Common Chinese words containing the food radical

Cream Puffs
Cream Puffs – For the recipe, see “Tame Migraine the Delicious Way

In the “Records of the Grand Historian“, a colossal writeup and compilation of ancient Chinese history, you can find the following line, which has become an idiom. In particular, the second half is well known to most Chinese and often quoted.
Guó yǐ mín wéi běn, mín yǐ shí wéi tiān.
The country is based on the people, and the people rely on food.
食 (shí) as a noun means food. In classical Chinese, 食 (shí) is also used as as a verb and means to eat. Colloquially, to eat is 吃 (chī).
天 (tiān) means sky or heaven. Here, 天 refers to the fundamental factor that dominates everything. “民以食为天” points out the fact that food is the first necessity of man. It is an advice given to the ruler/administrators of a country to the effect that if everyone in the country is properly fed, there will be a stable society and the country will prosper. Does this still apply today?
In the traditional Chinese character system, 食 is kept intact when it serves as a radical for another character, whereas in the Simplified Chinese character system, it is reduced to 饣, and in some cases entirely omitted!
In the traditional Chinese character system, the word for surplus or remainder is 餘(yú). In the Simplified Chinese character system, only the right side of the character remains: 余(yú).
饭 (fàn) is cooked rice. Literally, 吃饭 (chīfàn) means to eat rice. However, this expression means to have a meal.
Míngtiān lái wǒjiā chīfàn.
Come to have dinner at my house tomorrow.
Similarly, 煮饭 could mean cooking rice or the action of cooking in general.
饥饿 is hunger. 饿 means hungry, while 饱 means having eaten to one’s fill.
餐厅 (cāntīng) is a restaurant or the dining room of a house. 食堂 (shítáng) is a dining room or a mess hall.
Wǒmen qù cāntīng chī jiǎozi ba.
Let’s go to the restaurant to have dumplings.
食物 (shíwù) is the general term for food and edibles. 食品 (shípǐn) means foodstuff or provisions.
粮食 (liángshi) refers to such foods as grains or cereals.
主食 (zhǔshí) is the staple food, or principal food.
零食 (íngshí) are snacks.
饮料 (yǐnliào) are drinks or beverages.
甜食 (tiánshí) are sweets. 饼干 (bǐnggān) are cookies.
素食 (sùshí) is a vegetarian diet.
饮食 (yǐnshí) means a diet or food and drinks in general.
食谱 (shípǔ) are recipes or a cookbook, such as “Tame Migraine the Delicious Way“.
饲料 (sìliào) is fodder, or feed for animals.
饵 (ěr) is a bait, such as a fish bait, or 鱼饵 (yú’ěr).
食用 (shíyòng) means edible or for eating, as opposed to being for industrial use (such as rubbing alcohol).
节食 (jiéshí) means to go on a diet, while 绝食 (juéshí) is to fast or to go on a hunger strike.
食指 (shízhǐ) is the index finger. Imagine a westerner using the forefinger to point to things, while a Chinese dips the forefinger in the sauce and then places it on the tongue to savor the taste.
食盐 (shíyán) is table salt. 食言 (shíyán) is pronounced exactly the same way, but it means going back on one’s word, or breaking one’s promise.
Now, let’s look at a few commonly used Chinese idioms:
自食其果 (zìshíqíguǒ) means to eat one’s own bitter fruit or to reap what one has sown.
食而不化 (shí’érbùhuà) means to eat without digesting, i.e. to read without understanding.
因噎废食 (yīnyēfèishi) means to give up eating for fear of choking, in other words, to refrain from doing something necessary for fear of a slight risk.
The idiom 弱肉强食 (ruòròuqiángshí) points out the unfortunate fact that the weak are often the prey of the strong. In other words, it’s a jungle out there. Now, as human beings, we strive to cultivate ourselves to tone down our primal instincts and rise above all others in the animal kingdom. Let’s leave aggression and wars behind, but put our efforts in working toward peace and harmonious coexistence.

