We’ve all been to a Chinese restaurant or takeout place and been overwhelmed by the sheer number of dishes on offer, but quite often you look at the menu and say to yourself “What is that?” You might be surprised to know that a lot of dishes on the restaurant menu aren’t really traditionally eaten in China and Taiwan—rather, they are Western Chinese food.
If you need help deciphering the menu the next time you order in or eat out at a Chinese restaurant, you've come to the right place. You'll find translations for dim sum menu items as well as takeout menu items. It doesn’t take literal Chinese writing into account, but it does explain what fung jeow, har gau, and many more delicacies mean in English.
For example, you might assume beef balls contain beef but are they made with seasoned ground beef or minced beef? Are they deep-fried, steamed, boiled?
How about kung pao ming har? It’s widely known kung pao was named after someone official, but what does the latter part mean?
Dim sum is a Cantonese style of steamed dumpling prepared in a small, almost bite-size portions. In the United States, the term dim sum has generalized to also refer to a style of eating or restaurant experience in which small plates of Chinese cuisine are presented on mobile carts to seated patrons. Restaurant-goers then choose the dishes they wish to try, and they are presented with the plates from the cart upon “ordering.”
Dim sum is generally presented and eaten family-style, meaning that the small plates are shared around the table and, because of the small portions, diners are able to try a variety of dishes. The typical dim sum menu will include various types of steamed buns, rice noodle rolls, and dumplings, all of which will include a range of fillings and ingredients from pork to prawns and chicken to vegetables.
Given the wide range of dim sum dishes and the way in which a person typically orders, many first-time dim sum restaurant-goers must simply jump in feet first or allow a more experienced member of the party to order. But with this descriptive guide, anyone can be ready to master the typical dim sum menu.
This guide to Chinese takeout contains a list of the most popular appetizers, soups and main dish names and introductions from Chinese takeaways and restaurants throughout the world.