Asian Glossary

There are many Asian terms used in this website and our Market Tour. Below is a list of terms with accompanying definitions.

Abacus Beads

Hakka style gnocchi made from Tapioca and Yam dough, and formed into abacus bead shapes.

Bahn Mi

Vietnamese/French fusion sandwich on crusty French bread, layered with various pates and headcheese, pickled carrots, cucumber, cilantro and hot peppers, with a little mayonnaise and soy sauce.


Yeast buns with various fillings found in the bakeries and served for Dim Sum.

Beijing Cuisine

As the capital of China, Beijing cooking is based on the Imperial cuisine of the various emperors, with influences from other regional culinary styles

Bitter melon

A bitter gourd that contains natural quinine, used for medicinal purposes in the treatment of diabetes, and to boost the immune system in HIV patients. A “Yin” or cooling vegetable.

Black Vinegar

Jet-black slightly sweet vinegar made from sticky rice and aged in wooden casks for generations. The best is called Chinkiang, and is reminiscent of Balsamic in flavor.

Buddha’s Delight (Lo Han Jai in Cantonese)

A vegetarian dish eaten on New Year’s Day.

Bubble Tea

Originally from Taiwan, and now popular all over, bubble tea is made with or without tea, with or without condensed milk, but usually includes a fruit flavoring and always includes large tapioca starch “bubbles”.


A relative of cinnamon commonly used in Northern and Western Chinese dishes.

Cellophane Noodles

Thin noodles made from Mung Bean starch. Also called “Bean threads”.

Cha Siu

Strips of pork from the shoulder of the pig, rubbed with Maltose or honey, five spice powder, and roasted in a very hot oven on giant forks. Sold in Cantonese BBQ shops.

Chaozhou Cuisine

Cooking from the Northeastern most part of Guangdong (Canton) Province. Known for seafood, goose dishes and vegetarian dishes. Also spelled Chiuchow or Teochew.

Daan Tat

Egg custard tartlets with a Portuguese origin, popular at Dim Sum and sold in Chinatown bakeries.


The basic soup stock used in Japanese cooking. It is typically made from dried bonito flakes, kelp and sardines.

Dim Sum

Cantonese breakfast/lunch/brunch. Steamed, baked or fried items are sold from portable carts that roam the dining room. Dim Sum is the only time when tea is consumed during a meal.

Double Fifth Day

The fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the day in which the Dragon Boat Festival occurs. Around the time of the Summer Solstice, this was originally an Agrarian festival.

Dragon Fruit

A beautiful pink and green fruit that grows on Cacti in Southern China. Similar to kiwi in flavor, but not as sweet, often drizzled with honey and eaten out of the shell with a spoon.

Dragon Well Tea

The king of all Green Teas, served to visiting dignitaries in China. Green Tea is the healthiest, as it retains all of its antioxidants.


A fruit much beloved in Southeast Asia, durian has a very offensive odor, much like rotten onions, but aficionados prize it for its delicious, custard like taste.

Egg Puffs

Round, solid waffle-like puffs made from flour, sugar, egg and sweetened condensed milk, cooked in a special iron, and sold on the street in Hong Kong and in Chinatown.


The starch/carbohydrate part of the Chinese meal, usually rice in the south, and wheat noodles or steamed wheat breads in the North. The Yangtze river is the dividing line between North and South.

Five Spice Powder

A seasoning mixture of ground clove, fennel seed, star anise, cassia and Sichuan Peppercorns. Some blends also include licorice root and ground ginger, although the first five spices are a constant.

Fukienese Cuisine

The cooking of Fujian Province on the south east coast of China is well known for its use of fresh and dried seafood. The cuisine has much in common with Taiwanese cuisine. Fisherman from Fujian Province settled in Taiwan hundreds of years ago.

“Gong Hay Faat Choy!” (“Happy New Year!”)

A greeting when encountering friends for the first time over the Lunar New Year.

Ha Gao

Shrimp and Bamboo shoot filled dumplings, very popular at Dim Sum.


Literally “Guest People”, the Hakka were originally a mountain tribe from Central Northern China, who gradually migrated south. They are prominent in the provinces of Guangdong, Jiangxi and Fujian. Deng Xiao Ping and Sun Yat Sen were Hakka.

Han Chinese

The largest single ethnic group in the world, The Han Chinese take their name from the Han Dynasty and consider themselves descendants of the Yellow Emperor.


A popular snack associated with the Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, Jong are made from sticky rice with a sweet or savory filling, wrapped in Bamboo leaves, tied with string and steamed.


The Cantonese name for Congee, a rice porridge typically eaten for breakfast with “Oil Fried Devils”.


Also known as kelp, Kombu is wild-harvested edible seaweed which is usually sold in dried form. Once boiled, kombu can be cut into strips and used in a variety of vegetable dishes.

Lai See

Red envelopes, also known as Hong Bao in Mandarin, in which money is given to children and unmarried adults for the Lunar New Year.

