5 Funny Literal Translations of Food From Mandarin

Albeit famously hard to master, Mandarin makes more sense once you break down its practical and poetic pairing of characters.

Some character combos can be quite literal (and humorous), as you’ll see in the following examples.

A no-brainer of a name, the avocado or alligator pear is called ‘butter fruit’ by Chinese people for its creamy mouthfeel. Domesticated by Mesoamerican tribes 5,000 years ago, the fruit exploded in popularity over the past decade, cementing its place on the brunch table.

AVOCADO  牛油果 (niúyóuguǒ)


A peculiar-looking fruit, without a doubt, the kiwi is often associated with New Zealand, but did you know that it’s native to China? Its fuzzy appearance has earned it the Chinese name qíyì guǒ, which literally means ‘bizarre or fantastic fruit.’ or fantastic fruit.’

KIWIFRUIT 奇异果 (qíyì guǒ) (qíyì guǒ


The passionfruit borrows its English moniker from its parent plant, the passion flower or passion vine. In Mandarin, however, the fruit’s name praises its complex aroma — a mixture of sweet, sour, and floral scents — and translates to ‘100 fragrances fruit.’

PASSIONFRUIT 百香果 (bǎixiāng guǒ)


Chosen for the sound of its characters rather than their meaning, shòusī crudely translates to ‘department of long life.’ By pure coincidence, the Japanese boast the longest life expectancy in the world.

SUSHI 寿司 (shòusī)


TOMATO 番茄 (fānqié)


Indigenous to Mexico and adored by the Aztecs, the tomato purportedly arrived in China in the 16th or 17th century and was labeled ‘foreign eggplants’ for their vaguely similar roundness. Today, they are a staple of Chinese cuisine and are incredibly delicious in an egg scramble!

Enjoyed what you learned? Next, click on the icon below to read a fascinating feature about imperialism’s impact on the Shanghainese dialect.