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Let’s Eat!

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Let’s Eat!
Hungry? Let’s go to a restaurant! There are lots of yummy restaurants in China and, if you have friends or business contacts there, you may be treated to a banquet. So, you’ll need to know a little bit about the food. Dig in here so that you’ll be able to:
  • Recognize some basic food words heard in a restaurant
  • Order in a restaurant
  • Understand and respond to questions that use “or”
Flash Cards - Vocabulary
Flash Cards - Vocabulary
Complete Lesson (PDF)
Printable PDF version of this lesson

Let’s Eat!

吃 ( chī ): to eat
Radical: 口 (mouth)
Phonetic: 乞 (qi)
Components for 1st Character: 口 (mouth)
Components for 2nd Character: 乞 (beg)
If you want to make a request for a certain kind of food in a restaurant, pair 想 with 吃. 我想吃______. Does the food taste yummy? Let the host know — 好吃! (it’s good to eat!) If you’re talking about a drink, remember to use 喝— you can even say 好喝!
Memorization Hint: Take the radical as your first clue for this character—eating involves the mouth. And, those of us who haven’t had food for a while, may even beg for it.

菜 ( cài ): dish, vegetables
Radical: 艹 (grass)
Phonetic: 采 (cai)
Component: 艹 (grass), 爫(claw), 木 (tree)
When in a restaurant it’s common to eat family-style. If in a large group, one or two people will order the food. 菜 may refer to a specific dish (like Kung Pao Chicken), or to vegetables and vegetable dishes in general.
Memorization Hint: Grass and the leaves on trees… well, we may not want to eat them but they are vegetables to some creatures!

啤酒 ( pí jiǔ ): beer
Radicals: 口 (mouth) and 氵(water)
Sub-Word : 啤 - beer
酒 - spirits, liquor
Phonetic: 酉(you)
Components for 1st Character: 口 (mouth), 卑(low)
Components for 2nd Character: 氵(water), 酉 (wine vessel)
酒 will be the final character for most kinds of alcohol and can be used alone to refer to alcohol in a general way. Remember to use 喝 when mentioning you’d like to have some: 我想喝一点儿啤酒.
Memorization Hint: If you’re a beer drinker then you know after you’ve had a few you’ll inevitably have the urge to pee. Pí jiǔ!

葡萄酒 ( pú tao jiǔ ): wine
Sub-Word : 葡萄 - grapes
酒 - suitable, right
Components for 1st Character: 艹 ( grass), 勹 (wrap), 甫 (just now)
Components for 2nd Character: 艹 ( grass), 勹 (wrap), 缶(earthen jar)
Components for 3rd Character: 氵(water), 酉 (wine vessel)
Not a beer drinker? Use this word in the same way as 啤酒 when you want to refer to wine. Many Chinese wines are very sweet. If you don’t like sweet wines, you can say: 我不喜欢甜的. This use of 的 is explained in the Discussion section.
Memorization Hint: 酒 is a hint that this word is a kind of alcohol. Use the grass radical found twice in the word “grape” to remember this word. Grape + Alcohol = Wine!

还是 ( hái shì ): or
Radicals: 辶 (walk) and 日 (sun)
Sub-Word : 还 - still
是 - yes; to be
Components for 1st Character: 辶 (walk), 不(no, not)
Components for 2nd Character: 日 (sun), 疋 (a bolt of cloth)
还是 can be used when comparing things. For example, if someone wants to know what kind of drink you’d like, they might ask: 你想喝什么酒? 你喜欢啤酒还是葡萄酒? 还是 is a question word, so there’s no use for 吗 here.
Memorization Hint: The pronunciation of 还是 is similar to “hi, sure.” Maybe you can remember the meaning of this character by looking at two familiar parts learned back in Lessons 1 and 2, 是 and 不. “Yes” or “No”?

样 ( yàng ): type, kind
Radical: 木 (tree)
Phonetic: 羊 (yang)
Component: 木 (tree), 羊 (sheep)
Preceded by 什么, you can use 样 to ask about a particular kind of something. The phrase "什么样" should be modified with 的 to say: 你喜欢吃什么样的菜? Check out the Discussion section on the specifics of 的.
Memorization Hint: The phonetic 羊 has the letter Y right down the middle. Use this as a clue for the pronunciation of 样.

肉 ( (ròu ): meat
Radical: 肉 (meat)
Component: 肉 (meat)
There are lots of great meat dishes in China. Occasionally you might see something that looks like meat, but there’s no telling what kind it is. If you’re adventurous, dig in! If you’ve just got to know, ask first: 这是什么样的肉?
Memorization Hint: Is your neck getting a little stiff from all this studying? Reach your right ear toward your right shoulder to loosen the tension a little. While you’re there… do you notice the two letters in the character 肉? “r” for ròu! Maybe those r’s make you think of an animal’s growl? Even better—now you’ll remember that 肉 means meat.

