Survival Chinese Phrases For Eating Out in China
Eating out is an integral part of the Chinese travel experience. From luxury dining to hole-in-the-wall establishments, each restaurant offers a taste of the local culture. While many restaurants cater specifically to tourists, an authentic experience could be well within reach if you’re willing to navigate the language divide.
By learning a few key phrases in advance, you can streamline the process of ordering and paying for your meal while also showing your respect for local culture. The following terms and phrases will prove especially useful during your visit:
1. Nǐ Chī Fàn Le Ma
Prior to your meal, feel free to use this phrase to determine whether your companions are ready to eat out. Be careful; depending on the context, this phrase could also be interpreted as a simple “How are you?”
2. Huān Yíng
You may hear this friendly phrase as you enter a restaurant. It means “welcome” and is meant to set you and your fellow diners at ease. The term “huān” actually means “joyous.” Thus, directly translated, the entire phrase means “We are pleased to welcome you.”
3. Fú Wù Yuán
This key term means “waiter” and should be used as assertively as possible. In noisy restaurants, you may need to yell loudly for the waiter. In China, waiters actually appreciate the noise, as they want to be the first to know when you need something.
4. Wǒ Chī Sù
If you typically avoid meat, this simplified phrase will help you make your dietary restrictions known. Keep in mind, however, that some form of meat is included with nearly every meal in China — even when it’s not readily apparent.
When in doubt, aim to visit restaurants that specifically cater to vegetarian and vegan visitors. While such establishments are not yet common in China, a few can be found in big cities such as Beijing.
5. Zhè Ge Yǒu Ròu Ma
If you don’t feel entirely confident that a given dish lacks meat, you can check with this simple question, which translates to, “Does this have meat?” Again, keep in mind that what you think of as an animal product may strike the average Chinese person as meat-free. For example, seemingly meat-free meals often include chicken stock. Still, it never hurts to ask for clarification.
6. Wǒ Bù Néng Chī
Beyond preferences regarding animal products, you may be unable to eat specific ingredients due to allergies. Share your limitations with this phrase, followed by the specific ingredients you cannot consume.
7. Yǒu Méi Yǒu
The last few phrases have focused on foods that you cannot — or prefer not to — eat. If you are especially fond of a certain ingredient, however, you’re welcome to inquire whether it’s available with this phrase, which translates to “Do you have ___?”
8. Mǎi Dān
Once you finish your meal, you can use this phrase to request the bill. If you struggle to get the waiter’s attention, feel free to shout “fú wù yuán” as mentioned previously, followed by “mǎi dān” to express your intention to pay.
9. Kě Yǐ Shuā Kǎ Ma
China maintains a primarily cash-based approach to everyday payments, so you’ll want to arrive with plenty to ensure you can pay for your meal. Rural restaurants, in particular, rarely accept credit cards. Conversely, upscale establishments in tourist-heavy areas often accept or even encourage credit cards. Translated to “Do you accept credit cards?” this phrase will help you determine which form of payment is ideal in your situation.
10. Xiǎo Fèi
Tipping is not customary in China. If, however, you insist on leaving a tip in recognition of exceptional service, you can use this phrase to indicate your intentions. Directly translated, this term means “small fee.” Although kind, your gesture may prompt confusion. Tips are slightly more common at fancy restaurants in touristy areas — but definitely not expected.
Eating out in China can be a delight — especially if you arrive at local restaurants equipped with a basic knowledge of applicable terms and phrases. Your efforts to master these phrases will pay off quickly as you enjoy the best of Chinese cuisine.