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Chinese Food Terms

A Guide to Chinese Food and Cuisine

A tray of dumplings at dim sum


Don't know shu mai from mu shu? Never experienced the delights of dim sum? Then our guide to Chinese food terms is for you. No longer will you be baffled by strange names and words on the menu. Whether you're having chop suey or Peking duck, our Chinese food glossary will arm you with the necessary culinary lingo and knowledge.

Bao bun: dim sum item; small, steamed buns, white in color, stuffed with a variety of minced fillings (often chicken, shrimp, pork or lotus beans)
Bird’s nest soup: soup that has been thickened and flavored with the gelatinous product derived from soaking and cooking the nests of cliff-dwelling birds
Bok choy: Chinese white cabbage
Chop suey: strictly a Chinese American dish; meat or shrimp and vegetables (mushrooms, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts) stir-fried together and served over rice
Chow mein: strictly a Chinese American dish; meat or shrimp and vegetables (mushrooms, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts) stir-fried and served over crispy egg noodles
Dim sum: figuratively, ‘heart’s delight’; a traditional meal featuring a variety of small dumplings, buns, rolls, balls, pastries and finger food, served with tea in the late morning or afternoon
Egg roll: phyllolike wrapper stuffed with pork, cabbage or other vegetables, rolled up and deep-fried or steamed
Fried rice: cooked, dried rice quickly fried in a wok with hot oil, various meats or vegetables and often an egg
Hoisin: a sweet, rich, dark brown sauce made from fermented soy beans; used as a base for other sauces
Lo mein: steamed wheat-flour noodles stir-fried with bean sprouts and scallions and either shrimp, pork, beef or vegetables
Lychee: small, round, fleshy fruit; used fresh, canned, preserved and dried
Mu shu: a delicate dish of stir-fried shredded pork and eggs rolled up in thin pancakes
Oyster sauce: a thick, dark sauce of oysters, soy and brine
Peking duck: an elaborate dish featuring duck that has been specially prepared, coated with honey and cooked until the skin is crisp and golden; served in pieces with thin pancakes or steamed buns and hoisin
Pot sticker: dim sum item; dumpling stuffed with meat, seafood or vegetables, fried and then steamed
Shark’s fin soup: soup thickened and flavored with the cartilage of shark’s fins, which provides a protein-rich gelatin
Shu mai: dim sum item; delicate dumpling often filled with minced pork and vegetables
Spring roll: a lighter version of the egg roll, with fillings such as shrimp or black mushrooms
Szechuan: cuisine in the style of the Szechuan province, often hot and spicy
Szechuan peppercorn: the peppercorn-like berry of the prickly ash tree used in Szechuan cuisine to make spicy, tongue-numbing dishes
Thousand-year-old eggs: chicken, duck or goose eggs preserved for 100 days in ashes, lime and salt (also, 100-year-old eggs)
Wonton: paper-thin, glutinous dough wrapper; also refers to the dumpling made with this wrapper, stuffed with minced meat, seafood or vegetables
Wonton soup: a clear broth in which wontons are cooked and served



(Updated: 12/12/12 JLD)

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