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In China your first Chinese restaurant visits and use of Chinese menus might cause frustration, especially if the menus are not written in English and there aren't pictures of the dishes.
Here you'll learn what Chinese menus are like and how to use them. You'll also find links for all of our food pages with menus for a variety of kinds of dishes and translations from Chinese to English to help you select the foods you'd like.
Eating Chinese food at a typical authentic Chinese restaurant is generally very social. People sit around the table to share a selection of different dishes that are placed in the center of the table instead of each having their own. This can make eating Chinese food rather fun.
It is customary in China to select one dish for each person at the table. This means that if you have a group of 5 people, you might select 2 meat dishes and 3 vegetable dishes, but it's up to you. Appetizers, entrees, or desserts are optional as is the choice of beverages.
Chinese menus are often helpfully separated into sections such as "rice dishes", "noodle dishes", "vegetables", and "beverages" (see food type links below), and they are not usually separated into sections such as "lunch" and "dinner" as in Western menus.
What you need to do is choose the dishes you'd want from the array on the menu that you think will make for a good meal. So, choose from the various meat, vegetable, rice, noodle, etc. dishes, and order extra sides, beverages, and dessert to complete your meal.
Keep in mind that the taste and style of a Chinese dish will vary depending on the restaurant. Nevertheless, knowing the translation for some typical dishes can help you get close. For more pointers, see How to Order Chinese Food.
Unlike in the West, where at most sit-down restaurants, the whole meal is prepared and served at one time, in China there's a "just in time" approach. The cooks will usually decide to cook the dishes in an order that makes sense to them, and the dishes will arrive at varying times when they are ready. You might finish eating some dishes before the others have arrived.
What this means for you is that you can get shorter waiting times after you order initially, and often hotter food will arrive than what you would get if the whole meal arrived at one time. But it also means your favorite side dish or even your favorite main course might not arrive until the middle or near the end of your meal! This might be frustrating if you have to wait for your favorites, but you could tell the waiter beforehand what you want to be brought out first.
We have provided menus on our various food type pages with the names of dishes written in English and Chinese characters. This means you can select the dish using its English name and point to the Chinese to order. Chinese wording and pronunciations are also included for you to listen for and for ordering verbally. Here's an example showing some lamb dishes:
|Xinjiang Roast Whole Lamb||Xinjiang Kao Quan Yang||Sshyin-jyang kao-chwen-yang||新疆烤全羊|
|Northeast Mutton Slice Hot Pot||Dongbei Shuan Yangrou||Dong-bay shwann yang-roh||东北涮羊肉|
|Inner Mongolia Roast Mutton||Menggu Kaorou||Mnng-goo kao-roh||蒙古烤肉|
If you are not familiar with China, you might assume that the cuisine all over China is the same. Definitely NOT! The style and tastes of the available dishes vary greatly from region to region. But you'll usually find a variety of styles of restaurants available in every city, so purview this list and choose your favorites!
See more on The Eight Regional Cuisines of China
Here is our list of typical Chinese main course dish menus for your information and use.
For example, if you know of or have heard of a specific beef dish you want to order, you can look for it under the 'beef dishes' list and either show the waiter on your device or say it to him. Pronunciations are also included. The menus below have the names of dishes written in English and Chinese characters.
Drinks are also optional. Unlike what you might assume, tea is not provided as a matter of course in all regions of China, though it is provided in many local-style restaurants in regions such as Guangdong and Hong Kong.
In many regions, a broth or a kind of light soup is provided that differs according to the region, and many restaurants will simply offer water. The water might be boiled hot water that is more traditional or sometimes cold or bottled. Again, it depends on the region or kind of restaurant.
Unfortunately, kosher restaurants and restaurants catering for food allergies are almost non-existent in China. If you have a food allergy or other requirements, see How to Handle Food Allergies When Traveling in China for help on explaining to the restaurant staff how they should prepare your food.
If you want to try China's authentic local foods, our tours will take you to the best local restaurants.