Common Chinese words containing the rice radical

Farmers planting rice in a rice paddy in Taiwan
Farmers planting rice in a rice paddy in Taiwan

Do you know why one’s 88th birthday is called 米寿 (mǐ shòu) in Chinese-speaking countries? 米 (mǐ) is uncooked rice, and 寿 (shòu) means longevity or birthday. The answer can be found by examining the 米 (mǐ) character. There is a cross in the center, namely a 十 (shí), or ten. At the top is an inverted 八 (bā), or eight; and at the bottom is a right-side-up 八 (bā). Voila! 八十八 means 88. By the way, the Chinese consider 8 an auspicious number.

As it sounds like the first syllable of “meter”, the character 米 (mǐ) was chosen to represent the distance unit “meter”. Therefore, 80 米 (bāshí mǐ) means 80 meters. On the other hand, 80 粒米 (bāshí lì mǐ) means 80 grains of rice. (See Chapters 6 and 7 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” for a review of the commonly used units of measure in Chinese.)

The following characters take on the sound of 米 (mǐ), but with different tones.

咪咪 (mīmī) mimics the sound of a cat mewing. People usually say咪咪 to greet their cat.
猫咪 (māomī) means kitty.
妈咪 (māmī) is the term of endearment Mommy.

眯 (mī), with the “eye” radical on the left side, is to narrow one’s eyes. It also means to close one’s eyes for a moment to take a brief nap.
谜 (mí), with the “word” radical on the left side, is a riddle.
迷 (mí), with the “walk” radical on the left side, is to become lost, confused or enchanted.

Jímǐ bèi mǎ lì mí zhùle
Jimmy was enchanted by Mary.

粒 (lì) is a grain or a granule. It is a unit for counting small solid items, like grains of rice or wheat, sand, grapes and candies. 颗粒状 (kēlì zhuàng) means granular.

糙米 (cāomǐ) is brown rice. 糯米 (nuòmǐ)is glutinous rice, and 粳米 (gēngmǐ) is a type of rice with round grains. 粟 (sù) is millet. 糠 (kāng) is rice chaff or rice bran. 粽子(zòngzi) are glutinous rice dumplings.

Wǒmen tōngcháng yòng nuòmǐ bāo zòngzi.
We usually use glutinour rice to make rice dumplings.

Here is a video showing how the rice is wrapped in the leaves.

粥 (zhōu) is rice porridge, which many Chinese in the southern provinces eat at breakfast.

糊 (hú) is a paste you can make by cooking rice with water. This word can also be used as a verb that means to paste onto something. As an adjective, it is used to describe burnt food.

粘 (zhān) means to glue or stick onto.

Tā yòng jiāng hú bǎ bùgào zhān zài qiáng shàng.
He glued the placard on the wall with a paste.

Add some salt, sugar and liquid to ground rice, and then steam the mixture, and you will get a steamed cake, or 糕 (gāo). Steamed Daikon Radish Rice Cake is a wholesome and delicious treat. You can find it on many dim sum menus. A recipe for making this steamed rice cake at home is included in “Tame Migraine the Delicious Way“.

If you messed up the cake while preparing it, you will probably exclaim,

糟糕! 放太少水了!
Zāogāo! Fàng tài shǎo shuǐle!
Oops (how terrible)! I added too little water!

As a noun, 料 (liào) or 材料 (cáiliào), means material or ingredients. 作料 (zuóliao) are condiments or seasonings. 粉 (fěn) can be a powder or starch, or it can mean vermicelli or noodles. 糖 (táng) is sugar, and 糖粉 (táng fěn) is powdered sugar.

As a verb, 料 (liào) means to anticipate. 不料 (bùliào) means unexpectedly, or to one’s surprise.

我以为他会感激我; 不料他在生我的气.
Wǒ yǐwéi tā huì gǎnjī wǒ; bùliào tā zài shēng wǒ de qì.
I thought he would be grateful to me; but surprisingly, he was mad at me

With the stock market, what goes up must come down. With food, what goes in must come out. As rice is a major staple food in China, it is not surprising to see the rice radical in these words for excrement, dung or droppings: 屎 (shǐ), 粪 (fèn). When one sees a beautiful and intelligent young lady paired with a good-for-nothing man, one might sigh and remark:

“Làihámá chī dàole tiān’é ròu; yī duǒ xiānhuā chā dào le niú fèn shàng.”
“The toad got to eat swan meat; a flower was inserted into cow dung.”

