When I've learned about measure words 盘 (plate) and 碗 (bowl), I've started to wonder about an important aspect of their usage.

There are some dishes that can be served both as either 第一道菜 (first course dish, usually soups) or 主菜 (main course dish, usually mostly dry).

Let's take 面条 (noodles) as a valid example of the case. Noodles can be served as a soup (a good example of this is a dish named 拉条子 (laghman)), and in that case they are 第一道菜. Noodles can also be served as a main course dish (a good example is a famous 意粉 (pasta)).

Now, on to the question. Is there an agreement on a measure word to use for such words? My problem with basing on a context (using 盘 if they're served as a main course and 碗 if they're served as a first course) is the inability to choose the right measure word in case of uncertainty about the course of the dish. For example, if I don't know the form in which noodles will be served (it may be soup, it may be not), I don't know which measure word to pick for the general case.

My initial guess: 个 in case of uncertainty, 碗 when knowing it relates to the first course dish, 盘 when knowing it relates to the main course dish.

Please tell me whether I got the right idea or not. Thanks in advance!

2 Answers 2


Appetizers and main courses are really more of a foreign idea that the regular Chinese person isn't overly familiar with. This is further exacerbated by the fact that dishes are generally served as soon as they are ready. For a large majority of Chinese speaking people there is generally no specific order to when food reaches the table.

That being said. The words 开胃菜 (appetizer) and 主菜 (main course) are readily understood albeit somewhat unfamiliar.

The measure word really depends on how the food is served, or even the shape of how the food is plated. If it comes on a plate then 一盘 is generally the most appropriate. If the dish is served in a bowl then go with 一碗. You're not likely to see any measure words on a menu though.

The existence of soup is most likely going to be shown in the name and not in any measure word. If noodles are not served with soup it will be clearly marked, e.g.: 干拌面.


I am not working, nor ever worked, in the culinary business, so I can only speak the vocabulary commonly used by the customers.

甲: 今天吃什麼好呢?

乙: 點個"今日特別餐"吧. Waiter, what is included in Today's Special?

Waiter: 今日特別餐包括飯前小食, 三菜一湯附送一"鍋"白飯, 外加飯後甜點.

乙: 有幾"碟"小食? 主菜是什麼, 另外"兩道"呢? 什麼湯, "分碗"還是"公碗"? 甜點是什麼?

甲: 你好囉唆! 還是點"套餐"好了. Waiter, what is included in #1?

Waiter: 一"碟"泡菜, 三"盤"主菜, 一"道"可以從菜單上任选, 外加一人ㄧ"碗"湯, 飯不限, 沒甜點.

乙: Waiter, "盤子"多大? "碗"多大? 夠兩個人吃嗎?

甲: 好了好了別找人麻煩了. 點吧, 今日特別餐還是套餐?


  • Noddle usually is served as a single dish, either in a bowl (湯麵) or plate (炒麵), as 一"碗"牛肉湯麵 (noodle with beef flavored soup), and 一"盤"三鮮炒麵.

  • The serving sequence of a traditional Chinese meal is - (下酒)小菜, 開胃菜, 主菜 and 副菜 and 飯, 湯, 甜點. Note that 飯 and 湯 are served rather late to avoid the host been criticized as "小氣", for who's cutting edges on the main dish, and trying to stuff the guest's stomach with flour/rice (主食) and soup instead.

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