20 Vegetables in Chinese for the Vocabulary-hungry Learner
Di San Xian (stir-fried potatoes, eggplant and peppers).
Vegetable dumplings with sweet and sour sauce.
Steamed veggies and fried rice.
Are you hungry yet?
Chinese cuisine is not only mouth-wateringly delicious but also chock full of fresh veggies!
Whether you want to order from a menu at an authentic Chinese restaurant or perhaps take an exciting trip to China, you’re going to need to know some basic vegetable words in Chinese.
Below, we’ve listed 20 delectable vegetables in Chinese to add to your vocabulary. You’ll also learn some interesting facts about Chinese cuisine.
Let’s get started!
20 Vegetables in Chinese for the Vocabulary-hungry Learner
Common Vegetables Found in China
1. 白菜 (Báicài) — Chinese cabbage
There are many delicious types of Asian greens you can incorporate into your cooking. One of the most popular, Chinese cabbage is well-known in Western culture too. It doesn’t have much taste, but it’s nice and crunchy when eaten raw, and it also complements main dishes when steamed. Apart from its many health benefits, it’s also very low in calories.
In Chinese, the word literally means “white vegetable” or “white dish.”
2. 大豆 (Dàdòu) — Soybean
Soy sauce, tofu, soy milk… Chinese cuisine has a lot of vegetarian/vegan options we’re all familiar with nowadays—and we love them too! Soybeans are a native Chinese vegetable widely used in recipes and, thanks to their high fiber content, they’re also a great digestive help.
If we split the word 大豆 (dàdòu) in two, it means “big bean.”
3. 茄子 (Qiézi) — Chinese eggplant
Although similar to “regular” eggplant, this Chinese vegetable is a bit longer, darker and sweeter. It’s quite often used in Chinese stir-fry recipes.
The English translation of Chinese vegetables often includes the word “Chinese,” but of course, the Mandarin word for Chinese eggplant simply means “eggplant.”
The word is the same whether we’re talking about the bigger, darker Chinese eggplant or the one you’re used to seeing in your local shop.
4. 花生 (Huāshēng) — Peanut
A peanut is actually classified as a legume! Similar to beans and peas, it’s an edible seed. Chinese dishes often contain peanuts or peanut oil—much more than we’re used to in Western cooking.
“Peanut” in Chinese is rather interesting when broken down:
花 (huā) — flower
生 (shēng) — to be born/raw
5. 冬瓜 (Dōngguā) — Winter melon
Similar to zucchini or cucumber, winter melon is usually added to stir-fry or braised dishes in Chinese cuisine. One very popular Chinese dish is winter melon soup (winter melon mixed with meat broth).
Not surprisingly, Chinese melon is quite different than cantaloupe or watermelon.
6. 小白菜 (Xiǎo báicài) — Bok choy
Bok choy is very similar to Chinese cabbage. In Western culture, they’re often considered the same vegetable, which isn’t entirely wrong. Bok choy is cooked more or less the same way as Chinese cabbage—it’s usually stir-fried or steamed before being added to another dish.
Interestingly, the English word for 小白菜 is bok choy, but it literally means “small white vegetable” in Chinese.
Note that bok choy uses two of the same Chinese characters found in the word for Chinese cabbage.
7. 韭菜 (Jiǔcài) — Garlic chive
Coming from southwestern China, garlic chives are not only cultivated for culinary use but also for use as decorative plants.
8. 白萝卜(Bái luóbo) — White radish
When eaten raw, white radish might be considered too bitter. Westerners are usually familiar with its pickled version. In Chinese cuisine, pickled white radish salad is often served as a side dish. It’s very low in calories and completely fat-free.
Here’s what the word looks like broken down:
白 (bái) — white
萝卜 (luóbo) — radish
9. 绿豆 (Lǜdòu) — Green bean
Often fried in sesame oil, green beans are a Chinese vegetable eaten both as part of a main dish (stir-fry, mostly) and on their own as a side dish. In Western culture, green beans are not an exception when it comes to sides either, but the Chinese usually use soy sauce, garlic and ginger—exactly the flavors we all think of when someone says “Chinese cuisine”—to add to the taste.
This word can be broken down into yet another literal translation:
绿 (lǜ) — green
豆 (dòu) — bean
Don’t you wish all Chinese words could be broken down this way?!
10. 笋 (Sǔn) — Bamboo shoot
Bamboo is known for its incredible strength—the Chinese even use it to build skyscrapers nowadays. It’s also incredibly popular in Chinese cuisine.
The process of cooking bamboo shoots is long, but that doesn’t stop the Chinese people from including this mild-flavored vegetable in their dishes. Bamboo shoots, along with other vegetables and meat, are usually served as a nice complement to stir-fries.
Popular Western Vegetables in Chinese
What’s popular in western countries is a bit different from what’s popular in China.
Here’s a list of some favorite Western vegetables, along with their Chinese translation.
11. 土豆 (Tǔdòu) — Potato
According to PotatoPro, China is actually the world’s largest producer of potatoes!
The Chinese word for potatoes is simple: 土豆 (tǔdòu) literally means “earth beans.”
12. 甜玉米 (Tián yùmǐ) — Sweet corn
Again, we have a very simple and literal translation of the word for sweetcorn:
甜 (tián) — sweet
玉米 (yùmǐ) — corn
13. 胡萝卜 (Húluóbo) — Carrot
If we break down 胡萝卜 (húluóbo) into separate characters, we can see two words:
胡 (hú) — nations north or west of China (in ancient times)
萝卜 (luóbo) — radish (However, a native Chinese speaker would probably understand that you meant “carrot” if you used this word by itself.)
14. 番茄 (Fānqié) — Tomato
“Tomato” in Chinese is made up of characters that are usually not used on their own:
番 (fān) — something that’s not Chinese
茄 (qié) — eggplant
15. 西兰花 (Xī lánhuā) — Broccoli
Broken down, this word is an interesting one:
西 (xī) — west
兰花 (lánhuā) — orchid
So broccoli, whether we love or hate it, is such a beautiful word in Chinese. It’s a western orchid!
16. 小洋白菜 (Xiǎo yángbáicài) — Brussels sprout
Brussels sprouts are considered a foreign vegetable in China, which explains how the word is broken down:
小 (xiǎo) — small
洋白菜 (yángbáicài) — cabbage or foreign white vegetable
17. 甘薯 (Gānshǔ) — Sweet potato
While 甘薯 literally translates to “sweet potato,” 薯 (shǔ) by itself is a bit more specific and means “yam.”
18. 黄瓜 (Huángguā) — Cucumber
Although cucumber is green, the Chinese call it “yellow melon.”
黄 (huáng) — yellow
瓜 (guā) — melon
19. 菠菜 (Bōcài) — Spinach
Although 菠 (bō) by itself means “spinach,” it’s not usually used on its own. More often, we see 菜 (cài), which means “vegetable,” at the end.
20. 洋葱 (Yángcōng) — Green onion
Again, 洋 (yáng) means “foreign.” Adding 葱 (cōng) makes the word refer to green onion, the type most commonly used in Chinese cuisine.
Now that you’ve got all of this new vegetable vocabulary under your belt, the next time you’re passing by a Chinese food market, don’t hesitate to try something new!
Will it be 白菜 (Chinese cabbage), 冬瓜 (winter melon) or 笋 (bamboo shoots)?