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How to Order Food in Chinese

9 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Chinese Words and Phrases for Traveling

Whether you're on a short visit to a Chinese-speaking country or planning to live there, knowing how to order food in Chinese is essential. Fortunately, food in China is fantastic and inexpensive. There’s nothing like a big, steaming bowl of noodle soup on a cold day to warm you up. The fact that you only paid 75 cents for the soup, makes it even more satisfying!

Restaurants in China are almost as varied as those in the United States, although you don’t get quite as much international food in most places. You'll get plenty of regional Chinese cuisine, which goes way beyond what is served as "traditional" Chinese food in the States.

Here are some of the most common types of restaurants.

jiŭbă (bar)
fàndiàn (restaurant)
kāfēitīng (coffeehouse)
cháguăn (teahouse)

Most places have a hostess who seats your party. Then a waitress (fúwùyuán) will wait at your table — literally stand there and wait — to take your order. In China, the service is usually quite good. The fúwùyuán will be very attentive to you during your meal: noticing when your drink is low, clearing empty plates, and so on.

To experience the Chinese food that the locals enjoy, make sure you get away from the tourist places.

Some typical foods and drinks that you are likely to see on a Chinese menu include

sānmíngzhì (sandwich)
mĭfàn (rice)
jiăozi (dumplings)
yì bēi chá (a cup of tea)
yì bēi shuĭ (a glass of water)
kāfēi/kah fay (coffee)
jiŭ/jyoe (wine; alcohol)

The following phrases might help you when you're eating at a restaurant.

  • wŏ xiăng yùyuē yígè wèizi. (I would like to make a reservation.)

  • shénme shíjiān? (For what time?)

  • jĭ gè rén? (For how many people?)

  • duìbuqĭ, wŏmen méiyŏu wèizi le. (I’m sorry, we’re full.)

  • qĭng gĕiwŏ yìbēi kāfēi. (A cup of coffee, please.)

  • wŏ yào yìdiăn shuĭ. (I would like some water, please.)

  • nĭmen xiăng chīdiăn shénme? (What would you like to eat?)

  • jīntiān yŏu shénme tèbié de cài ma? (What is today’s special?)

  • wŏmen chī sù. (We are vegetarians.)

  • qĭng gĕi wŏmen zhàngdān. (Bring us the check, please.)

  • wŏ bù chī ròu. (I don’t eat meat.)

  • zài năr fù qián? (Where do I pay?)

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