How to order food in China

Chinese noodles, fried rice, dumplings, peking duck, dim sum, spring rolls. Famous Chinese cuisine dishes on table.

Chinese menus are different with western menus. They are always graphically presented. On the one hand, you can directly learn what it is. On the other hand, the raw materials have been process to be unrecognized. As a result, you may find it is hard to know what it is made from.

To make it easier, you can just remember some name that you like and order directly. That happens to my Pakistan friend. He always order dim sum “Baozi” in Guangzhou.

If on the other hand you would like to be more independent and engage with Chinese culture directly when ordering food, be prepared to be patient and use every means of communication available.

Here below is some basic words and sentence that maybe helpful for you to order in a Chinese restaurant.

1.    Basics:

English Chinese Pinyin
Please qǐng
谢谢 谢谢 xiè xiè
菜单 菜单 cài dān


2.    When you walk in:

What you might hear?

  • 几位?(jǐ wèi)
    How many people?

How you might respond

  • 一位 (yī wèi)
  • 两位 (liǎng wèi)
  • 三位 (sān wèi)
  • 四位 (sì wèi)
  • 外带 (wài dài)

3.    Flagging someone down

If you are eating at a restaurant in China, people may not even approach to take your order. Tipping at restaurants is not customary in China, therefore most servers do not provide individualized service to each table, and instead “man the floor.” That’s why you usually need to flag someone down for service.

What you might say:

  • (While raising your hand) 服务员! (fú wù yuán)
  • 点菜! (diǎn cài)
    I’d like to order!
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How they might respond:

  • 诶!(èi)
  • 马上! (mǎ shàng)
    Be right there!

4. Ordering

What you might say:

  • 帮忙拿一个菜单. (bāng máng ná yī fèn cài dān)
    Please bring me a menu.
  • 四杯冰水! (sì bēi bīng shuǐ)
    Four cups of ice water!
  • 一壶茶水! (yī hú chá shuǐ)
    One pot of tea!

Due to new water regulations in many big cities, restaurants in China have begun charging for water, so keep that in mind when you order.

  • 一份宫保鸡丁! (yī fèn gōng bào jī dīng)
    One serving of Kung Pao Chicken!
  • (While pointing to the menu) 这个, 一份 (zhè gè, yī fèn)
    One serving of this.
  • 有什么可以推荐的吗? (yǒu shén me kě yǐ tuī jiàn de mā)
    Can you recommend anything?
  • 这里最火的菜是什么? (zhè lǐ zuì huǒ de cài shì shén me)
    What’s the most popular dish here?

Below is a list of other foods that you might order:

Dish Chinese Pinyin Pronunciation
Rice 米饭 mǐ fàn mee-fan
Egg fried rice—a simple cheap dish that can be found all over China 蛋炒饭 dàn chǎo fàn dan-chaoww-fan
Wheat noodles—another Chinese staple, more popular in the north 面条 miàn tiáo myen-tyaoww
Sizzling beef—served on a very hot plate with peppers/onions 铁板牛肉 tiě bǎn niú ròu tyeah-ban nyoh-roh
Kungpao chicken or diced chicken and cashews 宫保鸡丁/宫爆鸡丁 gōng bǎo jī dīng/ gōng bào jī dīng gong-baoww-jee-ding
Sweet and Sour Pork Ribs 酸甜排骨 suān tián pái gǔ Swann-tyen peye-goo
Deep-fried pumpkin sticks 黄沙南瓜条 huáng shā nán guā tiáo hwung-shah nan-gwaa-tyaoww
Fried eggplant 红烧茄子 hóng shāo qié zi hong-shaoww chyeah-dzrr
Fried eggplant, potato and peppers 地三鲜 dìsān xiān dee-san-sshyen
Fried shredded potato 土豆丝 tǔ dòu sī too-doh-srr
Fried Chinese cabbage 炒大白菜 chǎo dà bái cài chaoww daa-beye-tseye
Steamed buns with condensed milk dip 炼乳馒头 liàn rǔ mán tou lyen-roo man-toh
Caramelized banana/apple 拔丝香蕉/苹果 bá sī xiāng jiāo/píng guǒ baa-srr sshyang-jyaoww/ping-gwor
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5. During the meal

What you might say:

  • 帮忙加点茶水! (bāng máng jiā diǎn chá shuǐ)
    Add some tea, please!
  • 有餐巾纸吗?(yǒu cān jīn zhǐ mā)
    Do you have napkins?
  • 多拿几个盘子。(duō ná jǐ gè pán zi)
    Bring some extra plates.

6. After the meal

What you might say:

  • 买单! (mǎi dān) The bill, please!
  • 刷卡可以吗? (shuā kǎ kě yǐ mā) Can I use a credit card?
  • 支付宝可以吗?(Can I use Alipay?)


It’s not customary to tip in restaurants in China. If the service was exceptionally good, and you are paying in cash, you can simply ask them to keep the change as a tip.

What you might say:

  • 不用找了,当小费吧!(bú yòng zhǎo le dāng xiǎo fèi ba)
    “No need to get change, keep it as a tip!”

Of course, if you are in a Chinese restaurant in another country, please tip accordingly.

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