Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chinese Menu Innovation

It isn't uncommon in China for restaurants to have a very large number of dishes available in their menu.  When pictures are included this can mean the menu will also have a large number of pages.

Additionally, typically in China one person will order all of the dishes, which are shared, for the whole table.


Keeping track of all the dishes you may want to order can be problematic.  One way to deal with this is to simply pick dishes as you page through the menu.  In China, waitresses and waiters will usually stand at the table waiting while you decide what to order.

But maybe you want to decide on the full selection before announcing any choices.  In such cases I've found myself using my fingers to keep track of the pages with the most delicious looking items so I don't have to page through the whole menu again.  However, if ordering for many people I may quickly run out of fingers.

In Chengdu, Sichuan province I ate at this vegetarian restaurant:

Lotus on the Water -- a vegetarian restaurant in Chengdu

They had a rather extensive menu, but they also provided something else when they brought it to the table:

Colored clips and fake-meat dishes in the menu

The small clips were a simple and very useful method for remembering your selections.  It also helped to ensure that your order was properly communicated.  Sometimes low-tech innovation is all you need.

And here's more proof that it worked:

Spicy vegetarian beef and tea tree mushrooms


  1. Good old vegetarian beef. Splendid.

  2. I am very convinced, not starving in China when I visit, :)

    Really interesting post... and loved the colorful paperclips too!

  3. MicEdwards, splendid indeed.

    callmeambiguity, yes, plenty of good food in China. If you are at a place that isn't solely vegetarian and want to ensure there's no meat in your dishes it can be a good idea to state your are Buddhist. Otherwise, they may assume you are just saying you don't want meat as the main dish.