Archive for Language and food

Murgers and biangbiang in London

Restaurant sign in Mayfair:

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Yoshikawa Kojiro on sashimi in Tang China

[This is a guest post by Tsu-Lin Mei]

In 1976 I was in Kyoto for my sabbatical leave and I attended Yoshikawa Kojiro's (Yoshikawa Kōjirō 吉川幸次郎; 18 March 1904 – 8 April 1980) private seminar on Tu Fu (712-770).  The seminar was held in a room in the Kyoto University Faculty Club and we were reading Tu Fu.  One day when we were reading "Lìrén xíng 麗人行" ("Ballad of Beautiful Women"),Yoshikawa looked up and said to me:  "Méi xiānshēng, Zhōngguórén zài Táng cháo yǐjīng zài chī sashimi 梅先生, 中國人在唐朝已經在吃 sashimi" ("Mr. Mei, the Chinese were already eating sashimi during the Tang Dynasty [618-907]"). And he pointed to this passage:  "Shuǐjīng zhī pán xíng sù lín, xī jīn yànyù jiǔ wèi xià, luán dāo lǚ qiè kōng fēnlún 水精之盤行素鱗,犀筋饜飫久未下,鸞刀縷切空紛綸。")  ("Crystal plates brought out raw fish; Satiated revelers stopped using their ivory chopsticks; [The chefs] wielded their ornate cutting knives in vain.")

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Zo sashimi

From June Teufel Dreyer:

When I went to the supermarket yesterday for my weekly sashimi fix, I noticed that the preparer seemed to have cloned herself.  It was her brother (the preparers wear caps concealing their hair and the two looked virtually identical). Sister was instructing brother on exactly how I like the sashimi in a language that sounded unfamiliar. Ever curious,  I had to ask.  "Zo," she replied "Z, O."  I looked it up this morning, discovered that these Chin tribes are related to the Naga who, with the Mizo, were part of a longstanding effort by the Chinese to torment the Indian government.

Sometime when there aren't other customers waiting—this may never happen—I'll ask how she and her brother got to Miami and my neighborhood Publix store.

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Awesome sushi barbecue restaurant

From Nora Castle, who came across this restaurant which has just opened in Coventry, England:

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German salty pig hand

Jeff DeMarco writes:

"Saw this on Facebook. Google Translate gives 'German salty pig hand' which I presume refers to trotters. Not sure how they got sexual misconduct!"

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Mycological meandering: vernacular variora

The surname of the mayor of Prague is Hřib (Zdeněk Hřib [b. May 21, 1981]):

"Zdeněk Hřib: the Czech mayor who defied China"

By refusing to expel a Taiwanese diplomat, the Prague mayor has joined the ranks of local politicians confronting contentious national policies

Robert Tait in Prague
The Guardian, Wed 3 Jul 2019 01.00 EDT

The surname Hřib, though unusual, struck me as familiar.  Jichang Lulu observes:

Hřib is the regular Czech reflex of the Proto-Slavic source of, e.g., the Russian and Polish words for "mushroom" (гриб, grzyb). The Czech form, however, has a more specific meaning (certain mushrooms, e.g., Boletus). On the other hand, the further origin of Slavic gribъ has long been a matter of much debate, and I'm not aware of a generally accepted Proto-Indo-European (or other) etymology.

That set me to wondering whether there are cognates in other IE branches.

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Water chestnuts are not horse hooves

One of my favorite ingredients in Chinese cooking is the crunchy water chestnut, but it always puzzled me that the name for this item is mǎtí 马蹄 / 馬蹄.  Although technically it's not a nut (it's the corm of an aquatic vegetable) and doesn't really look like a horse hoof, I tried to convince myself that maybe there was some sort of resemblance between the two after all.

It turns out that, while on the one hand mǎtí 马蹄 / 馬蹄 really does mean "horse hoof" and just happens to be the title of a chapter [the 9th] in my favorite early Chinese book (Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu / Wandering on the Way), on the other hand it also has a completely different etymology when applied to the water chestnut.  Namely, it is borrowed into Mandarin and other Sinitic topolects from Cantonese maa5 tai4-2, maa5 tai4, where it is the transcription of a Kra-Dai substrate word (Li, 2012) (compare Zhuang makdaez).  Source.  I became even more hopelessly confused when I learned the derived Cantonese expression maa5 tai2 fan2 馬蹄粉 and thought that, well, this must be some sort of gelatin made from horse hooves (but that's just an urban legend anyway), when in truth it's simply water chestnut starch.  This is but one example of how Chinese characters frequently lead us seriously astray when it comes to understanding the derivation and meanings of Sinitic words.

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Chinese restaurant shorthand, part 6

In "Hong Kong Food Runes", World Literature Today (Spring, 2019), Lian-Hee Wee takes a highly literate look at the semiliteracy of Hong Kong restaurant workers. This is a different view from our earlier investigations on this topic, since Wee is writing from the vantage of a waiter who is intimately familiar with this stenographic script. Below is a set of order slips for Table 3A at a daai paai dong (lit., "big row of stalls", i.e., "hawker center"):

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Restaurant logo with a dingus

Klaus Nuber writes: "Sometime ago I saw the sign of this 'Asia Palast' with the logo consisting of the two chairs and the round dingus between. Is this logo just cute or has it a hanzi background?"

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Chinese restaurant shorthand, part 5

Subtitle:  Phoneticization on an order from a Macanese restaurant in Vancouver.

Bruce Rusk sent in this prime example of extreme Sinographic shorthand, adding, "The geographic origin of the cuisine is a big hint to the document's meaning…".

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Digitizing specialized language dictionaries

[The following is a guest post by David Dettmann.  The "Schwarz Uyghur dictionary" to which he refers in the third paragraph is this:  Henry G. Schwarz, An Uyghur-English dictionary (Bellingham, Washington:  Center for East Asian Studies, Western Washington University, 1992).]


It is a bit of a nerdy obsession of mine to customize my computers to comfortably use languages that I've studied.

About 10 years ago, I got relatively proficient with using optical character recognition (OCR) software and scanner hardware. Any time I found an essential dictionary for the languages I studied, I converted them to unicode OCR scans in pdf format (i.e., converting images of pages to text). I later used that data to create dictionary content files that would work together with the Mac OS dictionary application. I did this process with several dictionaries that I found essential while I studied Kazakh, Uzbek, and Uyghur.

This process was particularly useful for me to use the Schwarz Uyghur dictionary. I could not get used to the alphabetical order that he favored (which was different from typical Latin order AND Uyghur Arabic script order). As a result, any lookup would just take forever. That said, the formatting of each page was quite pleasant, and there were some nice illustrations of plants of traditional Uyghur medicine as well as handy keys at the bottom of each page to explain abbreviations.

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Plant-based "milk"

The company Oatly claims to have created a new Chinese word for plant-based milk by placing the grass radical above the character for milk:

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Let's have Mr. and Mrs. Smith for lunch

From Charles Belov:

While restaurant hunting in the East Bay, I happened upon these dishes with the intriguing English names of "Mr and Mrs Smith" and "Boiled Omasum with Chili Pepper." Omasum turns out to be an obscure name of a variety of tripe, but I'm puzzled as to how the Smith family made it into Chinese cuisine.

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