Chinese restaurant shorthand, part 3

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Yixue Yang and I were on a mission to find out what the mysterious "O" in this entry from the previous installment in this series stands for:

laan2 / lán 兰O — stands for gaai3laan2 / jièlán 芥兰O
("Chinese kale / broccoli / gai lan / kai lan order")

Since that "O" occasioned so much discussion in the comments to the previous post, we were determined to put the controversy to rest, once and for all, and we now have done so, as will be explained at the end of this post.  For the moment, though, let's look at the bill we received this time (Saturday 2/25/17):

To keep things as simple as possible, the following items include:  A. the shorthand version of the entry, together with its Pinyin transcription and literal translation; B. the full form of what A stands for, together with its Pinyin transcription and typical English translation.

  1. xià cháng 下长 ("below long") — xiā cháng fěn 虾肠粉 ("Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll")
  2. jiǎnán bìng 甲南并 ("armor south side-by-side") — shāo yā niúnǎn pīnpán 烧腩拼盘 ("Roast Duck and Beef Stew Combo")
  3. suànróng Táng lán 蒜茸唐兰 ("Chinese broccoli with minced garlic") — suànróng Táng jièlán 蒜茸唐芥兰 ("Chinese Broccoli with Minced Garlic")
  4. hǎixiān zú 海先足 ("sea first foot") — hǎixiān zhōu 海鲜粥 ("Seafood Congee")

Phonological note:

zú 足 ("foot; sufficient; enough") — Cantonese zuk1

zhōu 粥 ("congee; porridge") — Cantonese zuk1


As for the "O" that followed our order of broccoli discussed in the second post in this series, the last time we ordered that dish it came with oyster sauce.  Consequently some people thought the "O" stood for "oyster" and even that the wait persons were confusing "order" and "oyster".  And there were other theories about what the "O" stood for as well.  So this time we were very careful to avoid oyster sauce and specifically requested that the broccoli come with minced garlic.  Voilà!  No "O" on the order slip / bill!  We further clarified with the wait staff that "O = order" refers to a small plate of already prepared vegetables kept at the front of the restaurant that can be brought to the customer on a moment's notice, whereas broccoli without the "O" signifies that the dish, larger in size, is prepared individually for the customer in the kitchen and brought to the customer from there, not from the front of the restaurant.  End of story.

[Thanks to Fangyi Cheng, Leqi Yu, and Pan Daan]


  1. Li Wei said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 7:34 am

    I wonder how non-Cantonese-speaking waiters/waitresses and/or cooks deal with these. They will have to 'learn' the shorthand. Is there a separate shorthand for Mandarin-speaking staff?

    In some open-kitchen restaurants/cafes, you hear waiters/waitresses shouting out the order to the cooks, in a mixture of Cantonese, Mandarin, English, and others. Makes a fascinating linguistic ethnographic study.

  2. Fluxor said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 8:23 am

    The third item is 蒜茸唐兰, the second character being 茸 rather than 蓉.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 10:44 am

    Homophonous typo fixed now. Thanks.

    The two forms mean the same thing ("minced garlic") and are used in almost equal proportion:

    suànróng 蒜茸 525,000 ghits

    suànróng 蒜蓉 489,000 ghits

    Two more synonyms are:

    suànmò 蒜末 440,000 ghits

    suànní 蒜泥 4,240,000 ghits

    Minced garlic is one of my favorite things, and a good garlic press is essential for my kitchen. Usually, no matter how much they cost, they don't work very well. The only one that is consistently reliable is the simplest one you can get from IKEA, and it costs less than five bucks.

    I use minced garlic in lots of dishes that I prepare, and it is one of the most important ingredients in the secret recipe for my super salads. But minced garlic can be overdone. I remember a dark night after an event at Tufts University when my wife and I were driving back to Somerville with a friend from Sichuan, Yin Binyong. He was slight of frame, but he could eat blisteringly hot Sichuanese dishes with the best of them.

    We stopped off at a Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of Medford for a late dinner. His eyes zoomed in on the suànní báiqiē jī 蒜泥白切鸡 ("white cut chicken with minced garlic"). That was to be our pièce de résistance for the evening meal. There was a thick layer of garlic "mud / paste / mash" slathered all over the sliced chicken on the platter. They must have used five bulbs / heads (not cloves, mind you) of fresh garlic to produce that dish. On top of the garlic was liberally sprinkled ground Sichuan peppercorn.

    We finished the whole platter, but about halfway through it became sheer torture (for me and even for my wife who grew up in Sichuan, but not for YBY). The after effects of consuming all that garlic were felt for a couple of weeks.

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