Knowing some key words and phrases in Cantonese or Mandarin can help unlock another level in your Chinatown experience. Here's a short list compiled with the help of some natives - Warren Leung, Michael Su, and Jasyon Choi – to help you speak like a "Guy Fong" - C-town slang for "neighbor."
Most of these are pronounced like they're spelled, with some noted exceptions. Do your best, as I do - the effort is always appreciated by the Chinatown crowd.
Xiao long bao: The broth-filled beggar's-purse dumplings known as "soup dumplings" or Shanghai "juicy buns." Super trendy. Xiao is pronounced zsa-ow.
Mala: The numbing heat that distinguishes Sichuan spice (thanks to the Sichuan peppercorns) from straight chile spice.
Lamian: The hand-stretched noodles of Lanzhou, in northwest China.
Wok hay: The "breath of the wok" is the taste of food stir-fried against the steel of a blazing-hot wok. Vaguely singed and smoky, it shows cooking skill and adds a coveted depth.
Boba: The milky Taiwanese "bubble tea" drinks often filled with chewy tapioca balls; featured in cafes that are the hot gathering places for Asian youth.
My don: Slang for "Need the bill please."
Dai lo: Cantonese slang for "older brother," but used as a sign of respect when you want to ask a favor of extra sauce or something on a platter.
Yeet hay: A Chinese diagnosis to symptoms (sore throat, pimples) resulting from too much fried Chinese food (or lack of sleep). Overused to a point of humor; "older folks go by it like it's the gospel."
Leung chai: The treatment for too much "yeet hay." Usually a very bitter "cooling" tea.
Siu yeh: A late-night meal. Refers to any meal after 11 p.m. "If you drop these two words when they seat you, it definitely adds to the sentiment." But also: This would be very "yeet hay" if done too often, which would require lots of "leung chai" to remedy.
- Craig LaBan