From Eccentric Flower




To begin with, a refresher: The character on the left side of the logo, which also means FOOD or "complete meal," means "cooked rice." Uncooked rice has its own character/radical. The two are sometimes combined (RICE FOOD - "mifan") to clarify that the user really means "cooked rice," and not one of the latter character's other meanings:

mi3 fan4


The character on the other side of the logo is NOODLE. It's worth noting that this character is the "side" or "surface" character sort of sitting in the lap of the "wheat" radical. (It's less clear in this font, as I've already noted. Compare to the one on the logo, or the renditions at the Ho Toy Noodle Co.)

Worth noting, because if this character is used for noodles, they are wheat-flour noodles. (In fact, this character is occasionally used to mean wheat flour.) Worth noting also because the inner "side" portion is sometimes used to mean "noodles" by itself - simplifying the character by leaving out the "wheat" part.

No matter how it's written, the character is pronounced "mian" or "min" - and no matter how you slice it, "chow mein" ("chao mian") are stir-fried noodles.

chao3 mian4


On the other hand, here is the character for FLOUR, which by implication of its radical means rice flour.


When combined with a character meaning RIVER (don't ask me why), it means rice-flour noodles. But, to muddy the water, either of the two characters alone may be used as an abbreviation for that concept on a menu. And sometimes you will see RICE FLOUR as two characters - and that, too, will mean rice noodles if you see it on a menu.

The FLOUR character is pronounced "fan" or "fen" - and "chow fun" ("chao fen") are stir-fried rice-flour noodles.

chao3 fen3

[In both cases the standard English ways of writing these phrase have drifted a bit in pronunciation - "mian" and "min" (say the latter like the English "mean") are nearly the same, but "mein" (say like "mane") is not. Similarly, "fan" and "fen" are a lot closer than "fun" (which in Chinese is pronounced like "foon"). Anyway, you'll be able to figure it out.]

Wheat, in general, is more likely to be found in Northern Chinese cooking, and rice in Southern Chinese - although in an American Chinese restaurant, really, all bets are off. The Chinese don't use corn (a latecomer to their culture) as a grain, although they're fond of it as a vegetable.


Other grains, such as rye, millet, et cetera, mostly show up in this country in baking (or in booze), and Chinese cooking doesn't have a lot of "baking" as we know it. There IS a character for "millet" - in fact, it's prominent enough to be considered a radical. But I've never seen it on a menu. It's worth knowing the GRAIN radical seen here, though - which you've already seen as the left half of SHARP. If you know this, you'll be able to spot millet and other oddments pretty easily should they ever pop up.

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It strikes me, as I am giving you more of these very similar-looking radicals and as we move toward the end of the line, it is probably time to do a little "don't confuse these radicals" review:













WOOD, WATER, and FIRE all have four strokes, but this is one of those cases where knowing how the characters are put together helps you to tell them apart (for example, the left side of WATER is a single stroke - WATER does not have a "crossbar" stroke, and WOOD does). But this is beyond the scope of these pages.

Fortunately, when used as part of other characters, "fire" and "water" look very different from their full-sized versions, and that helps - or maybe adds to the confusion; you decide, when you get to the final review page.

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Rice in Chinese restaurants - as you probably already know - is going to be a shorter-grained rice than American kitchens usually use. It is supposed to be rather sticky. If you've eaten rice with chopsticks, you'll understand why.

Speaking of chopsticks, it occurs to me that we are at the end of the menu section and I haven't shown you how to write that. Not that you'll ever need to, but just for the sake of completeness, here it is. (This is usually followed by CHILD, but means the same thing either way.)


The CHOPSTICKS character is "kuai" in putonghua ("kuaizi" with CHILD added), and "faai" in Cantonese (or "faaiji"). If you ever had to ask for chopsticks in an American Chinese restaurant, "faaiji" is probably what you'd want to use. I have trouble remembering this, because the Japanese term ("hashi") is apparently occupying that slot in my brain.


Anyway, you'll never need to ask for chopsticks. Usually it's the other way around - although I've learned to be reasonably adept with the things, I sometimes find myself asking for a FORK. Which you've already seen as part of the famous "cha siu" or "fork roast" pork. (Please see the comment on the dim sum page about the tones, though.)


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