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Cantonese phrases you need to know in Hong Kong restaurants

How to order food like a boss

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong

Whether you’re a local Hongkonger or a newly arrived expat, having a few useful Cantonese phrases in your back pocket can make your life a whole lot easier. Especially if you’re eating out at a cha chaan teng or local restaurant, there are some essential, time-saving phrases you need to know to get the attention of the lou baan (owner) – think of them as your building blocks to communicating efficiently and a way to avoid getting yelled at by old waiters. Practise makes perfect so don’t be afraid to say these out loud at your local diner. If all else fails, pointing to pictures on the menu could always work. Here are a couple to start with to get you speaking like a true Hongkonger. By Elaine Lok. Gifs by Jessica Li

RECOMMENDED: Want to keep with the kids? This is the Cantonese slang you need to know right now. 

Handy Cantonese phrases for Hong Kong restaurants


Meaning to add, the word can be used when you wish to have a larger portion of rice or sauce with your dish. For example, you can say gaa dai (加底), which directly translates as 'more bottom', or gaa ma (加馬), to bulk up the amount of rice. If it’s a particularly hot day and you’re thirsting for extra ice in your drink, simply say gaa bing (加冰). Basically, you can’t go wrong with saying gaa should you want any extra portions. 


Okay, now that you know how to ask for more, here’s what to say when you want less of something or smaller portions of regular sizes. Many cha chaan teng might overload your milk tea with ice and totally filter out the flavours, but you can say siu bing (冰) while ordering to get less of it in your drink. If you don't have much of a sweet tooth or you're watching your sugar intake, remember to tell the waiter that you would like your drink to be siu team (甜). 


Zau 《走》

Zau directly translates to 'walk' or 'without', and it’s a super useful phrase for anyone with allergies or picky eaters (it’s okay, you can admit it). Use this if you would like to omit something from your dish. For instance, you can skip the green onions by saying zau ceng (走青) to the waiter. Same goes with drinks. Simply say zau bing (走冰) and your lemon tea will come served slightly lukewarm (if that's your thing). 

Leng Zai《靚仔》

Once you’ve perfected these three words, you can move on to metaphorical phrases to order specific items. To order a bowl of white rice, shout for yat wun leng zai (一碗靚仔), which basically means a bowl of handsome young man (yes, please). But remember: don’t abbreviate to just leng zai or the waiter will think you’re hitting on him – no judgment if you are. Same goes for ordering a bowl of congee and asking the servers for leng neoi (靚女), or 'pretty girl'. 


Hang gai《行街》

Can’t quite finish your entire meal and don’t want to waste it? You’ll obviously want your meal to go. To do so, the phrase hang gai (行街) can be used. The word, in fact, means to walk the streets, and delightfully conjures a cute image of having your meal hitting the pavement. 

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