Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

How to speak like a 'neighbor' in Chinatown

Fujianese steamed pork dumplings (xiao long bao), at Chinese Restaurant, or Tai Jiang, North 10th.
Fujianese steamed pork dumplings (xiao long bao), at Chinese Restaurant, or Tai Jiang, North 10th. CRAIG LaBAN / Staff

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.

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  • 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

    Craig LaBan Inquirer Restaurant Critic
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