteristics of Fujian dishes.

  • Buddha Jumps Over the Wall: soup with shark fin and seafood.
  • Steamed Abalone: mollusk steamed with garlic and soy sauce.
  • Fujian Fried Rice: rice fried with shrimp and other seafood.
  • Lychee Pork: pork stir-fried with lychee and sweet and sour sauce.
  • Mussels in Chicken Broth: mussels cooked in rich chicken broth.
  • Fuzhou Fish Balls: fish balls stuffed with pork filling.
  • Braised Duck with Taro: duck and taro cooked in a savory sauce.
  • Oyster Omelette: omelette made with fresh oysters.
  • Fujian Popcorn Chicken: deep-fried chicken with salt and pepper.
  • Snow Fungus Soup: sweet soup with snow fungus and fruits.

You've now been acquainted with the delicate and diverse offerings of Fujian cuisine. Utilizing these terms can help you navigate restaurant menus and recipes, enabling you to explore this unique culinary tradition. Taste and enjoy the distinctive seafood and soups of Fujian.

Zhejiang Cuisine

Zhejiang cuisine is known for its fresh and elegant flavors, often associated with Hangzhou, Ningbo, and Shaoxing. With an emphasis on freshness, this cuisine showcases seafood, poultry, and bamboo shoots. These terms will guide you through the subtleties of Zhejiang dishes.

  • West Lake Fish in Vinegar Gravy: fish cooked in sweet-sour sauce.
  • Longjing Shrimp: shrimp stir-fried with Longjing tea leaves.
  • Beggar's Chicken: whole chicken baked with clay covering.
  • Dongpo Pork: pork belly braised with soy sauce and sugar.
  • Bamboo Shoot Soup: tender bamboo shoots in a clear soup.
  • Zhejiang Style Mussels: mussels cooked with wine and soy sauce.
  • Hangzhou Soy Sauce Chicken: chicken cooked with soy sauce.
  • Stir-Fried Loofah: loofah vegetable stir-fried with seasonings.
  • Braised Bamboo Shoots: bamboo shoots braised with pork.

With these Zhejiang culinary terms, you've unlocked the door to a refined and graceful world of Chinese cooking. This Chinese food vocabulary are a valuable tool for both dining out and experimenting with recipes at home. 

Jiangsu Cuisine

Welcome to Jiangsu cuisine, famous for its soft and sweet flavors, often paired with attractive presentation. This cuisine offers a delightful range of tastes. These terms will help you explore the culinary landscape of Jiangsu:

  • Yangzhou Fried Rice: rice fried with shrimp, ham, and vegetables.
  • Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish: fish deep-fried with a tangy sauce.
  • Steamed Crab: crab steamed with egg white and wine.
  • Braised Tofu: tofu braised with mushrooms and bamboo shoots.
  • Nanjing Salted Duck: duck salted and cooked; served cold.
  • Yangcheng Lake Hairy Crab: creamy and buttery crab dish.

You've now discovered the sweet and rich flavors of Jiangsu cuisine. These terms will not only enhance your vocabulary but also your appreciation for this culinary tradition.

Table Manners

Understanding table manners is an essential part of engaging with Chinese dining culture. The practices and etiquette at the Chinese dining table reflect a deep sense of tradition and respect. As you learn these terms, you'll find yourself more comfortable and confident in Chinese dining settings.

  • Yum Cha: drinking tea; often accompanies dim sum.
  • Gan Bei: a toast or cheers; said when clinking glasses together.
  • Tang: soup; often served at the beginning of a meal.
  • Bao: to wrap; refers to the way food is wrapped, such as in dumplings.
  • Kuai: chopsticks; etiquette requires not pointing them at others.
  • Zuo Wei: seating arrangement; considered carefully in formal settings.
  • Jia Yan: adding salt; considered impolite to request additional salt.
  • Mian: noodles; symbolize longevity, so cutting them is avoided.
  • Chi Hao: eat well; a common expression to wish for the enjoyment of the meal.
  • Bu Ke Qi: you're welcome; a polite response to thanks.

You've just explored key aspects of Chinese table manners, a vital part of the dining experience. By learning and using this Chinese food vocabulary, you'll show your awareness of and respect for Chinese dining etiquette. Whether dining with friends, family, or business associates, these words will guide you in navigating social dining situations with grace.


Understanding Chinese food vocabulary can enrich your dining experience and connect you to a key aspect of Chinese culture. Whether you're visiting a Chinese restaurant or watching a cooking show, this guide offers you a starting point to explore the diverse and flavorful world of Chinese cuisine. Feel free to try using these terms the next time you're enjoying a Chinese meal.

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Cory CookJan 16th, 2024
it was useful for me!