How to Order Food at Restaurants in China

Written by Matteo Updated Jun. 17, 2021

What will constitute the most memorable moment during your travels in China? Savoring some delicious Chinese food may be among the contenders! In ordering food, however, you might become frustrated by the language barrier and by confusing Chinese menus without pictures or English. Let’s see if we can help you.

Reading the Menus

Menus with pictures provide the easiest way to order food at a Chinese restaurant. Simply use your fingers to point and show how many you want of each dish. This will well help you avoid language barriers.

Some restaurants provide English or Chinglish menus. But watch out for interesting or weird names on the menu; for example, “Buddha Jumping Over the Wall”, “Ants Climbing A Tree”, “Century Egg”, etc. These may confuse you if you don’t know anything about Chinese food.

If you are sitting at a restaurant with neither pictures nor English on the menu, and the staff doesn’t speak English at all, why not either download on your phone some screenshots of common Chinese dishes you would like to try (see below) or look around to see what other people are eating and point to whatever looks good.

Note: There is a huge variety of dishes in China. If you ask for a menu, many restaurants will present you with a small book of what is on offer. If you find it difficult to decide, ask the staff for recommendations.

Our local guide will help you order a standard Chinese dinner and experience the culture of authentic Chinese dining. Are you ready to create a food tour in China?

How Many Dishes to Order?

Unlike western menus dividing into “lunch” and “dinner”, Chinese menus separate dishes into “appetizers”, “staple foods”, “specialty dishes”, “vegetables”, “soup”, “beverages” …

A “three-course meal” is not customary in China. You usually have one course, with several dishes. Generally, it is the norm to order one more dish than the number of people eating. For instance, when four people are eating, you would usually order five dishes. In Chinese dining culture, to order a little too much demonstrates generosity and hospitality.

What to Order – Specialty and Diversity

There is no easy answers for what to order as China has a lot of regional cooking styles. So check the local speciality before ordering your food. For example, if you are in restaurants in West China's Sichuan area( Chengdu and Chongqing), where the Sichuan cuisine originates. You may order Mapo Dufo,Kung Pao Chicken, etc. These are two of the most famous dishes in Sichusn Cuisine. 

If you do have no ideas for what to order, you may look around and find the what the people around eat, order the same if you like. 

If you travel with a guide, your guide, of course, will help you order your food. 

A Bilingual Menu for Your Inspiration

Below are some foods commonly ordered by Westerners in China:

Type Chinese Pinyin English
Appetizer/Entrée 拍黄瓜 pāihuángguā Chinese cucumber salad
凉拌海蜇/海带/木耳/皮蛋 liángbànhǎizhé/hǎidǎi/mùěr/pídàn

Jellyfish/Kelp/Black fungus/Century egg salad

Staple 米饭 mǐfàn Rice
炒饭/炒面 chǎofàn/chǎomiàn Fried rice/noodles
饺子 jiǎozi Dumplings
Main Dish 宫保鸡丁 gōngbǎojīdīng Kung pao chicken
(diced chicken fried with peanuts/cashews)
麻婆豆腐 mápódòufu Ma po tofu (stir-fried bean curd in chili sauce)
红烧狮子头 hóngshāoshīzǐtóu Stewed pork balls in brown sauce
糖醋里脊/排骨 tángcùpáigǔ Sweet and sour pork/Spare ribs
铁板牛肉 tiěbǎnniúròu Sizzling beef
(served on a hot plate with peppers and onions)
佛跳墙 fótiàoqiáng Buddha jumping over the wall (seafood and poultry casserole)
白灼虾 báizhuóxiā Boiled prawns
春卷 chūnjuǎn Spring rolls
番茄炒蛋 fānqiéchǎodàn Fried egg with tomatoes
地三鲜 dìsānxiān Sautéed eggplant with potatoes and green peppers
醋溜土豆丝 cùliūtǔdòusī Hot and sour potato shreds
Soup 紫菜蛋花汤 zǐcàidànhuātāng Purple seaweed and egg drop soup
冬瓜排骨汤 dōngguāpáigǔtāng Winter melon spare rib soup
炖鸡汤 dùnjītāng Stewed chicken soup
Dessert 拔丝芋头/香蕉/苹果 básīyùtóu/xiāngjiāo/píngguǒ Caramelized taro/banana/apple
酥炸南瓜条 sūzhánánguātiáo Deep-fried pumpkin sticks

Some notes:

Feel free to contact us if you have any queries about Chinese food.

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