Yes, sure, it’s easy to nod, smile, and point around at food that you think looks great. But, when it arrives on your plate looking like something completely different, or it just smells like something you won’t enjoy, then it’s time to up your game.
Well, if you have a few months, a bit of money, and a lot of energy to spare, then I would recommend ShiDa’s Mandarin Training Center – I had a great 3 semesters there, and learnt loads. But, it isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine. So, now that I have been there, done that, and flexed my Mandarin muscles, let me help you guys out, by helping you in a few basics of how to order food around Taiwan.
1. Going in to the restaurant.
So, you’ve seen a restaurant you like, because you’re a fan of this site. You’re off to a good start. But, you’ve arrived and you don’t know what to do:
Scenario 1 – There’s a line, but you don’t know whether to first take a number, or to just get in line. If you get in line but you don’t take a number, then you’re lining up for nothing. So, best thing to do is to just ask the person at the back of the line:
内用需要排隊嗎？Nèi yòng xū yào pái duì ma?
This translates as: To eat in, do I need to line up?
A swift nod of the head or a point inside will probably do the trick.
Scenario 2 – There’s no line and you’re feeling great, so you walk in and all of a sudden you’re confronted with a front-of-house who is just speaking too quickly for you to decipher. Simply say:
内用( number)位 – Nèi yòng (number) wèi
This translates as: (number) to eat in.
This may seem rude, and you may want to add a please or a thank you, but it simply isn’t neccesary, or even expected.
At this point you’ll either be told something like:
這邊請 zhè biān qǐng (this way, please) or 稍等一下shāo děng yī xià (please wait a moment)
When you’re shown to your table, then a quick thank you is always a win, though.
Scenario 3 – It’s closed. But you don’t know when it opens…
There’ll most likely be a sign on the window that will have the information on. But can you read it? No problem. Let’s take a look at some examples of phrases/words that may be on the sign, below:
Days of the week:
公休 or 休息 – closed
You’re most likely to find that places close on a Monday or a Wednesday, therefore expect to see something like:
禮拜一公休/休息 ‘Closed on Monday’
禮拜三公休/休息 ‘Closed on Wednesday’.
I get nervous ordering now, in all honesty. There are some times when you sit down and it’s food you’ve not ordered before, or the restaurant is so busy that they don’t have time to humour the dilly dallying foreigner who’s speaking in broken Chinese. Have no fear, here are some tips:
To call the waiter/waitress over: A simple wave of the hand is often all that’s needed. Taiwanese aren’t neccesarily about shouting and ordering the server around as may be the custom in other places…
Reading the menu:
By far the most difficult part. Reading the menu can, without a doubt, be a stress-inducing experience. But it doesn’t have to be.
Taking a look at this menu, it’s broken up into 5 parts:
炒飯類Chǎofàn lèi – Fried Rice
炒麵類chǎomiàn lèi – Fried Noodles
湯麵類tāngmiàn lèi – Noodle Soup
湯類tāng lèi – Soup
熱炒類rè chǎo lèi – Stir-fried
I feel like this is quite typical of a lot of Taiwanese restaurants. While thay may not be specifically sectioned off like in the menu above, they are highly likely to have all of these types of dishes on a menu somewhere.
So, you’ve identified if you want rice, noodles, soup noodles, soup, or a stir-fried dish. Next thing to identify is the meat you want:
牛肉 niú ròu – Beef
豬肉 zhū ròu – Pork
鷄肉 jī ròu – Chicken
羊肉 yáng ròu – Lamb
鴨肉 yā ròu – Duck
鵝肉 é ròu – Goose
魚 yú – Fish
But wait, the waiter/waitress has just thrown a spanner in the works. You ordered some sort of soup noodles, and they’ve asked you something you’ve not understood/anticipated:
你想吃什麽麵呢? nǐ xiǎng chī shén me miàn ne?
What type of noodles do you want with it?
Looking a the menu above, there are 3 types of noodle on offer:
烏龍麵 wū lóng miàn – Udon Noodles
油麵 yóu miàn – Oily noodles
白麵 báimiàn – Plain noodles
But there are way more types that could be on offer:
麵線 miàn xiàn – rice noodles/vermicelli
寬麵 kuān miàn – wide noodles
細麵 xì miàn – thin noodles
板條 bǎn tiáo – thick, chewy noodles
刀削麵 dāo xiāo miàn – thick noodles
My favourite noodle dish?
牛肉麵 (刀削麵) niúròu miàn (dāoxiāomiàn)
Beef Noodle soup with thick noodles
When the waiter/waitess arrives at your table:
我想要點餐 wǒ xiǎng yào diǎn cān – I am ready to order
This isn’t 100% neccesary, but I feel like it’s a more polite way to get into ordering, rather than just barking out your order.
From there, go head and order to the best of your ability. Most Taiwanese are very nice and polite, and I am sure they will be accomodating of you. Pointing at the items on the menu is acceptable, but using the information above will help you to know more about what you are going to be ordering.
3. You’re finished.
So you’ve finished your meal, and you’re getting ready to pay. What do you do next?
This took me some getting used to in Taiwan. In the UK, you often ask for the bill at the table, then pay from your table. However, more common practice in Taiwan is to go up and pay at the cash register.
Scenario 1 – at some places you have to pay before you eat. So it’s always a good idea when you’ve ticked what you want on the menu to ask:
請問是先買單嗎？qǐng wèn shì xiān mǎ idān ma?
Should I pay first?
Scenario 2 – Your bill is already on your table. Just take it up to the register and pay as you would normally.
Scenario 2 – Your bill isn’t at the table yet, so you need to ask for it.
我要買單 wǒ yào mǎi dān – I want the bill
Now, let’s talk about politness once again. Shouting out 買單 seems relatively acceptable here, but I don’t like it. I don’t know whether it is all in my head or not, but adding that 我要 onto the front just negates some of the rudeness I feel when settling the bill.
You’ve got you bill at the table, just take it up and settle at the register.
I’m British. I am polite, and I pride myself on being polite. I will often use thank you’s and please’s when using Chinese. Whilst it isn’t necceary, I feel like it’s part of British culture that I will perhaps never lose, and I am OK with that.
I hope you guys have enjoyed reading this post, and that this has helped you to feel a little more confident when getting ready to go to a restaurant, reading the menu, ordering, and settling the bill. If you have liked this post, then follow for more up-to-date information on new posts coming out, or check out my Instagram or Facebook page for more regular updates.