What’s the word for urine in Chinese? I’ll give you a hint: It looks similar to 屎 (shǐ), but contains the character for water.

类 (lèi) means category, class or type. 人类 (rénlèi) is the human race. 分类 (fēnlèi) means to classify.

粗 (cū) means wide, thick, careless, crude or rough. In contrast, 精 (jīng) means refined, sharp, excellent, shrewed, essence, choice, or energy. 粗心大意 (cūxīn dàyì) is a commonly used expression.

Tā zuòshì cūxīn dàyì.
He is careless with his work.

How to Make Spring Rolls in Chinese


Spring Rolls
Spring Rolls 春卷 (chūnjuǎn)

Now that spring is rolling around, it’s time to make spring rolls to give a treat to our palates. I normally purchase the ready-made Lumpia Wrappers from a local Asian grocery store. Since the start of the COVID pandemic, we have minimized our grocery shopping trips. Consequently I’ve had to make many food ingredients from scratch. For these paper-thin spring roll wrappers, I tried three different methods: The traditional method, the dough-rolling method, and the pan-painting method. The first two methods are quite laborious, but yielded good results. The pan-painting method was the easiest. However, the wrappers I made that way didn’t store well and had to be used right away. My recommendation is to buy the Lumpia Wrappers instead of making them yourselves, unless you have plenty of time on hand to play with the dough.

材料 (Cáiliào) Ingredients:

12片春卷皮 (12 piàn chūnjuǎn pí)                            12 Spring roll wrappers
1片蛋皮, 切成细条 (1 piàn dàn pí, qiè chéng xìtiáo)  1 Egg Wrap (skin), shredded
12盎司卷心菜丝 (12 àngsī juǎnxīncài sī)                   12 oz shredded cabbage
2茶匙油 – 炒菜用 (2 cháchí yóu – chǎocài yòng)      2 tsp oil – for stir-frying
2根葱 (2 gēn cōng)                                                     2 stalks green onions
1杯熟的小虾 (1 bēi shú de xiǎo xiā)                            1 cup cooked small salad shrimp
1/2茶匙盐 (1/2 cháchí yán )                                        1/2 tsp salt
1/8 茶匙黑胡椒粉 (1/8 cháchí hēi hújiāo fěn)            1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1茶匙玉米淀粉 (1 cháchí yùmǐ diànfěn)                    1 tsp cornstarch
1/4杯水 (1/4 bēi shuǐ)                                                 1/4 cup water
1汤匙面粉 (1 tāngchí miànfěn)                                  1 Tbsp flour
5至6杯油 (5 zhì 6 bēi yóu)                                         5 to 6 cups oil

做法 (Zuòfǎ) Method:

  1. 使用前一天将春卷皮从冷冻柜移到冰箱.
    Shǐyòng qián yītiān jiāng chūnjuǎn pí cóng lěngdòng guì yí dào bīngxiāng.
    Transfer spring roll wrappers from freezer to refrigerator the day before using.
  2. 将面粉和水混合在一个杯子里, 制成稀糊.
    Mix flour and water in a cup to make a thin paste.
  3. 将两个打好的鸡蛋煎成薄薄的一片蛋皮;
    Jiāng liǎng gè dǎ hǎo de jīdàn jiān chéng báo báo de yī piàn dàn pí;
    Make an Egg Wrap by pan-frying two beaten eggs in a thin layer;

