From Eccentric Flower




While I have given these pages a few trifling revisions in reposting them here, the last time they were seriously touched was probably around 2006. They are in need of updates. If you have sent me mail about them, especially if you are a native Chinese speaker who has sent me revisions, thank you very much, and I apologize for my tardiness.

If you would like to send me mail about them, especially if you are a native Chinese speaker, the address is at the bottom - or, if you have a login here, you can post on any applicable discussion page in the project. I recognize that this is a greatly imperfect project, and I am still constantly looking to improve it.

The next time this project is updated it will probably be expanded. What I would like to do is actually have a visual guide to Chinese vegetables - the Vegetable Madness is both the most complex and most imperfect section of these pages; I simply haven't done it justice. But right now, time and energy simply don't permit.
- Columbina, 30 May 2009

This is a story about learning to be an aware eater.

Like Calvin Trillin (most famously) and many others, I have never quite been able to sit down to a meal in a Chinese restaurant without wondering. Wondering if the Chinese characters on the menu said the same thing as the alleged English translations. Wondering what goodies I was missing from the Chinese-only specials board on the wall.

Wondering if there could be a more efficient way to make sure I got exactly what I thought I was getting, to know a little more about what I was ordering, to enable myself to make better food decisions.

So I started to learn some Chinese. I never did learn much. I still can't read a newspaper in Chinese, nor a non-food-related sign, nor hold a conversation in it. But I can read a menu in Chinese. And here I'm going to attempt to show you how to do it too.

This offer comes with some strict limitations.

I'm not going to teach you how to speak any Chinese, not even a little. These pages will be very little concerned with the sounds of Chinese or even with writing Chinese in Western letters. Mostly this is about Chinese characters. (This is exactly the opposite of the approach most Chinese textbooks take. But this is not a textbook.)

I'm also not going to show you any Chinese outside of a very limited environment: Restaurant signs and restaurant menus. The goal is to enable you to look at a restaurant sign and say, "oh, this place specializes in seafood," or to look at a mystery-meat dish on a menu and see the Chinese and say, "ah, it's a lamb dish."

These are relatively simple goals, and it's not hard, but if you do actually want the information, then play by the rules: Read the pages in order, no looking ahead or skipping. And take some time on the pages where I stop to show you what we've seen so far.

Or, conversely, you could just read it for entertainment. I've tried to keep it relatively light and fluffy. But you should still read it in strict order, or later pages won't make any sense.

Begin at the beginning


See the full contents (if you want to pick up where you left off)

Correspondence about Mei Wah may be sent to columbina at eccentricflower dot com. Please place [Mei Wah] or [EF] (including the square brackets) at the beginning of your subject line or you run the risk of it being deleted as spam.

All text and background images on these pages are copyright © 2004 by the author, except for quoted or excerpted material.

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