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"The Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters": Chinese Food & Eating Translations


prasantrin
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I'll add that I had it on a Cathay economy class flight from HK to NYC. It was cut just like in those photos, and served with beef and rice. It was written as "jade melon," and that's the only time I've seen it written like that in English.

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Thanks for the detective work so far!  To help in the investigation, here are two pictures I took of jade melon, sliced and stir-fried:

Jade melon photos in my Picasa gallery

What you showed there is very similar (just very similar, may not be identical) to the Italian squash we have here. The colors (both the skin and the inside) look very much like Italian squash.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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The photograph shown by Xiao Ling of a fuzzy melon, is actually the same as a very young form of a type of 'winter melon' Benincasa hispida. Shapes do not matter, as will be true of the second common bottle-shaped, light green gourd sold in Chinese groceries in the US. These are forms of Lagenaria.

Coming to the third fruit, from Ah Leung's picture, and its cucumber-like similarity, one might hazard a guess that it actually species-wise is a muskmelon/cantaloupe [Cucumis melo] but belonging to the non-sweet part of the family [which forms the majority!!]

The center of diversity for this segment is South and South-east Asia. Again, shapes (and skin color) are hugely variable, from blocky to elongated, massive cucumber-like. This is a very important vegetable in tropical India, and found extensively in Thailand. i have no knowledge about its significance elsewhere.

I cannot say for certain that this is the same vegetable, because the ones i know have pale greenish interiors. The shape of the seeds would be a clinching identifier. If we could get a high-resolution picture of those, we would know what cucurbit we are talking about:

moschata---- zucchini, squash, pumpkins [or similar west hemishphere species]

melo--cucumber like seeds

other: e.g. trichosanthes

g

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Thanks, liuzhou. That does sound most reasonable: that this is best described as a kind of "Chinese zucchini," and it's not too far off from the US style, it's just been bred for slightly firmer texture (and larger size). I'll keep an eye out at the Chinese markets.

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  • 2 months later...

We go for dim sum once or twice a month either in Flushing or NYC Chinatown. We have almost given up on fried items - they are almost never hot, crisp, or greasefree. Sometimes we luck out and the server speaks or understands English and responds yes or no if I ask. Although, a yes response has also resulted in cold and limp fried items - oh well... Is there a phrase I could learn to say to the server asking if the fried items she is offering are fresh made - right from the kitchen, hot and crispy? Thanks.

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Hi, John. To ask if something is fresh in Mandarin, say, "Xin xian ma?" which basically means: "Fresh?"

The "xi" sound is something between a hiss and an "sh" (as in "sheep") in English. So the first word will sound almost like "sheen", but you'll likely not be understood without the hissy part ("sh" is its own separate sound). "Xian" rhymes with "chien" as in French for dog or the second syllable of "Vienna".

Then there are the tones. The first part is a sustained flat note with a slightly high pitch. Sort of like if you were conducting an a capella recital and had to give the group a high A ("Xiiiii!"). The second word should be pronounced with a dip in tone, as though you were confused (like: "uhhhh?").

Looking over this I'm realizing this explanation is totally absurd. It would be a lot easier if to just find a Chinese person in NYC or Flushing (though I'm sure they're in short supply).

We go for dim sum once or twice a month either in Flushing or NYC Chinatown.  We have almost given up on fried items - they are almost never hot, crisp, or greasefree.  Sometimes we luck out and the server speaks or understands English and responds yes or no if I ask.  Although, a yes response has also resulted in cold and limp fried items - oh well...  Is there a phrase I could learn to say to the server asking if the fried items she is offering are fresh made - right from the kitchen, hot and crispy?  Thanks.

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Which restaurant do you go to? That might be part of the problem. I hope you're not going to Jin Fong! Come out to Flushing for the best dim sum. (I know, I know...I'm biased. Flushing's got the best dim sum, though!)

Here's something that might help:

Ask if they speak Cantonese:

"Neh gong Guongdong wah?"

Then ask are those freshly fried:

"Goh dee hai mah sun seen jah gah?"

They'll either respond:

"Hai" - means yes

"M'hai" -means no

Or they'll just look at you like you have three heads. Which might happen given the lovely customer service in most Chinatowns!

ETA: I'm giving you the simplified Cantonese - the not so formal, every day verbage. This is the "get you by" Cantonese. For the more formal and proper way of speaking I would ask Ah Leung Goh or the other elders.

Edited by Gastro888 (log)
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LOL! Good one, Dejah Jeh. Problem is that here in NYC the waitstaff will snap back and say, *tsk* "Ghang lah!" (Of course!)

