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How to Decipher Chinese Menus (Part 1): Ordering Chicken

Nov. 30, 2016

Ordering Chicken

In your quest for learning Chinese, it is likely you have come into contact with a Chinese menu. Its very possible at first glance, the menu was set aside in disbelief. What on earth do these names mean? What are you actually ordering? In some cases, Chinese dishes do not have names with obvious meanings. Instead of seeing a straightforward name like “chicken soup” you might run across a “八珍烩芙蓉 (bā zhēn huì fúróng)” which translates as “eight-treasure braised hibiscus.”

But don’t despair! We are putting together a guide that will help you decipher Chinese menus bit by bit. Eventually you will feel safe knowing what you ordered before the food arrives. You will also become familiar with the many delicious dishes in the Chinese cuisine and introduce your tastebuds to a whole new realm of flavor.

Let’s get started with a simple favorite: 鸡 () chicken. The great news is Chinese is a very logical language. You know when you see 鸡 () on a menu its a dish with chicken in it. Knowing which part of the chicken it is, is also very straightforward. It follows the pattern of “鸡 + part of the chicken,” for example, 鸡腿 (jītuǐ) chicken leg, 鸡 () chicken + 腿 (tuǐ) leg.

Example:

Tāmen wǎnfàn chī jītuǐ.
他们     晚饭     吃 鸡腿。
They had chicken legs for supper.

Here are some parts of chicken you will see on menus:
鸡腿 (jītuǐ): chicken legs

鸡胸 (jīxiōng): chicken breast (usually uncooked)

鸡排 (jīpái): chicken breast (usually fried, whole piece)

鸡翅 (jīchì): chicken wings

鸡杂 (jīzá): a mix of chicken pieces including, chicken heart, chicken intestines etc.

鸡块 (jīkuài): chicken piece (usually part of the breast)

One thing that always scared me on menus was the word 鸡柳 (jīliǔ). The word 柳 (liǔ) means “willow,” and I just assumed “chicken willow” was intestines or some kind of boney meat. Later I found out that this actually is chicken breast! A whole new realm of food options opened up.

Let’s take a closer look. It turns out 柳 (liǔ) is a word used specifically for food dishes. It is used for meat that is cut into pieces and usually fried. It is used for meat where you can clearly see a pattern of veins, and is made of muscle, such as chicken breast, pork and beef tenderloin.

Example:

Wǒmen qù mǎi jīliǔ chī ba!
我们       去  买 鸡柳 吃 吧!
Let’s go eat fried chicken breast!

Hopefully after this lesson you can order chicken like a boss!

Quiz:

1. What is 鸡柳 (jīliǔ)?

A. A part of a chicken that looks like a willow tree
B. Chicken breast
C. A dish cooked with the bark of a willow tree
D. Chicken’s intestines
See Answer

Know more about unique Chinese dishes:

Stinky Tofu: Smells Awful, Tastes Great!

Is “Pidan” the Most Disgusting Food in the World? Chinese People Would Say No!

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