Learning Practical Chinese While Cooking Chinese Dishes

I. Introduction to Cooking

A. General Information on the benefits of cooking immersion

In most Chinese learning books and courses, there is usually a chapter about ordering food at a restaurant or grocery shopping, but do these ever actually stick? Looking at flash cards and practicing dialogues can only do so much for you. The best way to learn a new language is to get your hands dirty and do some immersion. Have you ever attempted to cook while following a recipe in your target language? Doing this provides a unique challenge that can help you to better learn new vocabulary while also doing something fun and hands on. Today we’re going to go over some of the basics of how to get started in the kitchen with cooking immersion.

II. How To

A. Getting familiar with the kitchen, ingredients, and verbs

The first step of cooking immersion is actually to take a step back from the stove and learn some of the basic vocabulary that you will need while in the kitchen. You can create vocab lists to study from, make flashcards, or even put sticky notes on different things around your kitchen to help you learn the words as you go throughout your day. Some of the best words to start with are the names of vegetables, cuts of meat, kitchen utensils, and appliances.

To cook/fry Chăo
煎锅 Frying pan jiānguō
鸡蛋 Chicken egg jīdàn
洋葱 onion yángcōng
胡萝卜 carrot húluóbo
白米饭 Cooked white rice Bái mĭfàn
salt yán
食用油 Cooking oil shíyòngyóu


B. Finding a recipe

One of the most important things for cooking is having a good recipe to work with. The internet is full of different resources where you could find recipes, or if you live in a big city you could try looking for cookbooks at a Chinese book store. The most important thing to remember is simplicity when starting out. Even if you’re a culinary master, when you’re trying a new immersion technique it is important to start out simple. For example here today, I have picked out a very simple fried rice recipe to make.


250 grams cooked and chilled white rice, 2 egg yolks, ½ carrot, ¼ onion, 3 grams of salt, 15 mL cooking oil


  1. Dice the carrot and onion, separate the eggs
  2. Mix the egg yolks into your cooked and chilled rice
  3. Heat your pan, add the oil, add your rice, and cook until it loosens up
  4. Add the onions and carrots and stir a little bit, add the salt and stir

Special tips

Use cold rice, and make sure that your pan is hot before you begin to cook the rice

C. Looking over the recipe and understanding it before you begin

Once you have a recipe chosen to try out, be sure to read it over a few times to make sure you have a good grasp of what you will need and what you will have to do. Don’t translate it if you don’t have to, but be sure that you know what ingredients and supplies you will need. Try your best to understand it; if you miss something or don’t understand it will likely show in your cooking. Sometimes things don’t always go as planned, so don’t be discouraged if you have to try things more than once to get them right.

That being said, it is likely best to start with small batches, so you don’t waste a lot of food if you mess up. As you get better and better at cooking, you can make bigger batches with more complicated recipes (maybe even host a dinner party where you can show off your new skills to your friends. Cooking with recipes in another language is one of the most impressive skills a language learner can have.)

For this recipe here, it is easy to guess some of the ingredients. It’s obvious that fried rice is going to require you to have rice, and then we just have to piece together what other ingredients we will need.

III.  Cooking

It’s time to get our hands dirty! After all the prep work it’s time to get into the kitchen.  So for the fried rice we’re making today we’re going to go through all of the steps. We have some pictures here of each step to help you follow along if you want (or for an added challenge, make it yourself without looking at the photos for each step, and then compare it at the end to see if you got it right)


First we need to gather our ingredients:

(250 grams cooked and chilled white rice, 2 egg yolks, ½ carrot, ¼ onion, 3 grams of salt, 15 mL cooking oil)

cooking 1

And then we begin!

1.  胡萝卜、洋葱、小丁,将蛋黄从整鸡蛋中分离备用;

(Dice the carrot and onion, separate the eggs)

cooking 2

2.  将蛋黄液倒入米饭中拌匀,同时将饭粒拨散使饭粒成金黄色;

(Mix the egg yolks into your cooked and chilled rice)

cooking 3

3.  大火烧热锅中的油,将裹好蛋液的米饭倒入,炒至米粒呈松散状;

(Heat your pan, add the oil, add your rice, and cook until it loosens up)

cooking 4

4.  加入洋葱丁、胡萝卜丁翻炒2分钟,最后加入盐稍微拌炒即可

  (Add the onions and carrots and stir a little bit, add the salt and stir)

cooking 5

cooking 6

Hopefully at the end you will have a delicious dish. If it didn’t turn out perfect, don’t worry. Take another look at the recipe and think about what you might have missed. Is the rice undercooked? That may be because you didn’t cook it beforehand. Is there too much salt or oil? The important thing to remember is to keep trying.

Once you become successful at recipes like these you can move on to more complex ones. Cooking itself is a wonderful skill to have, and combining a passion for cuisine with a love of language can help you to improve both skills at the same time. Bon appetit!

Calla Thielsen

In addition to being an editor and writer for DigMandarin since 2016, Calla is also a translation student in Montreal. As a contributor, their goal is to help others learn Mandarin in fun and creative ways. Calla believes that hands on techniques are the best way to help teach foreign languages.