    切成四等分, 然后切成细丝.
    qiè chéng sì děng fēn, ránhòu qiè chéng xì sī.
    cut into quarters and slice into thin shreds.
  4. 用 2 茶匙油将卷心菜翻炒一下;
    Yòng 2 cháchí yóu jiāng juǎnxīncài fān chǎo yīxià;
    Briefly stir-fry the cabbage in 2 tsp of oil;

    fàng zài yīgè dà wǎn zhōng ràng tā wánquán lěngquè.
    let cool completely in a large bowl.
  5. 将蛋丝, 虾仁, 葱, 盐, 胡椒粉和玉米淀粉加入大碗中搅拌混合.
    Jiāng dàn sī, xiārén, cōng, yán, hújiāo fěn hé yùmǐ diànfěn jiārù dà wǎn zhōng jiǎobàn hùnhé.
    Add the egg strips, shrimp, green onions, salt, pepper and cornstarch to the large bowl and stir to mix.
  6. 取出 12 片春卷皮, 小心地分成单独的薄片.
    Qǔchū 12 piàn chūnjuǎn pí, xiǎoxīndì fēnchéng dāndú de bópiàn.
    Remove 12 Lumpia wrappers and carefully separate into individual sheets.

    Jiāng shèngyú de chūnjuǎn pí chóngxīn lěngdòng qǐlái.
    Refreeze the remaining Lumpia wrappers.
  7. 将一片春卷皮放在一个大盘子上.
    Jiāng yī piàn chūnjuǎn pí fàng zài yīgè dàpánzi shàng.
    Place one Lumpia wrapper on a large plate.

    将 1/3 杯的馅料放在春卷皮上靠近你的这一边,摆成一排.
    Jiāng 1/3 bēi de xiàn liào fàng zài chūnjuǎn pí shàng kàojìn nǐ de zhè yībiān, Bǎi chéngyī pái.
    Place 1/3 cup of the filling onto the wrapper on the side near you, forming a row.
  8. 提起离您最近的春卷皮边缘以覆盖馅料.
    Tíqǐ lí nín zuìjìn de chūnjuǎn pí biānyuán yǐ fùgài xiàn liào.
    Lift the edge of the wrapper closest to you to cover the fillings.

    将春卷皮卷起 (最好相当紧), 到大约 2/3 处.
    Jiāng chūnjuǎn pí juǎn qǐ (zuì hǎo xiāngdāng jǐn), dào dàyuē 2/3 chù.
    Roll up the wrapper (best rather tightly) to about 2/3 of the way.

    小心地卷, 以免把春卷皮弄破.
    Xiǎoxīn dì juǎn, yǐmiǎn bǎ chūnjuǎn pí nòng pò.
    Roll carefully, so as not to break the wrapper.

    Jiāng miànfěn hútú mǒ zài yuǎn duān hé liǎng cè.
    Smear the flour paste on the far end as well as on both sides.

    将左右两边向中心折叠, 然后继续卷成春卷。
    Jiāng zuǒyòu liǎngbiān xiàng zhōngxīn zhédié, ránhòu jìxù juǎn chéng chūnjuǎn.
    Fold the left and right sides toward the center, and continue rolling to form the spring roll.

    Miànfěn hú yǒu zhù yú chūnjuǎn bǎochí qí xíngzhuàng.
    The flour paste will help the spring roll hold its shape.

    成品尺寸约为 3/4 寸 x 1.5 寸 x 5.5 寸.
    Chéngpǐn chǐcùn yuē wèi 3/4 cùn x 1.5 cùn x 5.5 cùn.
    Finished size is about 3/4” x 1.5” x 5.5″.
  9. 在炸锅中将油加热至华氏 375度.
    Zài zhá guō zhōng jiàng yóu jiārè zhì huáshì 375 dù.
    Heat oil in a pot for deep-frying to 375°F.

    Xiǎoxīn dì jiāng liǎng gè huò sān gè chūnjuǎn fàng rù rè yóu zhōng.
    Carefully place two or three spring rolls into the hot oil.

    炸两分钟, 然后翻面炸两分钟, 直到春卷变成金黄色.
    Zhà liǎng fēnzhōng, ránhòu fān miàn zhà liǎng fēnzhōng, zhídào chūnjuǎn biàn chéng jīn huángsè.
    Fry 2 minutes, then turn over and fry 2 minutes, until the spring rolls are golden brown.

    挑起炸好的春卷, 让多余的油滴下.
    Tiǎo qǐ zhà hǎo de chūnjuǎn, ràng duōyú de yóu dīxià.
    Lift the fried spring rolls and let excess oil drip off.

