Sebire's comment on another thread mentioned how tough it is in China if you have an all-Chinese menu with dozens of items and no pictures. One thing that really helped me was being able to decipher the categories on these menus - you then have some context for each dish. Here are the categories from a random takeout menu left under our door:
1. 火锅冒菜 huŏguō màocài - various food cooked in a basket lowered into a spicy broth; the specialty of this place
2. 面类 miànlèi (noodles - 类 is a character that comes up very often; it means category)
3. 盖浇米饭类 gàijiāomĭfànlèi- also known as 盖浇饭 or simply 盖饭, dishes that come over rice. The word 浇 usually indicates a very soupy mixture.
4. 米线 mĭxiàn - rice noodles
5. 汤 粥 tāng zhōu - soup and congee
6. 包子 bāozi - steamed stuffed buns
7. 小吃 xiăochī - snacks
Two other categories that show up on menus very often are
特色菜 tèsè cài - house specialties
饮料 yĭnliào - drinks
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