I had one go ballistic on me when I asked for the black sesame rolls. She was ranting that there weren't any and why was I asking? I just looked at her and asked if that was necessary.

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Or just point to the limp, flaccid, offensive item, shake your head and say "mm yet"!!(not hot) emphatically. :raz:  :laugh: Assuming that the server is a Canto speaker.

Say" Mmmmm yeet ", and Gastro can shoot back at the offensive server and say" "Chee seen ah." :laugh:

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Forget about learning any Chinese (It's impossible to do without learning tones.) and watch for the carts as they come out of the kitchen. When you see something you like race over to the cart and grab it while it's hot.

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Forget about learning any Chinese (It's impossible to do without learning tones.) and watch for the carts as they come out of the kitchen. When you see something you like race over to the cart and grab it while it's hot.

When in doubt, just poke at the dim sum and see if it is hot and crispy! :laugh::laugh::laugh:

Sorry, johnjohn... there is just no easy way to learn a language (on top of that the dialect issue (Cantonese versus Mandarin)). But there is good chance that dim sum workers probably speak Cantonese.

In Cantonese: "Yeet Hmmmmm Yeet?" Is a question. "Yeet" means "hot" (temperature-wise). "Hmmm" is a negation. "Hmmm Yeet" means "not hot". "Yeet Hmmmm Yeet" put together is a form of a question "hot? not hot?".

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Another problem is that if you don't look Asian the server will not be expecting you to be speaking Chinese and probably won't recognize what you're trying to say even if you could say it properly. You'd be better off printing off Chinese characters on a piece of paper and showing it to them. But then again, their job is to push their wares, so they will tell you it's hot even if it isn't.

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Another problem is that if you don't look Asian the server will not be expecting you to be speaking Chinese and probably won't recognize what you're trying to say even if you could say it properly. You'd be better off printing off Chinese characters on a piece of paper and showing it to them. But then again, their job is to push their wares, so they will tell you it's hot even if it isn't.

LOLOL! Tell me about it! But once they realize what I'm saying, it is not a problem, and you should see the faces if I pull out my dictionary or write the character out in front of them!

That last bit is so true. When they have a cart, they have a job to do and they probably don't know the state of the food -- especially near the end of their round.

The best thing is to sit near the kitchen where you will get dim sum as it comes out fresh.

A few words:

Fresh? 新的馬﹖ (XIN DE MA?)

Hot? 熱的馬﹖ (RE DE MA?)

Spicy hot? 辣的馬﹖(LA DE MA?)

Crispy? 脆的馬﹖ (CUI DE MA?)

Someone correct me if I have them wrong.

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...When in doubt, just poke at the dim sum and see if it is hot and crispy!  :laugh:  :laugh:  :laugh:...

Oh Ah Leung Goh, let's not teach him the ghetto fabulous ways of the village! Bad enough there's already so many people doing stuff like this, we don't need another person doing it!:laugh::laugh::laugh::raz:

Also remember he's in NYC. The dim sum ladies here are so surly which means they're prone to ignore you, ridicule you or make a smart ass remark. I get around this a few ways: being super polite and nice, being knowledgeable or being a smart ass with a bigger mouth. :wink:

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Those look good and are definitely a better idea than trying to verbally explain your wishes. Other folks here may disagree but except for some of the more linguistically gifted they WILL NOT understand you if you go in with the romanization and try speaking. I can speak Mandarin fairly well, and have, on too many occasions, watched that scene play out to the frustration of all involved.

You do realize though, that aside from telling you 没有, no matter what you write, they're going to answer in the affirmative?

Another problem is that if you don't look Asian the server will not be expecting you to be speaking Chinese and probably won't recognize what you're trying to say even if you could say it properly. You'd be better off printing off Chinese characters on a piece of paper and showing it to them. But then again, their job is to push their wares, so they will tell you it's hot even if it isn't.

LOLOL! Tell me about it! But once they realize what I'm saying, it is not a problem, and you should see the faces if I pull out my dictionary or write the character out in front of them!

That last bit is so true. When they have a cart, they have a job to do and they probably don't know the state of the food -- especially near the end of their round.

The best thing is to sit near the kitchen where you will get dim sum as it comes out fresh.

A few words:

Fresh? 新的馬﹖ (XIN DE MA?)

Hot? 熱的馬﹖ (RE DE MA?)

Spicy hot? 辣的馬﹖(LA DE MA?)

Crispy? 脆的馬﹖ (CUI DE MA?)

Someone correct me if I have them wrong.

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.

