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Old 12-20-2017, 08:18 PM
189 posts, read 255,116 times
Reputation: 101


I'll be travelling to China and my knowledge of Chinese characters is very slim. (limited to maybe 200 characters)

How hard would it be to order food in a Chinese restaurant with very little knowledge of chinese characters? I can speak some chinese, but reading is a different story.

Are English menus common?

Also, does anyone know of a website that lists the most common chinese characters for restaurant dishes?
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Old 12-20-2017, 10:33 PM
Location: DFW
6,795 posts, read 11,761,346 times
Reputation: 5148
I'm in a similar boat as you when I visited Hong Kong and Macau about 6 years ago.. didn't have any trouble in any of the touristy areas but I did run into some places with Chinese-only menus off the beaten path (and to add to the trouble, I only spoke Mandarin, not Cantonese.)

Yes, English use is more widespread in HK and Macau but it shouldn't be too different in the major Chinese cities (like Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou.) Last time I was in the Mainland was maybe 16 years ago and I remember seeing English on the menus in some of the fancier restaurants. But when ordering street food, I simply just pointed at what I wanted and asked what it is and how much. Then again, I had my parents with me at the time so they were my translators whenever I needed to read Chinese.

If you have a fairly recent unlocked smartphone, definitely bring that and get a local LTE SIM so you can get an app to do translations on the fly (by pointing your phone to the Chinese characters.) I didn't have that 16 or even 6 years ago.
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Old 12-21-2017, 07:03 AM
Location: Cebu, Philippines
4,361 posts, read 1,657,079 times
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When I was there, we just went in the kitchen and lifted potlids and pointed to what looked good. I dont know if you can still do that or not.
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Old 12-21-2017, 10:16 AM
6,722 posts, read 6,597,578 times
Reputation: 2386
Many menus have pictures. Just point to the pictures.

Also you can use your phone to translate, or write some commonly used phrases down to show the waitress.

Chinese restaurants in China are much more diverse than American "Chinese" restaurants. Many places have their unique dishes.
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Old 12-21-2017, 10:18 AM
Location: planet earth
4,805 posts, read 1,824,401 times
Reputation: 10665
Do you have a phone?

There are nice translation programs these days.
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Old 12-22-2017, 10:06 PM
652 posts, read 581,038 times
Reputation: 699
Most menus in Mainland China have pictures. Just point to the pictures of what looks good.
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