13 Chinese Food Words for Delicious Exploration

13 Essential Chinese Food Words

13 Essential Chinese Food Words to Expand Your Culinary Vocabulary

If you love exploring the world through food, Chinese cuisine is a must-try adventure, especially when learning the language. 

Perhaps you’re learning and want to make your lessons more immersive, or you’re planning a trip, and you want your language to be top-notch so you can experience China the right way.

And let’s be honest, with its amazing variety of regional flavors and cooking styles, it’s a journey for your tastebuds unlike any other.

That said, those Chinese menus full of food in Chinese can be intimidating, right?  

Wouldn’t it be awesome to know exactly what you’re ordering or to impress your friends with your knowledge of authentic dishes? That’s where this guide comes in. We’ll unlock 13 essential Chinese food words that will open up a whole new world of deliciousness. 

No more wondering how do you spell Chinese food or worrying about how to say which Chinese food in Mandarin; all the Chinese food vocabulary you need to know is right here.

And don’t worry; you don’t need to know 100 Chinese dishes and all their ingredients to get by. Just understand the fundamentals, and you’ll make great progress.

Whether you’re studying Chinese or just a foodie who wants to order dim sum like a pro, these words are your key. 

Let’s get into it.

13 Seriously Cool Chinese Food Words You Need to Know

饺子 Jiǎo Zi – Dumplings

Romanization: Jiǎo Zi

Chinese Characters: 饺子

English Translation: Dumplings

If there’s one dish that symbolizes the comforting warmth of Chinese cuisine, it’s dumplings!  

These delicious pockets of flavor aren’t just a meal; they’re a tradition. Especially during Chinese New Year, families gather to make dumplings together, their shape resembling ancient Chinese money. Eating them is said to bring wealth and prosperity in the coming year.

The classic pork and cabbage filling is just the beginning!  Modern chefs get creative, stuffing them with shrimp, chives, mushrooms, and even gooey cheese.  There’s a dumpling for everyone’s taste.

Want to discover your favorite? Just ask, “这是什么馅的饺子?” (zhè shì shén me xiàn de jiǎo zi?).  It means, “What filling is in these dumplings?” See? You’re already exploring Chinese cuisine like a pro!

炒饭 Chǎo Fàn – Fried Rice

Romanization: Chǎo Fàn

Chinese Characters: 炒饭

English Translation: Fried Rice

Think you know fried rice? Think again! 

Chinese 炒饭 (Chǎo Fàn) is so much more than a side dish – it’s a blank canvas for amazing flavors, with each region of China putting its own delicious spin on this classic.

Love seafood? Cantonese fried rice will make your tastebuds sing. Craving something a bit heartier? Yangzhou fried rice is packed with goodies like BBQ pork, shrimp, and those perfect little peas. The best part? There’s fried rice out there for everyone!

Try ordering with “我可以点扬州炒饭吗?” (Wǒ kě yǐ diǎn yáng zhōu chǎo fàn ma?). It means, “Can I order Yangzhou fried rice?” and unlocks a whole new world of flavor.

面条 Miàn Tiáo – Noodles

chinese noodles

Romanization: Miàn Tiáo

Chinese Characters: 面条

English Translation: Noodles

Forget what you think you know about noodles!  Chinese 面条 (Miàn Tiáo) are packed with meaning as well as flavor.  From springy hand-pulled noodles in flavorful broths to silky ribbons of Lo Mein, they show just how versatile simple ingredients can be.

Each region has its specialty: chewy Lanzhou beef noodles, spicy Sichuan Dandan noodles…there’s a noodle dish for every taste.  But did you know that noodles, especially long ones, symbolize longevity in Chinese culture? 

That’s why they’re often eaten at birthdays and celebrations like Chinese New Year for good luck and a long life.

Want to know more about the noodles in front of you?  Ask, “这些面条是用什么面做的?” (zhè xiē miàn tiáo shì yòng shén me miàn zuò de?). This means, “What kind of flour are these noodles made from?”  It shows your interest and helps you appreciate the dish even more!

豆腐 Dòu Fu – Tofu

Chinese Food Word:tofu

Romanization: Dòu Fu

Chinese Characters: 豆腐

English Translation: Tofu

When it comes to Chinese food words, Tofu (Dòu Fu) isn’t boring; it’s a culinary chameleon! 

This soybean superstar, which dates back over 2,000 years in China, can transform itself in the most amazing ways. Think of it like this: sometimes it’s as soft and silky as pudding; other times it gets crispy and golden-brown. It’s all about how it’s cooked.

From savory mapo tofu with its fiery kick to sweet desserts, tofu takes on any flavor you give it. That’s why it’s been a favorite in Chinese cooking for centuries.

Dying to know if the tofu dish you’re eyeing is sweet or spicy? Just ask, “这个豆腐是甜的还是辣的?” (zhè ge dòu fu shì tián de hái shì là de?). It’s your secret weapon for understanding all the delicious possibilities of tofu!

