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.

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