    Jiāng chūnjuǎn fàng dào chèn yǒu shuāng céng zhǐ cānjīn de pánzi shàng.
    Place the spring rolls on a plate lined with double layers of paper napkin.
  10. 重复这个过程, 直到所有的春卷都炸好了.
    Chóngfù zhège guòchéng, zhídào suǒyǒu de chūnjuǎn dōu zhà hǎole.
    Repeat the process until all spring rolls are done.

    趁热上桌, 酥脆可口, 但不要被烫伤; 馅料可能很烫.
    Chèn rè shàng zhuō, sūcuì kěkǒu, dàn bùyào bèi tàngshāng.
    Serve while still warm and crispy, but don’t get burned. The filling can be very hot.

    如果你喜欢, 可与蘸酱一起食用.
    Rúguǒ nǐ xǐhuān, kě yǔ zhàn jiàng yīqǐ shíyòng.
    If you like, serve with ketchup or a dipping sauce of your liking.


    To serve the spring rolls without frying, omit the flour paste, and let everyone fill their own spring rolls. Many people like to eat the spring rolls this way, with fresh cilantro and chopped peanuts added to the filling, and a dipping sauce to boot.

    You could substitute the shrimp with stir-fried or cooked slivers of pork, beef or chicken.

    If you are a vegetarian, you could use slivered firm tofu (bean curd) to provide protein in this dish.

    The spring rolls will taste wonderful even with a vegan filling, as shown here. Beware that bean sprouts tend to get soggy when overcooked.

    You could add some stir-fried mushroom slices, bean sprouts, sliced onions, slivered zucchinis or slivered carrots. Just make sure that the stir-fry is fairly dry and not soggy.

This recipe is adapted from “Tame Migraine the Delicious Way“, which includes many other recipes for delicious foods that can be enjoyed by migraineurs and non-migraineurs alike.

Sing Scandinavian Song “Winde Weh’n” in Chinese

With our feathered friends flitting among the tree branches, there is no mistaking that a renewed vitality is in the air. Is there also a sense of joy springing from your heart? Perhaps also a general feeling of love, somthing akin to “this yearning burning in me” (as Mozart put it in The Marriage of Fiagaro)?

One way of giving an outlet of the feeling of love is to express it in a song. The Scandinavian song “Winde Weh’n” (sung in German) aptly captures the sincere love of a sailor in a mesmerizing melody and simple words. For the occasion of Valentine’s Day, I’ve translated it into Chinese below.

Fēng er piāo, chuán ér yáo,
The wind blows, the boat rocks,

xúxú wǎng yuǎnfāng.
slowly going into the distance.

Nà shuǐshǒu xīnzhōng zuì qīn’ài de rén,
The dearest person in the sailor’s heart,

zài àn biān lèi wāngwāng.
stays weeping on the shore.

Nà shuǐshǒu xīnzhōng zuì qīn’ài de rén,
The dearest person in the sailor’s heart,

zài àn biān lèi wāngwāng.
stays weeping on the shore.

莫悲傷, 甜臉龐,
Mò bēishāng, tián liǎnpáng,
Don’t you cry, lovely eyes.
(Don’t be sad, lovely face.)

Kuài bǎ lèi cā gān.
Wipe your sad tears dry.

Diànzhe wǒ hé nà huānlè de shíguāng,
Think of me and the happy times we had,

děng wǒ huí dào nǐ shēn páng.
and wait ’til I’m by your side.

Diànzhe wǒ hé nà huānlè de shíguāng,
Think of me and the happy times we had,

děng wǒ huí dào nǐ shēn páng.
and wait ’til I’m by your side.

金银财宝, 一满箱,
Jīn yín cáibǎo, yī mǎn xiāng,
Silver and gold, a whole chestful,

kàn wǒ zài huílái.
watch me bring it back.

Sīchóu hé zhūbǎo, línlángmǎnmù,
Silk and jewels, dazzling to the eye,

yàng yàng dōu xiàn gěi nǐ.
and all these I give to you.

Sīchóu hé zhūbǎo, línlángmǎnmù,
Silk and jewels, dazzling to the eye,

yàng yàng dōu xiàn gěi nǐ.
and all these I give to you.

The Chinese word for lovers is 情人 (qíngrén).