鸡肉 Jī Ròu – Chicken

Chinese Food Word:chicken

Romanization: Jī Ròu

Chinese Characters: 鸡肉

English Translation: Chicken

Chicken (Jī Ròu) might feel like a safe bet, but in Chinese cuisine, it’s anything but boring! From the sweet and saucy goodness of Kung Pao Chicken to the deep, savory flavors of Black Bean Chicken, there’s a whole world of chicken dishes waiting to be discovered.

Don’t be afraid to branch out and explore beyond your usual favorites. And if spice isn’t your thing, don’t worry; just ask, “我能点个不辣的鸡肉菜吗?” (Wǒ néng diǎn ge bù là de jī ròu cài ma?). 

This means “Can I order a non-spicy chicken dish?” and helps you find something delicious that fits your taste perfectly.

牛肉 Niú Ròu – Beef

Chinese Food Word:beef

Romanization: Niú Ròu

Chinese Characters: 牛肉

English Translation: Beef

Beef (Niú Ròu) is a star ingredient in Chinese cooking, delivering satisfying, savory flavors you won’t soon forget. A food in Chinese you need to know!

Imagine the sizzle and aroma of Mongolian Beef or the tender, melt-in-your-mouth bites of Beef with Broccoli steeped in a garlicky sauce—it’s enough to make any meat-lover’s mouth water!

Want to know the secrets behind your favorite beef dish? Don’t be shy! Ask, “这道牛肉是怎么烹饪的?” (Zhè dào niú ròu shì zěn me pēng rèn de?). This means, “How is this beef dish cooked?” It shows your interest and helps you learn more about the amazing techniques used in Chinese cuisine.

猪肉 Zhū Ròu – Pork

Romanization: Zhū Ròu

Chinese Characters: 猪肉

English Translation: Pork

If you love pork, Chinese cuisine is your paradise.

Zhū Ròu is everywhere, from grand feasts to simple home-cooked meals. Get ready for an amazing taste adventure: there’s the sweet-and-sour tang of classic Sweet and Sour Pork, the savory richness of Twice Cooked Pork… the possibilities are endless.

If you’re new to Chinese pork dishes, those two are a great place to start! But don’t stop there – a whole world of flavors to explore.

Ask “这个猪肉菜有多辣?” (Zhè ge zhū ròu cài yǒu duō là?). It means, “How spicy is this pork dish?” and shows you’re not afraid to customize your order.

鱼 Yú – Fish

Chinese Food Word:fish

Romanization: Yú

Chinese Characters: 鱼

English Translation: Fish

Fish (Yú) isn’t just fresh and delicious in Chinese cuisine – it also carries a special meaning.  The word “fish” sounds similar to the word for “surplus” or “abundance,” making it a symbol of prosperity.  

That’s why it’s often served on special occasions like Chinese New Year, bringing wishes of good fortune for the year to come.

Chinese chefs are masters of fish preparation!  From steaming with bright ginger and scallion to braising in rich sauces, the delicate flavors are a delight.  Want to try the freshest catch?  Just ask “今天的鱼是什么种类?” (Jīn tiān de yú shì shén me zhǒng lèi?).  This means “What type of fish is available today?” and helps you find something special.

虾 Xiā – Shrimp

Chinese Food Word:Shrimp

Romanization: Xiā

Chinese Characters:虾

English Translation: Shrimp

Shrimp (Xiā) fans, rejoice! Chinese cuisine offers a whole world of shrimpy goodness. Its sweet, delicate flavor and satisfying texture make it amazing in anything from sizzling stir-fries to light and flavorful steamed dishes.

For a garlicky punch, Shrimp with Garlic Sauce can’t be beaten. Or, try Shrimp with Lobster Sauce for a taste of pure luxury. 

Have allergies or just not a fan of shrimp? No problem! Asking “这个菜里有虾吗?” (Zhè ge cài lǐ yǒu xiā ma?) means “Does this dish contain shrimp?” and helps you find something equally delicious that fits your needs.

蔬菜 Shū Cài – Vegetables

Chinese Food Word:Vegetables

Romanization: Shū Cài

Chinese Characters: 蔬菜

English Translation: Vegetables

Forget boring salads – in Chinese cooking, vegetables (Shū Cài) are the stars of the show! Chefs treat them with respect, bringing out their natural flavors and textures in all kinds of healthy and satisfying dishes.  

Think vibrant green stir-fries, rich mushroom soups… it’s a delicious way to get your daily dose of goodness.

When you’re ready to explore the world of Chinese veggie dishes, ask “您有哪些蔬菜菜肴?” (Nín yǒu nǎ xiē shū cài cài yáo?). This means “What vegetable dishes do you have?” and lets you discover what fresh and exciting options are on offer.

汤 Tāng – Soup

Chinese Food Word:Soup

Romanization: Tāng

Chinese Characters: 汤

English Translation: Soup

Soup (Tāng) isn’t just a side dish in Chinese cuisine; it’s a tradition of warmth and nourishment. Whether it’s a light, refreshing broth to start your meal or a hearty, slow-cooked soup as the finale, there’s a perfect soup for every occasion.

