There is a famous Chinese saying 民以食为天 which literally means: people regard food as heaven. From this notion, you can see how important and essential food is in Chinese life. Food and eating have never been an outdated topic in any period of Chinese history, even today. Since the Chinese have been so intimate with food and eating, they have created many food-related terms. Here are 6 made with 吃chī that are very popular.
小吃 (xiǎo chī): Literally “small eating”
People have between-meal nibbles, not for getting full, but for getting a taste of food. This slang word means snack, refreshments, or between-meal nibbles. Usually, we don’t call western snacks such as potato chips and chocolate 小吃, we call them 零食. 零ling 2 means the number zero, 数字0. It can also mean scattered. 零食 (scattered food) means a snack/between-meal nibbles.
Some students may ask what is the difference between 小吃和零食？
小吃 refers to snacks that you can’t stock for a long time. Once you cook it, you will have to eat it in a short time or it will go bad, such as 酸辣粉suān là fěn (sour and spicy noodles). On the contrary, 零食 refers to snacks which can be kept for a relatively long time, for example 方便面fāng biàn miàn (instant noodles/convenient noodles). You can take this as a rule to distinguish whether a snack is 小吃 or 零食 in Chinese people’s eyes.
Some students may also ask is there a 大吃 which means big meal?
Answer: No. We call it 大餐dà cān, which means a big meal or a rich meal. You can use 大吃in大吃大喝dà chī dà hē, which means to eat and drink extravagantly, to eat and drink with enthusiasm, to wine and dine extravagantly, to eat and drink in a fancy way, to indulge in extravagant eating and drinking or to regale oneself on choice food.
kù dài gào sù wǒ men ， wǒ men yǐ jīng jiǎn le féi ， jìn guǎn yī lù shàng wǒ men xiàng wáng zǐ yī yàng dà chī dà hē.
Our belts told us we had lost weight, though we had eaten like greedy princes along the way.
chī cù (吃醋): Literally “to eat vinegar”
This one has an interesting origin story from the Tang Dynasty era (way, way back). According to the Shanghai Daily:
Emperor Taizong decided to reward his chancellor Fang Xuanling by giving him a choice of beautiful women from his concubines. Fang's wife was angry and jealous, however, and refused to accept a new woman to share her husband's bed. The emperor himself was annoyed and gave Fang's wife a choice: either accept new, young lovers for her husband, or drink a cup of poisoned wine and end her life. She chose to drink poison, which turned out to be vinegar in the emperor's test of her courage and devotion to her husband.
Hence, eating vinegar has come to signify a woman's romantic jealousy.
To eat vinegar, then, essentially means to be jealous. The connotation is that it’s romantic.
dāng tā fā xiàn tā ài bié rén de shí hòu ， tā chī cù le
He was jealous when he discovered that she loved someone else.
Some students may ask, is there a 吃酱? 酱jiàng (sauce) is another commonly used seasoning in Chinese kitchens, which is similar to vinegar.
Answer: Not yet. There is a funny slang you can use with 酱。打酱油, which literally means get sauce. Usually, it means just passing by, or just taking a look and not really caring about what is happening.
bǐ rú ， yī gè shí fēn yī lài kè hù tí gòng nèi róng hé hù dòng de wǎng zhàn huì fā xiàn shí gè rén lǐ yǒu jiǔ gè dōu shì dǎ jiàng yóu de.
For instance, a site that demands too much interaction and content generation from users will see nine out of ten people just pass it by.
chī dòufu (吃豆腐): Literally “to eat tofu”
Here is the origin of this slang. In ancient China, whenever someone died, the family would host a ceremony to treat friends and relatives. They prepared food, including tofu, to feed people. So a meal such as this, prepared by a family who has had a family member die, is called 豆腐饭，dòufufàn (Doufu meal). Some people who were not invited would go to eat the free meals to get adequately fed, even though it is shameful to do so. Then 吃豆腐饭 means take advantage of.
If you use 吃豆腐 from a man towards woman or a woman towards man, it means “to flirt”, “to tease” or “to take advantage of ” in a romantic or sexual manner. However, in Taiwan and some other places, it has a more negative connotation and could be translated as “to harass” or “to cop a feel.” Usually, it involves body contact like touching the person’s hand or other body parts. Compared to 性骚扰 (sexual harassment), chi dou fu sounds more fun and less serious. If you're joking around, try to use chi dou fu.
dì tiě shàng rén yòu duō yòu jǐ ， nǚ hái zǐ yī bù xiǎo xīn jiù huì bèi rén chī dòu fu.
There are so many people crowded on the metro that girls can be easily taken advantage of sexually.
chī kǔ (吃苦): Literally “to eat bitterness”
As the literal meaning suggests, 吃苦 means something akin to “to endure hardship” or “to suffer for a specific purpose.” You actually run into this phrase pretty often in Mainland China, and it’s quite commonly used among both younger and older folks.
President Mao Zedong has a famous saying:
吃得苦中苦，方为人上人。chī de kǔ zhōng kǔ ， fāng wéi rén shàng rén 。
Hardship increases status. If you wish to be the best man, you should suffer the bitterest of the bitter. Only by experiencing the hardest hardships can one rise above the ordinary. Only those who endure the most, become the highest.
It gets used a lot in both business and social contexts. It’s a phrase that is really at the core of Chinese society and values.
吃香 (chī xiāng): Literally “eat fragrance”
The slang means 受欢迎, to be very popular, to be much sought after, to be welcome (valued) everywhere, to be in great demand or to have a great advantage.
The original meaning of 香xiāng is smelling good, in contrast to smelling bad, 臭chòu. 香 also can be an adjective meaning popular, which can be easily understood from the fact that when something smells good, it is highly welcomed.
外国人在中国很吃香。wài guó rén zài zhōng guó hěn chī xiāng
Foreigners in China are highly welcomed.
Some students may ask, is 吃香喝辣chī xiāng hē là equivalent to 吃香？
Answer: Not really. 吃香喝辣 literally means to eat something which smells good and and drink something which is spicy. It means first, to eat great meals, and second, the same as 吃香.
吃闭门羹 (chī bì mén gēng): Literally “shut door, eat thick soup”
This expression means to be denied entrance at the door, to be refused admission as an unwelcome guest, to find the door slammed in one's face or to be given the cold-shoulder.
Here is origin of this slang: It is said that in the Tang dynasty, there was a famous prostitute who was so good-looking that many men wanted to see her. But, she didn’t have time for everyone. For people she didn’t want to visit, she would ask them to have a bowl of thick soup in a room with the door closed. Then the guests would know that she refused to see them.
zài yī yuàn chī le jǐ cì bì mén gēng zhī hòu ， guǎn lǐ míng jué dìng xiàng fǎ yuàn qǐ sù.
After the hospital refused several times, Guan decided to sue it.
Lots of eating there! What is your favorite food-related term? It doesn’t have to have 吃 or be one of the terms listed above. Comment below and let us know why you like that term most!