Have you ever sat in a Chinese restaurant, looking over the menu of Lo Mein and General Tso's Chicken, and wished you knew what was in that big lovely bowl of something the Chinese people at the next table were eating? You timidly asked the waiter, and he said "you won't like that."
Have you ever wondered longingly about those signs in Chinese on the wall of your favorite place for dumplings? You kinda wish you had the guts to just point at something and say "I'd like THAT," but you are afraid you might get stirfried turtle intestines or something.
I felt that way long before I even had an authentic Chinese restaurant to try. The good stuff is just out of reach!
I have been teaching myself to read Chinese menus for the past two years. I don't speak Chinese, I don't know Chinese grammar. I just want to know what's on those menus. It's hard work. The guides that are already out there require a lot of study upfront before you can even get started. You have to know a little of the calligraphy, some language, and do a lot of reading on the cuisine and culture.
It has been worth it, though. I've had some really great food because of it. I figure I can save others a little time and effort by blogging my progress in learning Chinese for eating.