Lapsang Souchong Tea

A black tea from Fujian Province, Lapsang Souchong is distinctive for its smoky flavor. The leaves are smoked over pinewood fires.

Litchi (Lychee)

A tropical fruit found seasonally in Chinese markets, the Litchi has the texture of a grape, with a distinctive rose-petal like flavor.

Luffa Squash

Often sold as Chinese Okra, the Luffa is a squash that turns into our common Luffa Sponge, when dried. Luffa has a zucchini-like flavor.

Lucky Cats

Although originally Japanese, these ceramic cats are now found in Chinatown Shops near the counter with the cash register. They are “waving in” financial success with their extended paws.

Ma La Dishes

Characteristic of Sichuan Province, Ma La dishes are both “numbing” and “hot”. The numbing effect is from the Sichuan Peppercorn, and hot effect is from fiery chilies.


A popular sweet snack made from sticky rice. Pounded into a paste, molded into a shape and filled with various mostly sweet fillings. Sold in bakeries and Asian supermarkets.

Moon Cake

Traditionally eaten during the Autumn Moon Festival on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, Moon Cakes are made from wheat flour, and filled with lotus paste or mixed nuts and fruits, baked in a wooden mold with the insignia of the bakery. They often have salted duck egg yolk in the center, which resembles the Harvest Moon.

Oil Fried Devils

Dough sticks resembling Spanish Churros, but without sugar, often eaten with Jook, or congee for breakfast.

Oolong Tea

In between green teas and black teas, Oolong tea is partially oxidized, and is a common mid afternoon beverage to accompany a sweet snack.

Pai Fang

A memorial gate, commonly found at the entrance to Chinese villages, and to Chinatowns throughout the world.


Resembling a gigantic grapefruit, this citrus fruit is typically eaten for Chinese New Years. Its Chinese name rhymes with the word for “abundance”.

Pork Soong

Cuts of Pork cooked in a sweetened soy sauce, shredded and dried in an oven to achieve a “melting” quality. Typically eaten with congee, or combined with sweet fillings in pastries.

Pu-Er Tea

A tea in which the leaves are fermented. The fermentation is believed to help digestion. Also known as Bo Lei in Cantonese, Pu-Er tea is the number one choice to accompany Dim Sum.

Purple Yam

Originally from Okinawa this variety of Sweet Potato is high in Lycopene, and full of antioxidants. It is believed to account for the longevity of the Okinawans.

Red Braised dishes

A cooking method from Eastern China in which meats are braised in a combination of Soy Sauce, rice wine, ginger, scallions and crystallized sugar, which gives the meat a beautiful mahogany red sheen.

Red Yeast Rice

In Fujian Province, rice is inoculated with the yeast strain Monascus Purpureus, resulting in an edible red mold. Red rice paste is used to color a variety of dishes, including Cha Siu.

Red Vinegar

Vinegar made from Red Yeast Rice

Sand Pot

A rustic clay pot with a lid, commonly used in China for braised dishes, and sold in Asian Supermarkets here.


A small breed of chicken with beautiful white feathers, the skin and feet of which are bluish black. Also known as a Black Chicken, Silkies are used to make a medicinal broth. The meat itself is discarded, as it is tough and stringy.

Siu Mei

The term for Cantonese Roasted BBQ items, including roast duck, roast suckling pig, and Cha Siu.

Spring Ginger

Young Ginger with pinkish tips. Young Ginger is not as “hot” as older ginger, and does not need to be peeled, as the peel is very tender.

Star Anise

A common spice in many Chinese dishes, shaped like an eight pointed star, with a distinct anise and licorice-like flavor.

Stinky Bean Curd

A popular street snack in parts of China and in Taiwan, Stinky Bean Curd is tofu that has been fermented for months in a brine with chilies, and dried fish. Often fried until crisp on the outside, and creamy in the center, it is the Limburger Cheese of the Tofu world.

Tang Chinese

The Cantonese distinguish themselves from other (Han) Chinese by using a reference to the Tang Dynasty, a later dynasty than the Han. In the Chinese languages, Chinatowns are called “Street of the Tang People.”

Tofu Pudding

Fresh curds from curdled soybean milk with a custard-like consistency, often eaten chilled with chilled ginger syrup.

X.O. Sauce

Invented by a Hong Kong chef in the 1980’s, XO sauce is a spicy-sweet and savory condiment made from scallops, dried shrimp and fish, chilies, sugar, onion, garlic and oil, and used in a variety of Cantonese dishes.

“Yam Bui”

Literally “drain your glass”, used to toast someone at a Chinese banquet. The person being toasted is expected to finish what is in their glass.

“Yam Cha”

Literally “drink tea”- A Cantonese expression meaning to have dim sum.


The concept of pairs of opposing energies which compliment each other; Yin is feminine, and Yang is masculine. In gastronomy, Yin foods are cooling foods, and Yang foods are warming foods. Excessive consumption of one type more than another causes illness, and the goal is a balanced diet of Yin and Yang ingredients.