English Chinese Dictionary
Lexiconer.com Web
E-C Dictionary C-E Dictionary Language bookstore home Language Video Store TOEFL/GRE/GMAT Vocabulary

The eater's guide to Chinese characters (Paperback)

The eater's guide to Chinese characters (Paperback)
Author/Publisher: James D McCawley
Format: paperback
Emphasis: Special focus - Dining, Chinese Characters
Level: Beginning - Intermediate
Note: In Traditional Chinese Characters
List Price: $6.95

Buy from Amazon

Detailed information
Editorial Reviews
Language Notes
Text: English, Chinese

Product Details
  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 0226555917
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces.
  • Average Customer Review: based on 9 reviews.

Spotlight Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful:

insight into Chinese menus, November 16, 2001

Reviewer: William J. Poser (Prince George, BC, Canada)

This is a practical introduction to reading Chinese menus. McCawley explains the structure of typical Chinese menus, a variety of culinary terms, and even the conventions for writing prices while taking the reader through several real menus. Additional sample menus, including handwritten menus with printed equivalents, are provided as examples. The book includes a substantial Chinese character dictionary focussing on words likely to be used in menus, using an indexing system that non-specialists will likely find relatively easy to use. My only criticism is that pronounciations are given in Mandarin, with Cantonese only occasionally provided. In spite of the recent influx of Mandarin speakers, the staff of Chinese restaurants in North America are still likely to speak Cantonese.


12 of 12 people found the following review helpful:

Excellent system for reading Chinese menus, July 19, 2000

Reviewer: Stavros Macrakis (Cambridge, MA, USA)

To really eat well in good Chinese restaurants, you need to be able to understand the Chinese-language menu: many dishes aren't included on the English menu, and many dishes are described vaguely in English, but precisely in Chinese.

Understanding the Chinese menu presents two great challenges: 1) looking up characters in an ordinary Chinese-English dictionary is very hard; 2) words have special meanings in a cooking context.

McCawley's Guide is a great help on both counts. His indexing scheme works directly off the appearance of the character. Conventional dictionaries rely on the character's 'radical' -- which is often not obvious and hard to recognize -- and how it is written. The definitions here are strictly geared to cooking and eating, and often include the names of dishes (not just ingredients or cooking methods), so you know exactly what is on the menu.

Still, you can't count on understanding a full menu quickly enough to stave off hunger -- a good idea to take one home for study if you can.


Customer Reviews

An essential title for any Asian-loving foodie, April 14, 2006
Reviewer: Esther Schindler (Scottsdale, AZ USA)

In the early 80s, I consumed all of Calvin Trillin's books about food; who cared that he also wrote about politics?. If you have navigated to this book and *haven't* read Trillin's Tummy Trilogy by now, you'd better rush to get yourself a copy... it's the funniest food writing I've ever encountered.

Anyway, in Third Helpings, Trillin had a marvelous essay called "Divining the Mysteries of the East," about a college professor who provided his Linguistics students with a pamphlet -- which grew into a book -- that helped them decipher the menus in Chinese restaurants. As Trillin said, "McCawley has never been reduced to carrying in his wallet a note that says in Mandarin, 'Please bring me some of what the man at the next table is having.'" [This made me angry that I majored in Linguistics at Brandeis instead of going to the University of Chicago; my professor may have been a protege of Noam Chomsky, but I never even got a matzo ball from him.]

Several months after reading Trillin's book, I found a copy of the Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters in an airport bookstore. I snatched up a copy. (Good thing, too, because I never again saw the book on a shelf.) I've cherished this book for twenty years, and I cheered when I saw it was back in print. Let me see if I can explain why.

Unlike some of the reviewers here, I do not know any dialect of Chinese. I don't particularly want to; I just want to chow down on wonderful Chinese food.

There are few authentic restaurants, however, that do a great job of translating the menu. Other than expecting that I'll love any item about which the waiter says curtly, "You no like" (for the record, that deep fried pork stomach was excellent)... well, I'm left to figure it out on my own.

That is, I *was*, until I got my hands on McCawley's book. By the second page, he has taught you to recognize the characters for stir-fry, deep fry, dry roast. Shortly afterwards, you learn that the J-shaped character, ding, means "cube or dice." By page 7 you've learned the characters for celery, beef, fish. And then you begin to put the pieces together.

Within a very short time, you can figure out the basics of any Chinese menu. You can keep going (and, twenty years ago, I got quite a ways through this book, just for the fun of it); but scanning the first ten pages will help you avoid fried food, or figure out what the menu item "shredded three kinds" really has in it. Half the book is given over to a glossary, so you can figure out what the heck THAT item is in the fish column.

You probably won't read The Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters all in one sitting. But you'll be really, really glad you have it. And, I assure you, all your foodie friends will be jealous.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:

Great Book, wish I read this when I was younger!, August 19, 2005

Reviewer: Stephen C. Callender (Hollis, New York)

This was a great book for someone that wants to know restaurant Chinese. Although I can read & write Chinese, I still found it enjoyable.


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

A Great Resource for Reading Chinese Menus, July 5, 2005

Reviewer: M. Natraj (Austin, TX)

I've really appreciated this book as a supplement to my other Chinese instruction. In preparation for my upcoming move to Beijing, I wanted to be familiar with at least a few menu items, and I feel that after only a short time studying this book, I can actually do that!

Unfortunately, I do have a few qualms with the book. My biggest concern is that only the traditional characters are provided. Since some of the characters are significantly different in simplified Chinese, I've had to spend a lot of time cross-referencing with another dictionary to learn the simplified characters I'm more likely to encounter in Beijing.

Also, as another reviewer has mentioned, the print is a little too small for someone just starting to learn the characters. I sometimes find it difficult to make out the radicals contributing to a character, even though I already have a strong background in understanding written Chinese.

Finally, my last issue, which I admit is nit-picking, is that the author has developed his own version of stroke-counting for indexing the characters. While this is clearly an advantage to those who have no background in written Chinese, it can be confusing to one who knows the true stroke counts (especially when you keep switching dictionaries to cross-reference the simplified characters).

Overall, I'm extremely pleased with the book and expect it to be extremely useful. Especially since many of the non-food character combinations used in names of dishes don't appear in general purpose dictionaries. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in reading a Chinese menu.


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:

Wee kanji, November 1, 2004

Reviewer: Catherine McDonnell (Montreal, Canada)

This book is an excellent idea: just enough background to understand and read the Chinese characters you're likely to encounter in restaurants. My only carp is that many of them are reproduced in such a small size in the main text that it's hard to see the details and thus impossible to effectively memorize them. A long glossary toward the back of the book makes up for this shortcoming to some extent by displaying the characters in a bigger size, but it's still an annoyance.


Where to buy

Buy from this selected seller

Copyright © 2000-2008 Lexiconer.Com or its partners.

Site Map  Language Bookstore   Language Video  Update History (About Us)   Contact Us   Testimonials   Privacy Policy