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When ordering food at a cheap simple eatery in China, which words with which counters should I use that would be something vaguely like English "serve", "serving", "helping", "plate", "bowl".

For instance in English I might say "Can we have one serve of fried rice and two bowls of soup?".

In English you don't always need the words that are a bit like counter words, you can say "two fried rices", "two bowls of fried rice", or "two servings of fried rice".

Sometimes you might know that it comes on a plate or in a bowl so that might help, other times you might not be so sure, where the English words would be "helping", "serve", "serving".

But I'm assuming that in Chinese you would always need at least the counter word or both a noun and a counter word. Sometimes you might point at a picture or a menu item you can't read, or at a dish another customer has. In English you would say "one of those" but in Chinese again you would still need a measure word and probably a noun too right?

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the generic word would be 份... two servings of fried rice would be 两份米饭 –  user58955 Nov 17 '13 at 7:39
    
As to one of those, it's fine just to say 那些中的一个 if you have no idea what those refer to... –  user58955 Nov 17 '13 at 7:41
    
Oh I was almost going to include that I expected I could use 个 as a fallback/last resort, but I'd like to know what's correct if possible. –  hippietrail Nov 17 '13 at 7:46
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I can't recognize most of the dishes in the school cafeteria, so the last situation in your problem happens to me a lot. In these cases, you can just say 一份它. It's kind of weird to see the sentence written down but it sounds natural. The alternatives can be 一个它 or 一份这个 or 一个这个. –  Alex Su Nov 17 '13 at 16:27
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一份它 isn't natural at all... this is ungrammatical... 一份这个 is fine –  user58955 Nov 17 '13 at 18:34

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

When you don't know the measure word, the safest choice is . It is the most common measure word, is used for things that do not have specific measure words, and can sometimes be used even if another measure word is used:

“个”作为一个量词,它的使用范围十分广泛。它可以修饰没有专用量词的名词,如人、馒头、国家、苹果等等;同时,一些有专用量词的事物,如“一只耳朵”、“一所学校”、“一家工厂”等也都可以用“个”来修饰,成为“一个耳朵”、“一个学校”、“一个工厂”,因此,有人称“个”为“万能量词”。

http://www.pep.com.cn/xgjy/hyjx/hyxxzy/hyxx/yffd/201009/t20100901_855523.htm

For food servings, can be used too, but note that it is most properly used on items that are served from a larger whole. For example, this includes rice as it is cooked in one large pot and served in multiple bowls.

Where you can though, try to use the most specific measure word, as it will sound more natural:

  • Use for things that are served in bowls, often (plain) rice or soup noodles
  • Use for things served in dishes
  • Use as a generic measure word for food dishes
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Usually if you can’t say the item’s name, you can just say:

“我(wǒ)要(yào)这(zhè)个(ɡe)”
(I would like this one)

or

“我(wǒ)要(yào)那(nà)个(ɡe)”
(I would like that one)

For the counter word, if you really don’t know exactly the counter word for the item, you can use the most common counter word “个(ɡè)”.

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Ah so this is a case where you can use the counter word on its own, or is 个 (ɡe) a noun as well as a counter word? –  hippietrail Nov 19 '13 at 7:10
    
Very often you name (for example) three things on the menu, or point to them on the menu, or point to them in a tray, and either the counterperson asks "一个一个一个?" or you volunteer "一个一个一个." No noun needed. –  Colin McLarty Aug 27 at 0:17

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