If you’re a fan of bold flavors, Hot and Sour Soup is a must! Its tangy, spicy taste is both comforting and exciting.

Don’t be afraid to ask “今天的汤是什么?” (Jīn tiān de tāng shì shén me?). This means, “What is today’s soup?” It shows you care about the details and lets you find the soup that’s just right for you.

辣 Là – Spicy


Chinese Characters: 辣

English Translation: Spicy

Get ready for Là – the word that adds a fiery touch to Chinese cuisine! If you love a good flavor burn, Sichuan and Hunan dishes are your ticket to spice heaven. Think mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns and blazing hot chilis… it’s an adrenaline rush for your tastebuds.

Not a spice fan? Don’t worry! Asking “能做得不那么辣吗?” (Něng zuò de bù nà me là ma?) means “Can you make it less spicy?” and gives you control over the heat.  

甜 Tián – Sweet

Romanization: Tián

Chinese Characters: 甜

English Translation: Sweet

Chinese cuisine knows how to use sweetness wisely! Tián flavors can be subtle, add balance to savory dishes, or take center stage in delightful desserts. Think of the warm, gooey goodness of Red Bean Paste Buns or the flaky, melt-in-your-mouth sweetness of Egg Tarts… it’s enough to make any dessert lover smile.

Want to know if there’s a touch of sweetness in your dish? Just ask “这道菜甜吗?” (Zhè dào cài tián ma?). It means, “Is this dish sweet?” With a little knowledge, you can find the perfect level of sweetness for your taste.

Now, let’s take a look at some bonus questions.

What is Chinese Food in Chinese? 

Makes sense to know what the actual phrase Chinese Food in Chinese is. Interestingly, there isn’t one single way to say “Chinese food” in Chinese! Here’s why:

  • Formal: 中国菜 (Zhōngguó cài) – This literally translates to “Chinese cuisine” and is a formal way to refer to all food from China.
  • General: 中式食品 (Zhōngshì shí pǐn) or 中式食物 (Zhōngshì shí wù) – These terms mean “Chinese food” in a general sense, encompassing all edible products from China.
  • At a restaurant: Here, it’s all about what you’re ordering! For example, 饺子 (Jiǎozi) means dumplings, 炒饭 (Chǎo Fàn) means fried rice, and 面条 (Miàntiáo) means noodles.

Bonus Tip: When in doubt, asking  “这是什么菜?” (Zhè shì shén me cài?) – “What dish is this?” is a great way to find out what you’re about to enjoy!

How Do I Ask About Vegetarian Foods in Chinese?

While most foods in Chinese boasts a vast array of meat and seafood dishes, there’s a whole world of delicious vegetarian options waiting to be explored! Here’s how to ask about them:

  • Vegetarian by Choice: If you prefer plant-based meals, you can ask  “你们有素食菜吗?” (Nín yǒu sù shí cài ma?) This translates to “Do you have any vegetarian dishes?”
  • Specific Inquiry: Curious about the vegetarian ingredients in a dish? Try “这道菜里有什么素食原料吗?” (Zhè dào cài lǐ yǒu shén me sù shí yuán liào ma?) This means “Are there any vegetarian ingredients in this dish?”
  • Buddhist Vegetarian?:  Many vegetarian dishes in China follow Buddhist dietary restrictions.  To inquire about these, you can ask  “你们有斋菜吗?” (Nín yǒu zhāi cài ma?) This translates to “Do you have any Buddhist vegetarian dishes?”

By knowing these phrases, you can unlock a whole new level of delicious exploration in the world of Chinese food!

“民以食为天” (mín yǐ shí wéi tiān) – A Chinese Food Saying Explained

You might hear this phrase in restaurants or at celebrations focused on Chinese cuisine. Here’s what this kind of Chinese food saying means and why it matters:

  • Translation: “The people consider food as important as heaven.”
  • Meaning: This proverb highlights the central role food plays in Chinese culture. It’s not just about sustenance but about community, tradition, and enjoyment.
  • In Conversation: If you’re learning Chinese food vocabulary in Mandarin, this saying shows how deep the connection to food goes within the language itself.
  • Ordering Food: Understanding the importance of food helps you appreciate the care that goes into Chinese dishes. It can make you more adventurous and appreciative of the experience!

Bonus Tip: Impress your Chinese friends by using the phrase yourself when talking about delicious dishes!


You did it! From 鱼 (Yú – Fish) to 甜 (Tián – Sweet), you’ve unlocked a whole new world of flavors. Imagine ordering those delicious dumplings with confidence, asking about the day’s freshest fish, or customizing your dish to the perfect spice level. 

This is just the beginning of your Chinese food adventure!

Ready to take it further?  

Whether you’re dreaming of traveling to China, looking for Mandarin classes near me, or just want to impress your friends, NewConcept Education can help.

Our expert teachers will guide you on your language journey, making it fun, effective, and deeply rewarding.

Now, go forth and explore!  

Order something new, ask questions, and most importantly, enjoy all the amazing flavors Chinese cuisine has to offer.

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