Food Vocabulary in Taiwanese/Minnan

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One dish on the menu of Old-Style Dongpo Pork 東坡鮮肉飯 is “written in Taiwanese”, can you guess which one? 😉

Recently, I made the soft resolution to learn Taiwanese, just to be a bit more aware of my surroundings. And last Friday, while attending Chen Chu‘s re-election rally (more out of curiosity than of partisanship), I was clearly reminded of how useful that’d be since 99.99% of the speeches were given in Taiwanese 😖. Nevertheless, the event was quite jolly, with artists and local officials taking turns performing Taiwanese songs, and even a mini night-market setup for the occasion. Amazingly, I think I managed to get the gist of what elected officials were enthusiastically babbling about, so I guess, I’ve been unconsciously learning Taiwanese all along.

While I haven’t devised a serious learning game plan yet, I’m gleaning words here and there, 慢慢來. Not surprisingly, most of the Taiwanese words under my belt are food related 😜, and as I was dinking around online the other day, I discovered a list of food terms in Taiwanese on the nifty moedict 萌典 Chinese/Taiwanese/Hakka dictionary website. Actually, I think those lists were present long before I first discovered the website, but at the time, the whole interface in Chinese had me a little scared 😱  so I didn’t dare venture into all the corners of it.

Although this post focuses on food vocabulary, I encourage the interested of you to check out other categories, maybe you’ll find a theme that’ll peak your interest.

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The picture above shows how to navigate to the Food category 「飲食」, specifically to the sub-group 「食物、飲料、煙酒」which provides a list of dish names and food ingredients, whereas 「飲食行爲」is focused on food-related adjectives and verbs, and 「飲食物具」centered on cooking utensils and equipment.

Here are a few examples, with illustrations curated by yours truly. The below dishes are best ordered in Taiwanese, else, well, if people look at your weird, you will know why 😉 .

Click on the picture for a redirection to the corresponding moedict entry, which includes an audio option to listen to the Taiwanese pronunciation or simply enjoy the SoundCloud audio to hear the Taiwanese pronunciation. 🙂

筒仔米糕 (flickr/rayyu)
Sticky rice tube 筒仔米糕 ( flickr/rayyu )


紅龜粿 (flickr/ 及良 及影)
Red turtle cake 紅龜粿 (flickr/ 及良 及影)


滷肉飯 (flickr/johnsonwang)
Lo-Ba-Bung (braised pork rice) 滷肉飯 (flickr/johnsonwang)


蚵仔煎 (flickr/dal_lu)
O-A-Zen (oyster omelet) 蚵仔煎 (flickr/dal_lu)


碗粿 (flickr/nightwing_26)
Bowl rice cake 碗粿 (flickr/nightwing_26)


肉圓 (flickr/lwy)
Ba-Wan (meatball dumpling) 肉圓 (flickr/lwy)


Oyster noodle soup 蚵仔麵線 (flickr/rayyu)


Regarding the little quiz in the preamble of this article, all the dish names are applicable in both Chinese Mandarin and Taiwanese, except for one which is “100% Taiwanese”: 菜頭湯. The Chinese characters are phonetically equivalent of the Taiwanese pronunciation, so I had always made myself understood when ordering, and it’s only after many moons that I realized 「菜頭」(literally meaning “vegetables head”) is actually the Taiwanese word for daikon 蘿蔔. In my review of Old-Style Dongpo Pork 東坡鮮肉飯, I had even translated 「菜頭湯」as “vegetable soup” since I didn’t know any better 😂.

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To find out the Taiwanese translation of a Chinese Mandarin word, lookup the word in the Chinese Mandarin dictionary 國語辭典, then click on the sinograms next to .
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One downfall of the Taiwanese dictionary in moedict resides in the absence of English/French/German translations for Taiwanese words, but the authors are working on it, 耶!

I hope this will be the first of many articles I’ll write about learning Taiwanese. If you notice any inacurracies, feel free to point them out, I’d very much appreciate 🙂 .

 (last updated: 2015/02/02 一)

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10 thoughts on “Food Vocabulary in Taiwanese/Minnan

    1. About Simplified Chinese, dude, you’re doing it wrong.
      Haha, just kidding. Actually, some characters are so time consuming to write that Taiwanese people sometimes use Simplified too.

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      1. In Mainland China you can encounter sometimes the traditional characters. Once we went to a restaurant and the name was in traditional characters. Me being me thought it is simplified and actually tried to translate the first two characters as they appeared to be similar to the simplified once, well I was very wrong 🙂

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  1. My Taiwanese is pretty pathetic (actually I only know a few words and phrases)! 😦 However, the little that I do know gets used on a daily basis! 🙂 And I bet the first word I learned in Taiwanese would make you laugh. Any guesses?

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    1. Is it the word for “shit” (as in 大便)? Haha. That’s pretty awesome you get to use a little bit of Taiwanese daily, I have to do the same with the little I know as well!

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      1. No, it wasn’t my first word but it would have been really cool if it was (some ‘bad’ words were my in my top five though haha). 😉 The first Taiwanese word that I learned was a-doe-a (meaning foreigner or waiguoren). I was hiking in Nantou and every person I met would say ‘a-doe-a’ and I had to ask what it meant. 🙂

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        1. The origins of 阿啄仔 is that 啄 is used to describe a pointed nose, and 阿啄仔 came to describe a person with a pointed nose – a foreigner.

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          1. Ooh, thanks! I had totally forgotten about the explanation of it, and extra kudos for providing the hanzi. 😘

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  2. Good luck on your adventures in Taiwanese!

    I know of some online (free) resources for learning Taiwanese – some with explanations in Mandarin and others completely in Taiwanese. Let me know if you need suggestions. ^_^

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