In my Memrise Chinese courses 煎 seems to be translated inconsistently and I'm always getting it wrong. This also leads to confusion when I'm looking at menus in real life.

It seems that the dictionaries I generally use are also not consistent with each other.

In any case English speakers who are not into cooking are not always clear on the differences between these terms and cooking methods, which might be part of the reason for inconsistency is the flashcard courses. Even moreseo given that many English speakers are actually imperfect second language speakers and are still active on language learning sites, forums, flashcard sites, etc.

So out of English "braise", "pan fry", and "sauté", which is the best fit for 煎?

Of course languages don't map 1:1 so the Chinese might be "between" two or all of the English words, or might overlap two or all of them.

The best fit would be "pan fry" or "sear" - cooking with a small amount of fat, typically in a shallow pan. 煎 goes with such foods as steak, fish filet, pancake, eggs (sunny-side-up or over-easy, not scrambled) ...

FYI, saute or stir-fry is "炒" and braise is usually rendered "紅燒" in menus and recipes.

  • But it would be odd in the US to say that pancakes, or fried eggs, are pan fried even when they are fried in a pan. (They are definitely not seared.) Home kitchens used to have griddles for them but I fear the term "griddle" is out of date now. In restaurants eggs and pancakes are fried on a grill-- and in China I always see them on a grill. – Colin McLarty Sep 25 '16 at 16:04
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    @ColinMcLarty I was trying to explain the Chinese word "煎" by suggesting food that would go well with this word. 煎牛排,煎魚,煎薄餅,煎蛋 all work in Chinese. And the closest cooking method in English would be "pan-fry". Thanks for pointing out that the collocation may not work in English. I guess you fry/cook steaks, pan-fry fish fillets, make pancakes and fry eggs?? Please correct me if any of the above isn't colloquial. – monalisa Sep 25 '16 at 21:39
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    Those sound right. I think "pan fry" is used for things you could "deep fry." You can pan fry or deep fry fish or chicken, so you have to say which you are doing. But you cannot deep fry pancakes or eggs, so even when you use a frying pan and small amount of fat it is still just called frying them. – Colin McLarty Sep 25 '16 at 22:06

Definitely a question that requires cultural understanding as well as a knowledge of different cuisines.

I usually translate like this:
braise -> 滷 (ex: 滷味)
pan fry, sear, saute, stir fry -> 炒, 煎 (炒飯, 煎餃) This group is often up for debate.
cook in water -> 煮 (煮飯, 煮水餃)

**side note: One way to think about cooking terms will be to think of dumplings
鍋貼(pot stickers), 煎餃(fried dumpling), 水餃(dumpling cooked in water), 蒸餃(steamed dumplings)
Most people would consider 鍋貼(pot stickers) and 煎餃(fried dumpling) as the same thing. Apparently not, I recently asked a breakfast shop what is the difference and they said 鍋貼 uses more oil and also steams the dumplings while 煎餃 use less oil and don't steam the dumplings.

  • below comments mentioned grilled: grilled -> 烤 (烤肉) – 辛祐賦 hsinyofu Sep 25 '16 at 18:51
  • grilled on a flat stove -> 板烤 (Mc Donald's 板烤雞腿堡) – 辛祐賦 hsinyofu Sep 25 '16 at 18:54
  • Made me think of another cultural one, originally from Japan: Tepanyaki -> 鐵板燒 , which mixes both stove grilling as well as frying together. – 辛祐賦 hsinyofu Sep 25 '16 at 18:56

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