What is “Dragon and Phoenix” on a Chinese American Takeout Menu?

America is the land of the brave, the hopeful, the free. It’s no wonder that many cultures have been amalgamated into America as the pioneers from different lands come in search of the American Dream.

As such, you now have Chinese-Americans. Chinese-Americans moved from China to America and established a new home here, and as such they brought their traditions with them.

One tradition is different symbols that you can see on a Chinese-American takeout menu.

On a typical Chinese takeout menu you’ll find symbols for things like General Tso’s, Mongolian Beef, Sweet and Sour Pork, etc. Of course, these are all foods that come from China. The different symbols on the menu are used to designate the dishes that are spicy, sweet, or sour.

You also get such symbols as a dragon, a phoenix.

What does this have to do with America? Or China for that matter? Let’s discuss the symbols in a bit more depth.

The Dragon

Dragons in ancient China were revered as powerful and magical creatures. The Chinese dragon is generally shown with four legs, five claws on each foot, a horned head, and whiskers.

Dragons in the past also had the power to change into human form and back again at will. They were known to be able to take on different forms such as that of a woman or child at times and other times would take on the form of a snake or even another animal.

The Dragon symbol is known for kindness, agriculture, nobility, masculinity, and good luck.

The Dragon symbol is often seen in different parts of China, especially on top of buildings, where it’s believed to bring good luck to the building it is on.

What is Dragon in Chinese Food?

If you see a dragon symbol on a Chinese menu, it means that seafood will be found in some dishes.

American Chinese Food

American Chinese food is a type of cuisine that is more accessible to a broader range of palettes and is, therefore, less authentic.

The dragon symbol, when seen in this context on an American Chinese menu, usually means that shrimp will be found on the menu and in certain dishes that it is next too.

The symbolism of this cuisine is maintained when the shrimp is served in whole sections. The dragon’s curved body and speed when it walks are represented by the shrimp’s curving form and mobility. Typically, the shrimp is spicy or hot, but it may also be served with a garlic sauce.

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Authentic Chinese Food

In more traditional menus serving more authentic Chinese cuisine, the Dragon can represent a multitude of seafood options.

Typical seafood that is represented includes eels, snakes, lobsters, and prawns.

As you may notice, these animals tend to have elongated bodies that mimic that of the dragon. So you can see the connection between the symbol and the food it is representing.

There are many ways to prepare delicious seafood, and they can be served in a number of different sauces. They may be fried, steamed, baked, or even simmered. The dragon-like seafood will usually be eaten over rice or with vegetables.

The Phoenix

The phoenix is the ruler of all birds when looked at from the point of view of the Chinese public. Widely agreed to represent peace, prosperity, and of course, fiery rebirth.

Because it combines female and masculine features, the venerated Phoenix is also associated with the sacred yin and yang. When utilized on a Chinese menu, because it is a bird, it usually indicates that the dish includes some sort of fowl, such as turkey, duck, or chicken.

The Phoenix in American Chinese Food

The phoenix in American Chinese cuisine, unlike traditional Chinese cuisine, generally refers to chicken. The chicken is considered to be a bird that rises from the ashes like a phoenix. It’s also meant to be associated with a dish that goes well with everything because it’s complementary and easy to combine.

Because the chicken can’t be kept intact like the shrimp in the dragon dish, it’s chopped into pieces and served spicy, mild, or breaded in sauce. The chicken can be combined with rice or steamed vegetables whether it’s General Tso’s, Sesame, or Kung Pao.

The Phoenix in Authentic Chinese Food

Duck, squab, and turkey are not utilized in typical American Chinese cuisine, but they are staples in Chinese cuisine. Squab isn’t as popular as turkey or duck in the United States, and is in fact not well known at all. Squab is a domestic pigeon that is typically less than 1 month old, and is served fried or breaded like chicken.

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In the United States, squab was formerly commonly offered at Chinese restaurants, but it is now extremely rare to find. This is thought to be caused by a lack of demand and expense. Chicken is frequently less costly and more familiar to customers than other types of poultry.

In America, squab is notably absent from most Chinese menus, but it is available in Asian markets. It can be served fried or broiled and serves four people.

What Do The Dragon and Phoenix Mean Together?

Now that you’ve learned about dragon and phoenix as separate foods, consider what it means when they’re presented together in a dish. Why is the Dragon & Phoenix named like that, and why do they taste so fantastic when served together?

The Yin and Yang of Food

Dragon (shrimp) and phoenix (chicken) have been linked to what they symbolize. When they are served together on one plate, they represent the tug of both yin and yang. Yin and Yang is a Chinese idea for two opposing forces in the cosmos that continually interact with one another. Presenting them alongside each other represents harmony and tranquility.

Chicken is both land and sky-based, whereas shrimp is sea-based, so arranging them together presents earth, air, and land in one dish. This demonstrates balance and prosperity, as well as being intended to be lucky for the person eating it.

The Eternal Love of The Dragon and Phoenix 

The dragon and phoenix, when depicted in Chinese style, might represent marital happiness or eternal love. These two opposing forces work in tandem to provide love and harmony to any lovers or joined partners. 

The combination of dragon and phoenix in the meal is intended to symbolize everlasting love, delight and pleasure. The use of poultry and seafood in this dish combines the opposing forces in a way that may not be normal, but which works wonderfully.

Why Does Everyone Use The Dragon and Phoenix?

Dragons and phoenixes have been part of Chinese folklore for thousands of years. The dragon symbol, which is said to be one of the first in China’s long and interesting history, was created when many dynasties were banded together. Because each collective used its own animal signage, the dragon character represented, bringing all animals under a single word.

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The Phoenix is a symbol that was first represented in China more than 8,000 years ago. It was thought to bring good fortune back then and is still widely known for its good luck abilities. It gradually merged into the Yin and Yang, Fenghuang bird it is today over countless centuries.

Why Do I See The Dragon and The Phoenix On Modern Chinese Menus?

It’s unclear when Chinese restaurants started incorporating the dragon and phoenix on their menus, but because every culture has a long history and meaning, it’s reasonable to assume that it’s been part of the symbolized “language” for quite some time.

In the United States, ethnic restaurants are always looking for new methods to make their meals more immersive. Food names have significance and can influence how a customer perceives his or her meal. A Chinese dish called “hamburger” or “hot dog” wouldn’t be received well, and the perception would be so skewed that it would not be enjoyable.

A Chinese restaurant evokes authenticity, connection, and harmony with symbols such as dragon and phoenix on the menu. 

The food is not only proclaiming that the relationship between chicken and shrimp is fantastic and remarkable, but it’s also assisting you to feel like you’re taking part in Chinese culture while getting a taste of what the millennia-old tradition has to offer.


There are several wonderful and uncommon dishes to choose from and enjoy from a Chinese menu, and it’s fascinating to learn how these delectable dishes were given their names. The dragon and the phoenix are not the only symbols on the menu, and they are just the start of an interesting history.

The dragon is a sign of wonderful luck and regal nobility, and it commonly symbolizes a dish with either shrimp or seafood. 

The phoenix stands for peace and prosperity, and it is used to denote that there is fowl in the dish it represents. 

The dish generally has some type of poultry in it that is served in small pieces or breaded, and usually chicken in particular.
When combined, they create the ideal well-balanced meal of chicken and prawns, sea and sky, yin and yang.