A few words:

Fresh?  新的馬﹖ (XIN DE MA?)

Hot? 熱的馬﹖ (RE DE MA?)

Spicy hot? 辣的馬﹖(LA DE MA?)

Crispy? 脆的馬﹖ (CUI DE MA?)

Someone correct me if I have them wrong.

Okay, corrections here: :smile:

Fresh? 新鮮的嗎? (XINXIAN DE MA?)i s clearer in meaning.

The others should be:

Hot? 熱的嗎﹖ (RE DE MA?)

Spicy hot? 辣的嗎﹖(LA DE MA?)

Crispy? 脆的嗎﹖ (CUI DE MA?)

means horse, whereas turns a statement into a question.

Hoping this works, because the characters wouldn't show when I previewed the post.

Edited to get the characters to show.

Edited by anzu (log)
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Anzu ---

OOPS!

{{{{{{Batting head}}}}}}}}

I DO know 馬 - 嗎 - 瑪 - 媽 - and 罵! (slipshod on my part)

Plus xin xian is better than just xin.

And about mei you 沒有 --- I swear it is the most popular word/ phrase in the Chinese language!!

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He would have no recourse but to gather all the bowls, chopsticks and teacups in front of you, roll up the plastic table clothes and say, "Hui lah, hum gah chan!!. :wink:

:laugh::raz:

Don't start a cursing contest, Ben Sook. I don't want to shock people with what I know (and am still learning!) :laugh:

It's true, no matter what you ask, they're going to say that everything fresh b/c they want to get the items off their cart. Trust your senses and make sure you get a seat close to the kitchen. On the proper side of the dim sum trail. Nothing worse than sitting next to the kitchen only to find out that you're on the opposite side where all the carts go back INTO the kitchen.

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Or you can just avoid the dimsum in Manhattan's Chinatown and head for Henry's Evergreen on 1st Avenue (I think it's between 61st and 62nd). It's been several years since I've been there, but I had very good dim sum each time I was there in the early 2000's, or at least better than the dim sum 'palaces' in Chinatown. I think the owner speaks English too!

And I agree with the other posters that it would be quite difficult to convey your desire for freshly fried, hot and crispy items to the servers if you don't actually speak Mandarin or Cantonese! And even if you could, there is no guarantee that your wishes will be fulfilled.

This reminds me a little of Calvin Trillin's frustration with the handwritten signs pasted on the walls of Chinatown eateries. He couldn't read them but was convinced that they advertised all the best and tastiest dishes.

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      The tree's leaves are also used in some dishes in Sichuan, but I've never seen them out of the provinces where they grow.
       
      A note on my use of ‘Sichuan’ rather than ‘Szechuan’.
       
      If you ever find yourself in Sichuan, don’t refer to the place as ‘Szechuan’. No one will have any idea what you mean!

      ‘Szechuan’ is the almost prehistoric transliteration of 四川, using the long discredited Wade-Giles romanization system. Thomas Wade was a British diplomat who spoke fluent Mandarin and Cantonese. After retiring as a diplomat, he was elected to the post of professor of Chinese at Cambridge University, becoming the first to hold that post. He had, however, no training in theoretical linguistics. Herbert Giles was his replacement. He (also a diplomat rather than an academic) completed a romanization system begun by Wade. This became popular in the late 19th century, mainly, I suggest, because there was no other!

      Unfortunately, both seem to have been a little hard of hearing. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked why the Chinese changed the name of their capital from Peking to Beijing. In fact, the name didn’t change at all. It had always been pronounced with /b/ rather than /p/ and /ʤ/ rather than /k/. The only thing which changed was the writing system.

      In 1958, China adopted Pinyin as the standard romanization, not to help dumb foreigners like me, but to help lower China’s historically high illiteracy rate. It worked very well indeed, Today, it is used in primary schools and in some shop or road signs etc., although street signs seldom, if ever, include the necessary tone markers without which it isn't very helpful.
       

      A local shopping mall. The correct pinyin (with tone markers) is 'dōng dū bǎi huò'.
       
      But pinyin's main use today is as the most popular input system for writing Chinese characters on computers and cell-phones. I use it in this way every day, as do most people. It is simpler and more accurate than older romanizations. I learned it in one afternoon.  I doubt anyone could have done that with Wade-Giles.
       
      Pinyin has been recognised for over 30 years as the official romanization by the International Standards Organization (ISO), the United Nations and, believe it or not, The United States of America, along with many others. Despite this recognition, old romanizations linger on, especially in America. Very few people in China know any other than pinyin. 四川 is  'sì chuān' in pinyin.
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