Archive for Language and food

Spinach: the Persian vegetable

The other day, when we were discussing where Napa cabbage came from, Diana Shuheng Zhang mentioned to me that the Chinese word for "spinach", bōcài 菠菜, indicates that it came from Persia.  She's usually right about such things, and she was in this case too:

From earlier 波斯菜 (bōsīcài), from 波斯 (Bōsī, “Persia”) + (cài, “greens, vegetable”).

where bōsī 波斯 is obviously a transcription of "Persia":

Borrowed from Old Persian (Pārsa).

Middle Sinitic: /puɑ  siᴇ/

(source)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (15)

Napa cabbage

It's one of my favorite vegetables.  Delicious prepared in so many different ways (in soups, stir fried, I even use it for salads).  And it almost never goes bad — I can keep it in my frig for a month or more.  Plus, it looks nice — aesthetically pleasing, with its exquisite shades of light green blending into white and crêpe-like crisp and crimped, delicate texture of the upper portions of the soft, frilly leaves next to glistening, gleaming, smoothly rounded surfaces of the basal rosette.

Quick question:  what's the first thing you think of when you hear the name "Napa cabbage"?  Write it down now before clicking to the second page of this post.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (52)

Soused noodles / face

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

An unfortunate cultural misunderstanding has occurred in the attached image:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)

Kana, not kanji, for names

Comments (12)

Lucky eating you

Sign at a shop in Changzhou, Jiangsu, specifically at the Computer City mall:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (3)

Proto-Indo-European laks- > Modern English "lox"

From the time I began the systematic study of the language family in the summer of 1990, I have known that the word "laks-" ("salmon") is important for the early history of Indo-European, yet I felt that something was not quite right about the claims put forward in this article:

"The English Word That Hasn’t Changed in Sound or Meaning in 8,000 Years:  The word lox was one of the clues that eventually led linguists to discover who the Proto-Indo-Europeans were, and where they lived."

Sevindj Nurkiyazova, Nautilus, May 13, 2019

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

Juicy chicken

Mark Swofford sent this photograph of a dish on a menu in a Taiwanese restaurant chain:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)

Old Japanese mochi shop name

The wording on the noren of the mochi shop featured in this article caught my eye:

"This Japanese Shop Is 1,020 Years Old", By Ben Dooley and Hisako Ueno, NYT (12/2/20):

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Herrgottsbescheisserle

I assigned this book to my class on the Silk Road:

The Silk Road:  A Very Short Introduction, by James A. Millward (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2013)

I noticed that it bore the following dedication, one of the most peculiar and eye-catching I've ever encountered:

For Herrgottsbescheisserle and all their cousins

It looked German, but not standard German.  I could see "God's" at the beginning and "shitter" near the end.  So I asked Jim Millward what it meant.  He replied:

It's a dumpling–a friend told me about them:  god-cheaters, since the meat is in the dumpling, God can't see it, so you can eat it on Fridays is the idea behind the name.  I don't know German, but I verified the word with a bunch of sources, to my satisfaction.   Looking now at it I do see "scheisse" as a root which even I recognize as "shit," so I hope I didn't commit a vulgarity, albeit in the descent obscurity of a learned language.  

I can't help with the etymology, but the general "roughly translated as little god foolers" idea seems pretty common. You can check with a German speaker. My point was to dedicate the book to dumplings, since I'd had the whole manti discussion in the book–which you helped me with.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (28)

Be dank / donk mich

Yesterday morning I ate breakfast at a Cracker Barrel in Canton, Ohio and in mid-afternoon I had an early dinner at a Dutch Pantry off Route 80 in Pennsylvania.  When the waitress gave me the bill, I noticed that she had written "Be Dank mich!" on the back of it.  There was also what looked to be like the Chinese character shé 舌 ("tongue"), some scribbled Korean, and another script at the bottom that I didn't take time to examine closely (they kept the check and I was in a hurry to get home before midnight).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (28)

Another Northeastern topolectal term without specified characters to write it

Yesterday Diana Shuheng Zhang and I went to a Trader Joe's and saw some pretty, gleaming yellow berries for sale.  Diana was delighted because it reminded her of the same type of berries she used to eat when she was back home in the Northeast of China.

I asked her what they were called in Northeast topolect (Dōngběi huà 东北话).  Her answer both intrigued and amused me:

They are called gu1niao3 or gu1niang3; either way is fine and either way is used by many people interchangeably. Even for myself, I sometimes say the first one, sometimes the second one, depends on… well, randomly. Haha!
 
Then the inevitable question:  how do you write gu1niao3 and gu1niang3 in characters?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (24)

Lactase and language: the spread of the Yamnaya

[This is a guest post by Doug Hitch]

I have had a theory for a number of years about the success of the IE (now Yamnaya) people in populating the world. Here I would like to survey some of the basic reasons for their demographic spread.

Populations in all species prosper when there is adequate food. If there is a surplus of food, the population will grow to meet it. When there is a shortage, populations shrink. There are well known population cycles for lemmings and rabbits. A peak in hare population is followed by a peak in fox population. Then, with more predation, the hares diminish, followed by a decline in fox numbers. In northwestern North America the Athabaskan populations were always small, often facing starvation. One group went south and adopted corn and beans, and later sheep. There are now more Navajo than all the other Athabaskans combined.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (37)

Some citrus terms in Sinitic: today and in the past

From the time I started learning Chinese more than half a century ago, I had a hard time lining up the many Chinese terms for different types of citrus with the corresponding words in English.   For example, I always wanted to call oranges "júzi 橘子", but it is technically (botanically) more correct to call them "chéngzi 橙子".  As for what júzi 橘子 should be called in English, they are, well, "mandarins" or "mandarin oranges".  Ahem!  As L said in this comment several years ago, "…in NZ, any small, peelable orange is a mandarin! And would never be considered an orange."  (From "Really?!" [12/27/16]).

Then there are tangerines, clementines (cuties), and satsumas, just among closely related varieties of citrus fruits, and I won't begin to get into grapefruit, pomelo, yuzu, citron, bergamot, kumquat, tangelo, kabosu, orangelo, hyuganatsu, rangpur, sudachi, kawachi bankan, etc., etc., and dozens of other types.  My old friend, the late Elling Eide (1935-2012), a specialist on Li Bo (701-762) had a grove on his estate in Sarasota, Florida where he cultivated about fifty different types of citrus fruits.  What a joy it was to walk through the grove and sample tree-ripened mandarins, tangerines, clementines, grapefruits, pomelos, and all manner of other citrus to satiety!

Be it should be noted that Elling could have all that richness of citrus because Sarasota has a humid subtropical climate bordering a tropical savanna climate, with an average of only one frost per year and rarely drops below freezing (which nonetheless always concerned Elling greatly).

But now we must turn to the main thrust of this post, which is a discussion of the etymology of gān 柑, another name for mandarin(e) (orange), often appearing in the disyllabic form gānjú 柑桔, which includes several closely related subspecies.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (24)