饺子 ( jiǎo zi ): dumpling, pot sticker
Radicals: 饣(eat) and 子 (child)
Sub-Word : 饺 - stuffed dumpling
子 - child
Phonetic: 交 (jiao)
Components for 1st Character: 饣(eat), 亠 (lid), 父 (father)
Components for 2nd Character: 子 (child)
There are many kinds of yummy Chinese dumplings to try. They often come with meat, but if you’re vegetarian, just mention that you don’t eat meat: 我不吃肉.
Memorization Hint: There are many kinds of yummy Chinese dumplings to try. They often come with meat, but if you’re vegetarian, just mention that you don’t eat meat: 我不吃肉.

米饭 ( mǐ fàn ): rice
Radicals: 米 (rice) and 饣(eat)
Sub-Word : 米 - rice
饭 - cooked rice; food; meal
Phonetic: 反(fan)
Components for 1st Character: 米 (rice)
Components for 2nd Character: 饣(eat), 厂 (cliff), 又 (again)
Starch is typically eaten at the end of the meal, as a filler. This might be dumplings, rice, sweet buns, or noodles. 饭 by itself can mean “meal.” 你吃饭了吗? Is a common greeting when you see someone just after a meal time.
Memorization Hint: To me, it seems that 米 is made up of little grains of rice. It’s vaguely shaped like the letter “M” as well, which might remind you of the initial sound.

面条 ( miàn tiáo ): noodles
Radicals: 面 (face) and 木 (tree)
Sub-Word : 面 - face
条 - string
Components for 1st Character: 面 (face)
Components for 2nd Character: 木 (tree), 夂 (go)
When you are nearly finished with a banquet meal in China, they’ll start to bring out the starches to make sure you’re full. They may or may not ask you: 你想吃米饭还是面条?
Memorization Hint: Slurping noodles quickly, sucking the string-like bits into your face, is generally the norm in China.


Back in Lesson 3 we learned that the word 的 is a possessive suffix. So far we’ve used it only to show that a subject has a certain possession. For example, 我的爸爸. The use of 的goes much deeper than this. Let’s explore another use here.

In English we consider possession to mean that one person “has” something or someone. If an adjective is used to describe something, like a “yellow chair” there is no need to show possession, but if you think about it, it’s really implied, isn’t it? “Yellow” is an attribute of the “chair.”

Using 的 with an adjective allows the pair to become a noun. For example, if I want to refer to the “cheap one, ” I take the word for “cheap” and add 的: 很便宜的. To specify what the object is, place this word at the end of the phrase: 很便宜的菜 (the cheap food), 不便宜的水果 (the fruit that’s not cheap), 很贵的东西 (the expensive thing).

When 的 is used in this way it allows you to refer to something based on its attributes. Guess what? It works with more than just simple adjectives. You can also use it with 有 to talk about something or someone that has or doesn’t have something. Take a descriptive phrase like 有孩子 (have children), add 的 and a noun to change the implied meaning to “a person who has children”, or 有孩子的人. If the situation is such where the noun is understood, you can omit it (有孩子的).

Understanding the use of 的 will take a bit of practice. Keep your eye out for new examples and get studying!

Grammar: Or, Both, and Neither
  • When someone asks you a question using 还是 and both options are appealing, respond: 什么都好 (Whatever is fine/Either is good.) or 什么都喜欢 (I like both/all.)
  • If you do not find either option appealing, respond: 什么都不好 or 什么都不喜欢.
Vocabulary Review:
  1. 吃 chī to eat
  2. 菜 cài dish, vegetables
  3. 啤酒 pí jiǔ beer
  4. 葡萄酒 pú tao jiǔ wine
  5. 还是 hái shì or
  6. 样 yàng type, kind
  7. 肉 (ròu meat
  8. 饺子 jiǎo zi dumpling, pot sticker
  9. 米饭 mǐ fàn rice
  10. 面条 miàn tiáo noodles
Pierce was successful in finding a birthday gift for Hui Feng but he arrives at the dinner very late. Everyone’s nearly finished eating and toasts have been made, but there is enough food left for Pierce. Pierce is a vegetarian and has to explain to Hui Feng that he can’t eat meat.
 Nĭ mén hǎo ma?
 How is everyone?
Hui Feng: 
 很好!来吧, 你想喝什么?
 Hěn hǎo! Lái ba, nĭ xiǎng hē shén me?
 Great! Come on, what would you like to drink?
 Nĭ mén hē de shì pí jiǔ hái shì pú tao jiǔ?
 Is what you’re drinking beer or wine?
Hui Feng: 
 Wǒ mén dōu hē pí jiǔ.
 We’re all drinking beer.
 Wǒ yě xiǎng hē pí jiǔ.
 I’ll also have beer.
Hui Feng: 
 你要吃什么样的饺子? 你喜欢肉吗?
 Nĭ yào chī shén me yàng de jiǎo zi? Nĭ xǐ huan ròu ma?
 What kind of dumplings do you want to eat. Do you like meat?
 Wǒ bù néng chī ròu.
 I can’t eat meat.
Hui Feng: 
 Zhèr de jiǎo zi dōu yǒu ròu… nĭ xiǎng chī mǐ fàn hái shì miàn tiáo?
 The dumplings here all have meat… Do you want to eat rice or noodles?
 Miàn tiáo hǎo ma?
 Are noodles okay?
Hui Feng: 
 Hěn hǎo!
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