FOOD PHRASES

Ex­pats try their hand at de­cod­ing pop­u­lar Chi­nese ex­pres­sions

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - This story was com­piled by Zhou Ping based on a Global Times video.

For­eign­ers who visit China are al­ways im­pressed by the vast va­ri­ety of lo­cal food and snacks. Chi­nese love to eat and the coun­try boasts one of the world’s great­est food cul­tures. There is a fa­mous Chi­nese say­ing that “min yi shi wei tian,” which lit­er­ally means peo­ple re­gard food as heaven, show­ing how im­por­tant the cui­sine is in daily life here.

Chi­nese peo­ple of­ten greet each other by ask­ing “chi le ma?” (“Have you eaten?”) They don’t re­ally ex­pect you to an­swer that ques­tion; it’s just like ask­ing “how are you?” Through­out his­tory, Chi­nese have cre­ated many other phrases and id­ioms re­lat­ing to food and eat­ing, which some­times con­fuses for­eign­ers un­fa­mil­iar with a food-cen­tric cul­ture. The Global Times re­cently in­tro­duced some of th­ese ex­pres­sions to some for­eign­ers in Shanghai to test their un­der­stand­ing of them.

1. 吃豆腐 chi dou fu

Lit­er­ally mean­ing “eat bean curd (tofu).” But in fact it im­plies “to take ad­van­tage of men or women phys­i­cally or ver­bally through ac­tions bear­ing sex­ual con­no­ta­tions.” It re­lates to an old story of a young, fe­male tofu shop owner with smooth and flaw­less skin who ate tofu all the time. The woman of­ten flirts with male cus­tomers in or­der to sell them more tofu, and many men vis­ited her shop fre­quently, pre­tend­ing that they were there to “eat tofu” but in fact just wanted to gaze upon the lovely shop owner.

Yan Wei­wei and Mu An­wei from Pak­istan cor­rectly guessed it meant to “take ad­van­tage of some­one.” Sam from Pak­istan also guessed right, say­ing “eat­ing tofu is like when you’re us­ing some­one for your own pur­poses.” Marta from Italy was on the right track, guess­ing “eat­ing tofu is some­body that is hit­ting on or touch­ing some­body.”

Max from Kaza­khstan said “eat­ing tofu is when I’m try­ing to get the other man’s girl and he has to drink vine­gar.”

Mike from the US guessed “this is quite a bad ex­pres­sion.”

2. 饭碗 fan wan

It lit­er­ally trans­lates to “rice bowl,” but in Chi­nese it also refers to a job which of­fers ba­sic el­e­ments re­quired to live. Iron rice bowl is more widely known, which means a job with sta­ble in­come and ben­e­fits that are as solid as iron, usu­ally po­si­tions at a State-owned com­pany.

Yan Wei­wei and Mu An­wei knew it meant “a sta­ble job.”

Sam also guessed cor­rectly that “it means sta­ble em­ploy­ment.”

“It’s a thing which you or­der in a res­tau­rant. Rice first, thanks. It’s wealthy, like a full bowl of money,” Max said.

3. 炒鱿鱼 chao you yu

“Fried squid” is the lit­eral trans­la­tion, but it also means be­ing fired or sacked from a job. It was said in the old days that Chi­nese work­ers were pro­vided with lodg­ing by their em­ployer but had to pre­pare their own bed­ding. When an em­ployee was fired, he or she would have to roll up their blan­kets. Peo­ple also no­ticed that squids would curl up when fried, shar­ing a sim­i­lar­ity with rolled-up bed­ding. As a re­sult, fried squid was used to re­fer to be­ing fired. Yan Wei­wei and Mu An­wei knew “it means be­ing fired.” Sam also fig­ured out that it means to “lose one’s job.” Max like­wise guessed cor­rectly that “it means to get fired at the job.” Marta also knew that “they fired you at work.”

4. 吃醋 chi cu

Lit­er­ally, it means “drink vine­gar.” There’s an anec­dote that in the Tang Dy­nasty (618–907) there was once a pow­er­ful and ca­pa­ble of­fi­cial. One day the em­peror sent him a young and beau­ti­ful girl to be his con­cu­bine. How­ever, the of­fi­cial’s wife was strongly against it. To test the wife’s love and courage, the em­peror told her ei­ther to ac­cept her hus­band’s con­cu­bine or drink poi­son. She pre­ferred the poi­son. The em­peror was im­pressed and agreed not to give her hus­band an­other woman. To­day it means to be jeal­ous.

Yan Wewei and Mu An­wei once again guessed cor­rectly that “it’s about boyfriends and girl­friends get­ting jeal­ous.” Sam said “it’s kind of like jeal­ousy.” An­drea from Italy also knew that “drink­ing vine­gar means to be jeal­ous about your boyfriend or girl­friend.” Marta said “to be jeal­ous.” “It’s to be jeal­ous when some­one is try­ing to get my girl. I’m get­ting jeal­ous while I’m drink­ing all my vine­gar that I have at home,” Max guessed. Mike said “this is to ac­cept a sit­u­a­tion you don’t re­ally like or that is em­bar­rass­ing or un­com­fort­able.”

5. 吃官司 chi guan si

Lit­er­ally it means “eat a law­suit” and it can be ex­plained as “su­ing or be­ing sued by some­one.” “I’m hear­ing it for the first time. Maybe it’s like when I’m in court or some­thing,” said Max.

Other in­ter­vie­wees said they had no idea what it means.

6.吃闭门羹 chi bi men geng

Lit­er­ally it means “eat the closed door soup,” which refers to be­ing re­fused en­trance. “It’s like when I go to a shop and the door is closed. Then I need to eat soup. [I call] Come on, open the door!” Max guessed. This term was also hard for our other in­ter­vie­wees.

7. 吃土 chi tu

Lit­er­ally it means “eat dirt” and it can be ex­plained as be­ing short of money. This phrase gained pop­u­lar­ity in 2015 dur­ing Sin­gle’s Day on Novem­ber 11. Many peo­ple com­plained on Sina Weibo, China’s Twit­ter-like mi­croblog, that they had spent so much money buy­ing clothes and other use­less stuff that they could only af­ford to eat dirt in the com­ing month.

“It’s like when I don’t have any money. I’m too poor and I eat dirt in­stead of rice,” Max said.

Yan Wewei and Mu An­wei sim­ply said “loss.” An­drea guessed “maybe los­ing.” “I think this will be some­thing quite bad,” Mike noted.

Photo: VCG

Pho­tos: VCG and Xiang Jun/GT

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