Archive for Language and food

Food in the works of Jane Austen as seen by early 20th-century Chinese

"How Jane Austen’s Early Chinese Translators Were Stumped by the Oddities of 19th-Century British Cuisine:  How do you get a reader in 1930s China to understand what a mince pie is?" By Saihong Li and William Hope, The Conversation (9/15/22) / Get Pocket.

Jane Austen’s (1775-1817) works are globally renowned, but they were unknown in China until 1935 when two different translations of Pride and Prejudice were published. Today, her novels are increasingly popular and have been translated into Chinese many times – notably there have been 60 different retranslations of Pride and Prejudice.

Translators face the creative balancing act of remaining faithful to the source text while also ensuring that the translation is a smooth, informative read. One intriguing task for translators of Austen has been how to describe the 19th-century British food featured in the many convivial sequences that shed light on characters through their social interaction.

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Respect the local pronunciation: runza and Henri

After I left Omaha and headed westward on Route 30 / Lincoln Highway, I began to notice that every little town along the way with a population of around three thousand or more had a restaurant called Runza.  My instinct was to pronounce that "roon-zuh", but the people around here say "run-zuh".

Because I was not familiar with them, at first I didn't pay much attention to the Runza restaurants, but then I saw a sign that said they made legendary burgers.  Since I'm a burger freak, always in quest of a superior hamburger, by the time I reached Cozad — which somehow has captured my heart, for more than one reason — I decided to stop in and try one.

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Dark cuisine

"Lattes with onions are a hit in China", by Allan Rose Hill, Boing Boing (6/7/24)

Some might call that "over the top", I would call it "under the bottom". 

It's all part of a trend referred to as hēiàn liàolǐ 黑暗料理 ("dark cuisine").

Dark cuisine basically refers to food and drinks that put people's sensibilities to the test.

Basic Barista provides a recipe that boils down to the following: Finely chop a bunch of spring onions and drop them in a glass. Add ice, pour in milk, and then dump in that double shot of espresso.

[VHM:  many people pour in some soy sauce too.]

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The perception and construction of Hong Kong identity via the quotation of non-standard Cantonese

Assertively spicy and conspicuously Cantonese

That's almost a contradiction in terms, because Hong Kongers are not very big on spicy food and they generally are not very good at cooking it either.

Photographs of walls in a popular chain of special Yunnan style spicy noodles in Hong Kong:


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Café Sogdiana

Photograph by Paula Roberts taken in Samarkand (4/29/24)

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Ace love

Photograph of an artistic arrangement on the wall of a tea shop in Philadelphia's Chinatown.

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Symposium on Indo-European food

Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)

Symposium on April 11, 2024

Registration by 4th April at the latest

11 April, 11:15 a.m. SYMPOSIUM

Indo-European Food: Linguistic, Archaeological and Biomolecular Perspectives


The symposium Indo-European Food – Linguistic, Archaeological, and Biomolecular Perspectives aims to explore the intricate relationships between the spread of Indo-European languages, the archaeological evidence of food production and consumption patterns, and biomolecular insights into ancient diets. This interdisciplinary event brings together leading experts from linguistics, archaeology, and biomolecular sciences to discuss the latest research findings and theoretical frameworks that illuminate the role of food in the migration, settlement, and cultural integration of Indo-European populations.

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Unborn Alabama chickens

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Taiwanese pun on a curry shop sign

Photograph of a sign on a curry shop in Banqiao District, New Taipei City:

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Butter chicken

Who owns it?

It's sort of like who owns kimchee, Koreans (of course!) or Chinese — we've been through that many times — except that the question of who has the rights to claim they invented butter chicken is ostensibly internecine / intranational rather than international (but maybe not [see below]), as is the case with kimchee.

"India’s courts to rule on who invented butter chicken:  Two Delhi restaurants both claim to have the right to call themselves the home of the original butter chicken recipe" by Hannah Ellis-Petersen, The Guardian (1/25/24)

Judging from the account in The Guardian, the squabbling between the two Delhi restaurants is both picayune and misplaced:

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The politics of dried mango in Taiwan

No sooner have we addressed "The politics of frozen garlic in Taiwan" (1/11/24) than we now must look at the implications of dried mango for the current election in that island nation.  Here we will not be studying the obscene usage (gàn) that "dry" (gān) often gets mixed up with.  For those who are interested in that topic, which Language Log has been following since 2006), check out the last two items in "Selected readings") below.

Today's mango excitement derives from a pun based on the expression "dried mango" (mángguǒ gān 芒果乾); it has nothing to do with "$%#@!" mango.  The near pun is for "wángguó gǎn 亡國感" ("sense of national subjugation"), where wáng 亡 means "perish; death; die", though in this phrase, "subjugation" has become the usual translation.  Of course, guó 國, means "nation; state", and note that the "K" of KMT (Kuomintang [Wade-Giles romanization of 國民黨] "Nationalist Party") or the "G" of GMD (Guómíndǎng [Pinyin romanization of the same name]) is that same word, guó 國 ("nation; state").

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Tea in Glasgow

Nicholas Tomaino, "The Most Spoken Words in Glasgow", WSJ 1/6/2024:

When someone says, ‘Would anyone like a cup of tea,’ he isn’t offering the best-tasting thing one’s ever had. But that isn’t the point.

The author begins:

I was 23 when I drank my first cup of tea. As an Italian-American, I was raised on coffee. My life changed, however, when I met my wife.

Maddy is a Scot. If you’re from the U.K. or otherwise acquainted with the country, you understand. Tea is imbibed there as if it were water. It features at nearly every meal, and often between them. As William Gladstone wrote, if you’re cold, it’ll warm you; if you’re too heated, it’ll cool you; if you’re excited, it’ll calm you. It can afford to be everywhere, James Boswell noted, because “it comforts and enlivens without the risks attendant on spiritous liquors.”

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The language of spices

Sino-Platonic Papers is pleased to announce the publication of its three-hundred-and-thirty-eighth issue:

Mapping the Language of Spices: A Corpus-Based, Philological Study on the Words of the Spice Domain,” by Gábor Parti.


Most of the existing literature on spices is to be found in the areas of gastronomy, botany, and history. This study instead investigates spices on a linguistic level. It aims to be a comprehensive linguistic account of the items of the spice trade. Because of their attractive aroma and medicinal value, at certain points in history these pieces of dried plant matter have been highly desired, and from early on, they were ideal products for trade. Cultural contact and exchange and the introduction of new cultural items beget situations of language contact and linguistic acculturation. In the case of spices, not only do we have a set of items that traveled around the world, but also a set of names. This language domain is very rich in loanwords and Wanderwörter. In addition, it supplies us with myriad cases in which spice names are innovations. Still more interesting is that examples in English, Arabic, and Chinese—languages that represent major powers in the spice trade at different times—are here compared.

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