Toll Free- U.S. & Canada: 1-800-521-8065 Hong Kong: 800-930-623          Australia: 1-800-521-8065           Singapore: 0-800-047-0963     
United Kingdom: 0-800-047-0963 Switzerland: 0-800-563-178      Russia: 810-800-2189-4011    Israel: 1-809-494-225       
Germany: 0-800-180-0341 Italy: 800-785-323          Spain: 900-809-732                 China: 400-990-0892        

Oct 31

“菜” – Know it and you’ll never go hungry. (Elementary)

When you go out to eat in China, the word "菜(cài)" is ever-present. This one word is used to describe dishes, such as "家常菜(jiācháng cài) home-style dishes;" vegetables such as "白菜(báicài) bok choy," or simply "蔬菜 (shūcài) vegetables;" cuisines, such as "法国菜(Fǎguó cài) French cuisine;" and even the thing you order food off of "菜单(càidān) the menu."

With all of these uses, you can certainly see how essential the word "菜(cài)" is to food. But what else can this word do? Young people in China have picked up the word and enriched it, giving "菜(cài)" a whole new life. These days, "菜(cài)" isn't only something you eat.

Take a look at the following conversation and see the new way in which "菜(cài)" is used in modern China.


    Nǐ rènshi Lǐ Huá ma?
A: 你 认识   李 华   吗?


   Do you know Li Hua?

   Rènshi, tā shì wǒmen xuéxiào de xiàohuā.
B: 认识, 她  是   我们     学校    的   校花。


   I know her. She is the campus beauty in our school.

   Tā quèshí tǐng piàoliang de.
A: 她   确实   挺     漂亮    的。


   She is indeed extremely pretty.

    Zěnme? Nǐ xǐhuan tā?
B: 怎么?   你  喜欢   她?


    What's up? Are you interested in her?

    Méiyǒu, tā kě bú shì wǒ de cài.
A: 没有,   她 可 不 是  我  的  菜。


   No, she's not my type.

As you can see, "菜(cài)" in the colloquial sense means "type" or "the kind of person one's attracted to." Traditionally, the sentence above would be "她不是我喜欢的类型。(tā bú shì wǒ xǐhuan de lèixíng)." Using the word "菜(cài)" instead is very modern and colloquial. Saying "你不是我的菜(nǐ bú shì wǒ de cài) You're not my type" to someone will generally be regarded as humorous. However, this is not always the case. If not meant in a friendly or joking way, saying "你不是我的菜(nǐ bú shì wǒ de cài)" to someone who has obvious affection for you can be rude and hurtful to him/her.

But that's not everything. "菜(cài)" has other meanings in addition to "type.” Can you guess what it means from these two examples?

   Wǒ bù xiǎng hé tā yìqǐ wán yóuxì, tā hěn cài.
1. 我   不 想     和 他 一起 玩   游戏,他 很  菜。


   I don’t want to play with him, he is really bad at this game.

   Tā zài yùndòng fāngmiàn shì gè càiniǎo.
2. 她 在     运动      方面       是  个   菜鸟。


   She is not good at sports.

When used as an adverb, "菜(cài)" means to be bad at something. Similarly, the term "菜鸟(càiniǎo)" means someone who is a newbie, a novice, or inexperienced. [Literally, "鸟(niǎo)" means "bird."] As with "菜(cài)" from the first dialogue, "菜鸟(càiniǎo)" has a humorous, playful feeling. As a matter of fact, all of these terms are very young and modern expressions, so don't be surprised if some older people in China have never heard of them!

Drill Your Understanding:

1. What do Chinese youths call people without experience in a certain field?

A. 好 (hǎo)

B. 菜 (cài)

C. 菜鸟 (càiniǎo)

D. 老鸟 (lǎoniǎo)

2. In which of the following sentences does "菜" mean vegetables?

A. 我喜欢吃蔬菜。(Wǒ xǐhuan chī shūcài.)

B. 她不是我的菜。(Tā bú shì wǒ de cài.)

C. 他很菜。(Tā hěn cài.)

D. 她是个菜鸟。(Tā shì gè càiniǎo.)

3. How would you describe someone who is very bad at the piano?

A. 白菜 (báicài)

B. 蔬菜 (shūcài)

C. 菜鸟 (càiniǎo)

D. 鸟 (niǎo)

Answers: 1. C   2. A   3. C

Got questions? Take a Free 1-on-1 live online lesson with our professional teachers from China.

7 Responses to ““菜” – Know it and you’ll never go hungry. (Elementary)”

  1. 1. lista de email says:

    thanks for sharing such an information with us. thanks for the nice blog.

  2. 2. Vernetta says:

    I do not even know how I finished up here, however I thought this post was once good. I do not recognize who you might be but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you happen to are not already ;) Cheers!

  3. 3. Aline Bullis says:

    This is the right blog for everyone who really wants to understand this topic. You know a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I actually would want to…HaHa). You definitely put a brand new spin on a subject which has been written about for ages. Excellent stuff, just excellent!

  4. 4. lista de emails says:

    thanks for sharing.

  5. 5. lista de emails says:

    i thought so too.

  6. 6. muscle maximizer says:

    Thanks a Lovely post!! ……………………..

  7. 7. abercrombie roma says:

    Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is fantastic blog. A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

Leave a Reply

Sign up for a free trial now!
Get a FREE live 1-on-1 lesson and a FREE e-book. Complete the form below:
Your name:  E-mail: 
Country:  Tel:    
Please fill in your area code.