How Chinese Dishes Were Named

Many people like eating Chinese dishes and Chinese restaurants are everywhere in the world. Do you know how Chinese people name their dishes? There are a variety of Chinese dishes, but the names of Chinese dishes can be divided into these following types.

Cooking Method + Main Ingredient

These kinds of dishes normally have one main ingredient per dish. For example, 烤鸭(kao3ya1, roast duck), 清蒸鱼(qing1zheng1 yu2, steamed fish), 红烧肉(hong2 shao1 rou4, pork braised in soy sauce).

Sometimes people add the cutting method as well, such as 炒土豆丝(chao3 tu3 dou4 si1, fried shredded potato) and 红烧鸡块(hong2shao1ji1kuai4, braised chicken chunks). The most common cutting methods are “片(pian4, sliced)”, “丁(ding1, diced)”, “丝(si1, shredded)” and “块(kuai4, chunk)”.


One Main Ingredient + Cooking Method + The Other Main Ingredient

For example, 西红柿炒鸡蛋(xi1hong2shi4 chao3 ji1dan4, scrambled eggs with tomatoes), 土豆炖牛肉(tu3dou4 dun4 niu2rou4, stewed beef with potato). Because these kinds of names normally are quite long, and most people already know the cooking method of these dishes, people sometimes will skip the cooking method and only put two main ingredients together:

西红柿炒鸡蛋 = 西红柿鸡蛋

土豆炖牛肉 = 土豆牛肉

Flavor + Ingredient

China is a big country and dishes from different areas have different flavors. Some common flavors are 鱼香(yu2xiang1, fish flavor), 麻辣(ma2la4, spicy and numb), 糖醋(tang2cu4, sweet and sour), 酸辣(suan1la4, hot and sour) and so on.

糖醋排骨(tang2cu4 pai2gu3, sweet and sour spareribs), 酸辣包菜(suan1la4 bao1cai4, hot and sour cabbage), 鱼香肉丝(yu2xiang1 rou4si1, Shredded pork in fish flavor chili sauce)…All these are common dishes in Chinese restaurants. An interesting thing is that there is never any fish in a fish flavored dish. Chefs mix different seasonings together to create fish flavor.

A Person’s Name + Ingredient

Dishes with this kind of names are often very traditional, such as 宫保鸡丁(gong1bao3 ji1ding1, Kung Pao chicken), 东坡肉(dong1po1 rou4, Dong Po pork) and 麻婆豆腐(ma2po2 dou4fu, Ma Po tofu). Kung Pao chicken is a very famous Sichuan dish, and is also considered to be many foreigners’ favorite dish.

Besides these types, there are also many other interesting and specially named dishes in China. You won’t be able to tell what ingredients they use in the dish. For example, there is no lion in the dish 狮子头(shi1zi tou2, Lion head), instead it’s a kind of big meatballs.

After reading this article, do you know how to order food in a Chinese restaurant?

Alice writes columns for the GoEast Blog on studying Chinese and Chinese language. She completed her MA in Chinese language and literature at Nankai University.