How To Talk About Meat In Chinese

There are so many delicious Chinese dishes, and a large percentage of those have meat in them. This article will discuss how to talk about meat in Chinese, and about the culture of meat in China.

Chinese Meat Dish
Image via

How To Indicate Some Type Of Meat In Chinese

In general, talking about meat is very easy in Chinese. You just say the name of the animal + 肉 (rou4).

Chicken meat = chicken + meat = 雞肉 ji1 rou4
duck meat = duck + meat = 鸭肉 ya1 rou4
cow meat (beef) = cow + meat = 牛肉 niu2 rou4
pig meat (pork) = pig + meat = 豬肉 zhu1 rou4
sheep/goat meat = sheep + meat = 羊肉 (yang2 rou4)
fish = 魚肉 = yu2 rou4
With fish, often the 肉 part is optional.
Seafood = 海鮮 = hai3 xian1

Additional Information About Meat In China

Besides knowing the names of animals, it is useful to know different parts animals’ bodies like legs, arms, feet, back, etc. Even knowing about organs like liver, brain, etc is useful. This is because Chinese people generally will eat almost all parts of animals, even the blood. Coagulated duck blood is a delicacy in Southeastern China including Nanjing. The first time I ever had chicken feet was in Taiwan, and although I was quite apprehensive, my friend pushed me on, and I found out first hand that chicken feet are actually somewhat tasty. There are even some markets in China selling exotic animal meat, from starfish to live scorpions, in places like the famous Wangfujing street in Beijing.

What To Expect In Meat Markets In China

In China, in large meat markets or in meat departments of large grocery stores, you can find so many types of meat. One time, in a large outdoor meat market, I even saw a live alligator-like creature. It seems that Chinese people don’t have as much affection towards animals, at least compared to many Western countries. Even horse is eaten in Western China.

Because many Chinese people prefer their meat as fresh as possible, most meat markets will kill live fish right in front of you and sometimes chicken and other animals too.

Wangfujing market in Beijing
Wangfujing market in Beijing. Image via

Miscellaneous Notes About Meat In China

When I am in China, I am quite vigilant about knowing what is actually in my food. So if I don’t know what is in a dish, I always ask. This is in part because I don’t eat any seafood, but also because there are some animals I refuse to eat under any conditions. One of them is dog, due to having had dogs for most of my life. It is true that some Chinese people eat dog meat, but it is much rarer than other meats.

If a food item has meat, but it isn’t indicated which meat is is, usually, by default, it will be pork.

Being A Vegetarian Or Vegan In China

It is possible to be a vegetarian in China, but at times, it will be somewhat difficult. To be 100% sure of having no meat, you will need to buy your own vegetables, and cook your own food. Though, there are some restaurants, like some Buddhist restaurants, where you can you can be fairly confident that there will be no meat in the food.

China seems to have different ideas about meat and vegetarianism than Western countries. Even in supposedly vegetarian food at restaurants, they might sprinkle on bits of pork, or have broth from meat for a soup. One time, I went to a dinner with my coworkers, one of whom is a strict vegetarian. Nearly all of the dishes had meat in it, so he wouldn’t eat from any of them. Eventually, the waiters thought that bringing out a fish dish would be fine, because maybe they thought that fish isn’t meat. But, later they brought out a dish with only vegetables.

Below is some vocab related to being or not being a vegetarian
I eat meat = 我吃肉 wo3 chi1 rou4
I don’t eat meat = 我不吃肉 wo3 bu4 chi1 rou4
I am a vegetarian = 我吃素 wo3 chi1 su4

Did you like this article? Do you have anything to add? Let’s discuss it in the comments below.

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14 thoughts on “How To Talk About Meat In Chinese”

  1. Nice article. I remember the first time I ordered something in China. I tried to order pork and instead got ice cold chicken feet! Still ate it though.

    1. Thanks. Chinese food in China is definitely worth trying.

  2. Informative article. I found the part about vegetarianism and the difficulties ordering food in a Restaurant in China particularly interesting. I’ll keep these tips in mind during my travels.

    1. Thanks. I admit being a vegetarian in China can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. You just need to be proactive.

  3. This is so helpful, I’d probably be totally lost without this info! I’ll have to hang on to this post for my future trip to Shanghai!

    1. Thanks. Shanghai has lots of delicious foods to try out. Enjoy your future trip to Shanghai!

  4. I think you just taught me the most important words I could learn in chinese: 我吃素 and 我不吃肉
    actually, when I started to read your article I was a bit bummed because I really steer clear of anything meat related, and as I was reading, when i got to the part about vegan/vegetarian, I was so happy!
    I already knew that eating in china is a bit tricky for vegans/ vegetarians (although there are a lot of amazing vegetable side dishes), but Buddhist restaurants I had never even thought of! It does make sense for vegetarians to kind of seek out those places, usually most buddhists don’t eat meat!
    Loved reading your thoughts, I’ll be sure to keeping coming back for more!


    1. Thanks for the kind remarks. China is definitely an interesting place and it’s really good to know some vocab related to vegetarianism. More fancy restaurants will have Chinese and English menus, but most will just have Chinese menus. But, anyway if you use some of this vocab I wrote about, and a decent dictionary, you should be able to get around with food quite well. And if all else fails, hand signals and body language often work. – Justin

  5. I had no idea there were so many different kinds of meat in China. This was eye opening.

    1. Yes. It definitely was for me. If you ever visit Guangdong province. you surely would see a lot on this front. And since China is a massive country with a massive population, there are SO many different kinds of cuisine to try out. It’s worth trying out.

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