Reading a Menu — It’s Chinese to Me!

We are just recently enrolled in language school in Beijing, but we have been living in China for over 30 days. We thought we could negotiate restaurants by pointing at pictures in menus or prepared items on display. Those places, however, are expensive, and, we are on a budget. This means we need to search out those local culinary treasures in neighborhood “hole-in-the-wall” places. The overhead is low and they focus on the food.

Can you read and understand this menu? (See above photo.) No? Neither can I. I thought I could get by with a phrase book, or Chinese dictionary app on my iPhone, but it is hit and miss, especially when you enter a restaurant that specializes in noodles and serves them 50 different ways. My pronunciation needs to improve. My tones are off, which changes the meaning of the word. Numerous times the person behind the counter has looked at me with blank incomprehension and I was sure I got the words right, but I must have mispronounced either the tone or the vowel. Rather than hold up the line at lunch time, I finally resort to pointing at a number, just to order something.

So, until I can pronounce my vowels and tones, I had better get started on learning how to read Chinese so that I can order. We have never missed a meal, but every eating out is an adventure as we order a “mystery” dish. Today, we had number #4. It turned out to be cooked and drained thin noodles in peanut sauce. My goal is to learn this menu within 2 weeks or less.

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