Qíngrénjié kuàilè!
Happy Valentines Day!

Year of the Tiger and Chinese words and idioms associated with tiger

Tiger's head
Tiger’s Head (Image downloaded from and modified)

The tiger is called 虎 (hǔ), or 老虎 (lǎohǔ), in Chinese. Here, the word 老 (lǎo) does not mean old (in the literal sense), but rather “respectable”, as in 老师 (lǎoshī teacher).

Tiger connotes strength and power. Just look at the forehead of this animal. It’s imprinted with the Chinese word for the king. 王 (wáng)!

谈虎色变 (tánhǔsèbiàn) means to turn pale at the mention of a tiger. This idiom describes a terrible something, the mere mention of which would make you turn pale.

A female tiger is considered even fiercer than a male tiger. This is why a termagant wife is often referred to as a tigress, or 母老虎 (mǔlǎohǔ). You had better behave yourself if you have one at home.

For a tough job, a long-nose plier won’t do. I use my 老虎钳 (lǎohǔqián pincer pliers) instead.

The saying, 虎父无犬子 (hǔfùwúquǎnzi) translates literally to: A tiger will not sire a mere dog. In other words, a wise goose never lays a tame egg.

A tiger incites fear in everyone, but there are exceptions. The Chinese saying 初生之犊不畏虎 (chūshēngzhīdúbùwèihǔ) tells us that a newly born calf is not scared of the tiger because it is ignorant of the tiger’s ferocity. This is what one might say about the daring, dauntless young people who have no inkling of what danger or disaster they will be facing.

A well-known tale from the Chinese classic “The Robbers from Liang-shan Bog” (aka Water Margin) features a Robin Hood style hero named 武松 (Wǔsōng), who killed a tiger with bare fists. An animated version can be found at this youtube link.

As you can see, 武松 (Wǔsōng) was totally drunk when he took the tiger on and subdued it in that fashion. No one in his right mind would have had the guts to do so.
Then again, there is the so-called paper tiger, or 纸老虎 (zhǐlǎohǔ), whom we need not heed.
All right, following are a number of additional Chinese idioms and phrases for you to study. Try to think of situations to which you could apply these idioms.

马马虎虎 (mǎmǎhūhū) means careless, casual, just passable, or so-so.

狼吞虎咽 (lángtūnhǔyàn) means to devour ravenously or to wolf down the food.

虎视耽耽 (hǔshídāndān) is to glare like a tiger that is eyeing its prey.

调虎离山 (diàohǔlíshān) means to lure the tiger out of the mountains. It is a strategic move of luring the enemy away from his base.

放虎归山 (fànghǔguīshān) is to let the tiger return to the mountains, planting the seed of calamity for the future.

为虎添翼 (wèihǔtiānyì) means to give wings to a tiger, making it even more powerful. The implied meaning is to assist an evildoer.

虎头蛇尾 (hǔtóushéwěi) means starting out like a tiger and ending like a harmless garden snake. This phrase can be used to describe a project with fine start and poor finish.

生龙活虎 (shēnglónghuóhǔ) means to be dauntless as a dragon and lively as a tiger; in other words, full of vim and vigour.

狐假虎威 (hújiǎhǔwēi) means to bully people by flaunting one’s powerful connections, in the same way that the fox might borrow the tiger’s terror by walking in the latter’s company.

不入虎穴, 焉得虎子?
Bùrùhǔxué, yāndéhǔzǐ?
How can you catch tiger cubs without entering the tiger’s lair? (Nothing ventured, nothing gained.)

May the energy and vitality of the tiger rub off on us and spur us to take on a new challenge in 2022. Hopefully you will be favored with some external assistance that will enable you to forge ahead with redoubled power, like a tiger with wings, or 如虎添翼 (rúhǔtiānyì).

Chūnjié kuàilè!
Happy Spring Festival!

New: “5 Stories in Chinese – Book 2 Tales from around the World” is now available at
To listen to a reading of the first story in this eBook, please click on this youtube link.

5 Stories in Chinese – Book 1 Chinese Tales” is also available at
To listen to a reading of the first story in this eBook, please click on this youtube link.

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