As you know, rice is the staple food in many parts of southeastern Asia. 米 (mǐ) is uncooked rice. (This character is also used to represent the distance unit, “meters”.) Cooked rice is called 饭 (fàn), which sounds quite similar to “fun”. Plain cooked rice is 白饭 (báifàn), and stir-fried rice is 炒饭 (chǎo fàn). Please don’t go around announcing that you like to 吃白饭 (chī báifàn) as this expression can also be interpreted as the equivalent of 白吃 (bái chī), which means eating without paying, or bilking others. It is safe to say:
Wǒ xǐhuān chī bái mǐfàn.
I like to eat plain rice.
Another expression to be careful about is 吃软饭 (chī ruǎn fàn eat soft rice), which means to sponge off women. It is safe to say:
Wǒ xǐhuān chī bǐjiào ruǎn de fàn.
I like to eat rice that’s on the soft side.
Having thousands of years of history behind them, the Chinese, have taken the plain rice grains and turned them into a large variety of delectable food products. Rice porridge is called 粥 (zhōu congee) or 稀饭 (xīfàn). When the rice is cooked to a paste, then it’s called 糊 (hú). This word can also be used as a verb, i.e. “to glue with a paste”.
粉 (fěn) is a powder. When rice is ground into powder and made into a vermicelli, it is called 米粉 (mǐ fěn rice flour noodles). On some restaurant menus, you may find 炒粉 (chǎofěn), which refers to stir-fried rice noodles.
Rice powder can also be used to make a variety of rice cakes, generally referred to as 糕 (gāo). As I mentioned before, the sticky rice cake, called 年糕 (niángāo), is customarily served for the Lunar New Year. On the other hand, 蛋糕 (dàngāo cakes) usually refer to cakes made from wheat flour. What happens when you’ve added too much sugar, or 糖 (táng), into the cake?
Zhègè dàngāo tài tián le!
This cake is too sweet!
Please refer to the book,”Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes”, for the names of other food items. There you will also find a song sung to the tune of “Hot Cross Buns”.
粒 (lì) are grains or granules. It is also used as a unit of counting small round items.
粗 (cū) means coarse, grainy, thick or wide.
禾 (hé) refers to the rice plant. This character is a radical found in many other Chinese characters. For example, you’ve most likely seen the word 和 (hé) used as the conjunctive “and”. As an adjective, this word means to be gentle or congenial. As a noun, it means the sum. As a verb, 和 (huò), means to mix, and is pronounced in the fourth tone.
When you harvest the rice by cutting the pants, profit will be gained. So, when you add the刂(dāo knife) radical to 禾 (hé), you will get 利 (lì), which means sharp, beneficial, a profit or an interest (from savings or investment).
Lián běn dài lì yīgòng sān qiān liù bǎi yuán.
Including principal and interest, altogether it’s 3600 yuan.
便利 (biànlì) means convenient. 顺利 (shùnlì) means going smoothly or without a problem. 利用 (lìyòng) is a verb that means “to make good use of” or, in the negative sense, “to exploit”.
稻 (dào) are the rice plants in the paddy.
香 (xiāng) means fragrant or savory. As a noun, it refers to incense.
秤 (chèng) are scales. It can be used as the verb “to weigh”.
税 (shuì) are duty and taxes.
季 (jì) are the seasons.
Yī nián yǒu sìjì.
There are four seasons in a year.
One sweltering day during the Tang Dynasty, a farmer was laboring in his rice field. A poet, named 李绅 (Lǐ shēn), happened by. He took sympathy on the farmer, and the inspiration resulted in this well-known poem:
Chú hé rì dāng wǔ,
Hoeing in the rice field at midday,
Hàn dī hé xià tǔ.
Sweat dripping past the rice onto the soil.
Shéi zhī pán zhōng cān
Who’d have known the food on the plate,
Lì lì jiē xīnkǔ.
Each and every grain means toil.
To hear a reading of this poem, please click here.
May you all see the fruit of your labor in the coming year.
Happy New Year!