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Chinese Food Slang
Apr 11, 2017 21:49

There is a Chinese proverb “吃饭皇帝大” (chī fàn huáng dì dà), which literally means “Food is bigger than the emperor”. It shares a similar meaning with the English slang “someone’s bread and butter”, which is “Nothing is more important than eating”.

You can see how essential food is in Chinese life from this notion. It’s undeniable how Chinese people love to eat. Do you know that China has boasted one of the world’s greatest and most varied cuisines. So, it’s not surprising, that the Chinese culture is deeply influenced by “Food”, therefore, they’ve created many phrases related to it…Let’s look through it now!
1.吃土 – chī tǔ

This phrase consists out of 吃 (to eat) and 土 (soil, dust), which literally means “to eat soil”.

The idea behind the phrase: When someone’s pocket is empty, he has no money to spend on buying food. Consequently, he only can eat soil (which is free) to fill his belly.

Therefore, it actually means “break the bank” or “bankrupted“ in English.

For Example

我吃土了,因此無法赴約了。

Wǒ chī tǔ le, yīn cǐ wú fǎ fù yuē le.

I am bankrupted, so i can’t hang out with you.
2.吃醋 – chī cù

This phrase breaks down to 吃 (to eat) and 醋 (vinegar), which literally means “eating vinegar”.

The origin story of it can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty era. Taizong, the emperor decided to give his chancellor Fang Xuanling a choice of “beauties” from his concubines as a reward. However, Fang’s wife was mad and jealous, and refused to accept a new woman as an intruder to the intimate relationship between her and her husband. The emperor himself was irritated and told Fang’s wife to choose between accepting a new beloved for her husband, or drinking up a glass of toxic wine to end her life. She chose to drink poison, which turned out to be vinegar. The emperor’s just wanted to test her courage and devotion to her husband.

Therefore, “eating vinegar” connotes a woman’s romantic jealousy.

For Example

他看到女友和别的男人相谈甚欢,吃醋了!

Tā kàn dào nǚ yǒu hé bié de nán rén xiàng tán shèn huān, chī cù le!

When he saw his girlfriend chatting happily with other guy, he was jealous (ate vinegar)
3.吃香 – chī xiāng

This phrase breaks down to 吃 (to eat) and 香 (smelling good [Adj.], or fragrance [N]), which literally means “eat fragrance”.

It essentially means…

… “to be much sought after”

… “to be valued everywhere”

… “to have a great advantage”

For Example

他的外语能力很强,因此在找工作时非常吃香。

tā de wài yǔ néng lì hěn qiáng ,yīn cǐ zài zhǎo gōng zuò shí fēi cháng chī xiāng.

He is fluent in foreign language(s), therefore, he has great advantage when applying jobs.
4.吃豆腐 – chī dòufu

This phrase breaks down to 吃 (to eat) and 豆腐 (tofu), which literally means “to eat tofu”.

The origin of this slang: In ancient China, whenever someone died, the family will prepare food, which is called 豆腐饭 dòufufàn (doufu meal, including tofu) to host friends and relatives. However, 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.

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